Having reviewed well over one hundred documentaries for DVD Talk, and many others elsewhere, I've had plenty of opportunity to reflect on what makes for an engaging documentary. One thing that most definitely doesn't is too many talking heads covering too many topics in too little time. Take for example Cinematographer Style (2006) in which director Jon Fauer interviews 110 cinematographers in 86 minutes about their craft. Not only is each cinematographer given less than a minute of total screen time on average, but most reappear multiple times, necessitating that each segment be only a few seconds. With so many taking heads presented in so little time, the sound bite observations necessarily came off as inconsequential, shallow, repetitive, or artificially constructed through the editing process. Any attempt by the viewer to distinguish one cinematographer's style or personality from another quickly fails with so many faces whizzing past.
With 33 documentary filmmakers interviewed in 97 minutes about their craft, Pepita Ferrari's Capturing Reality: The Art of Documentary doesn't offend to the degree that Cinematographer Style does, but it's still too many talking heads in too little time, covering too much ground. Capturing Reality covers eighteen topics ranging from the nuts and bolts of documentary filmmaking to ontological questions about the nature of reality and ethical questions about its representation through the medium of documentary film.
Almost all of Ferrari's interviewees, from luminaries like Albert Maysles, Errol Morris, and Werner Herzog, to lesser known filmmakers like Manfred Becker and Velcrow Ripper, seem capable of providing engaging food for thought for viewers interested in documentary filmmaking. Had Ferrari narrowed his film down to a half dozen of these filmmakers and allowed the conversations to develop, it probably would have made for a very intriguing film.
As there's never an opportunity for any filmmaker to speak for more than a minute or two at a time and thus no opportunity for anyone to address any topic in depth, Capturing Reality is at its most interesting when the comments of the filmmakers are edited in such a way as to at least simulate a dialogue with conflicting viewpoints. For example, in one of the best of these juxtapositions Nick Broomfield (Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer) derides set dressing as "destroying the very things you should be filming" after which Errol Morris proudly reminisces about how set dressing for Gates of Heaven allowed one interviewee to "come alive." Alas, these sound-bite length edited juxtapositions are a poor substitution for either real dialogue between the filmmakers or deeper consideration of the contrasting approaches through filmmaker's statements that last longer than a couple breathes.
Video & Audio:
Capturing Reality: The Art of Documentary is presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1 aspect ratio) with 5.1 DD audio. Image quality is high with lifelike color, good contrast, and adequate sharpness. The main feature, unfortunately, has forced subtitles which are either English or French depending on which start menu is selected.
A second disc of extras include four hours of additional interviews accessible by topic or filmmaker. Some of these segments appear on the main feature in abbreviated form, but most are new. Unfortunately, however, these additional interviews are also all sliced and diced by topic so even when selecting segments by filmmaker there's little or no continuity between segments.
Also included are biographies and filmographies for each of the filmmakers interviewed.
In Pepita Ferrari's Capturing Reality: The Art of Documentary thirty-three filmmakers discuss eighteen topics in ninety-seven minutes. While this will clearly appeal to documentary film fans with extremely short attention spans, viewers looking for depth will be disappointed. Viewers still considering this title may wish to check out the film's website which offers 163 video clips from the extras: Link.