Programme 2018


Has Documentary Failed? A Documentary Now! Event




December 15th 2018, 1-5pm

Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image

Birkbeck, University of London,

43 Gordon Square, London, WC1H 0PD

Documentary has often been lauded for its ability to educate, transform, provoke, and mobilise. High cultural value and social responsibilities have been attached to documentary film and television because of its supposed real-world impact. However, with a few notable exceptions, history has shown that this promise hasn’t been achieved as hoped and that past methods once effective, no longer serve us. In a post-truth vortex where faith in visible evidence has plummeted, audiences are increasingly siloed into social media echo chambers, and expert knowledge and the factual are increasingly undermined, how can documentary intervene as it might be expected to?

In a day of provocations and polemics, scholars and practitioners will focus on failure in order to stir up urgent questions of documentary ideals, aims, processes and possibilities in the current context. Where does the past cease to serve us and what now?

Event Schedule

Session One: Has documentary failed?


Chair: Leshu Torchin (University of St Andrews)

Featuring provocations from:

Brian Winston (University of Lincoln) (By Video): ‘Hangover Effect’

Sharon Daniel (UC Santa Cruz): ‘Undoing Time– Forensic Reenactment, Materialisation, and Defacement’

Tanya Horeck (Anglia Ruskin University): ‘Viewers with a job to do? Documentaries in the Age of Netflix’

Braxton Hood (Bahçeşehir University): ”Rendering Doc Arts as Aid to Syrian Youth’

Angelika Levi (Filmmaker): ‘Truth is Not Perfect’

Mike Marshall (University for the Creative Arts): ‘Why artists that use cameras might want to avoid using the term “documentary”‘

Minou Norouzi (Goldsmiths, University of London): ‘Documentary Futures Today’

Alisa Lebow (University of Sussex): ‘Beyond Story: An Online, Community-Based Manifesto’ (Video)

Session Two: Has documentary studies failed? 


Chair: Bella Honess Roe (University of Surrey)

Featuring provocations from:

Silke Panse (University for the Creative Arts): ‘For a Creative Theory of Documentary in the Anthropocene (And: For all the Crossings, where is the Transdisciplinarity?)’

Michael Wayne (Brunel University): ‘Resettling Realism’

Jill Daniels (University of East London): ‘Documentary Studies Breathing Still’

Michael Chanan (University of Roehampton): ‘Where is political economy in documentary studies?’

Ania Ostrowska (University of Southampton): ‘Documentary scholarship that focuses only on artistic expression misses the point’



Collective Discussion: How can we do better? And what next for Documentary Now?


Featuring provocations from: Everyone present


Post-Event Drinks (Marquis Cornwallis, 31 Marchmont St, Bloomsbury, London WC1N 1AP)


Link to Directions


This event has been made possible by the support of BAFTSS Documentary SIG, The Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image, and The University of Surrey



Racing Turtles

About Documentary Now!

Documentary Now! an annual conference held in London between 2008-2014, returns in conjunction with the Documentary Special Interest group of the British Association of Film, Television and Screen Studies to investigate and interrogate contemporary issues in documentary around the world and across platforms. Events will explore traditional and alternative formats of exchange (e.g. conference papers, workshops, roundtables, film screenings and discussions, filmmaker talks) in the pursuit of lively, generative and inclusive discussion.


Documentary Now! Steering Committee: Alisa Lebow (University of Sussex), Bella Honess Roe (University of Surrey), Leshu Torchin (St. Andrews University), Silke Panse (University for the Creative Arts), Tianqi (Kiki) Yu (University of West Scotland)

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