Research: Polemic or not polemic?

Once completing the research and deciding to produce a participant mode with a minimal approach, I was given an interesting question from my lecturer whether my project would be polemic or not? This as a result is something I have not previously considered and therefore decided to produce further research  in order to make an appropriate decision of what would suit the documentary more in terms of success. Firstly the definition of Polemic according to the online dictionary is:

“A controversial argument, especially one refuting or attacking a specific opinion or doctrine”

This implies a polemic documentary would be one-sided and therefore would only portray footage that would favour the purpose/opinion in order to further encourage others to agree with it. In addition this also allows the documentary to separate itself from being associated with the typical news coverage story which only presents facts from both side and therefore must appear unbiased. Most documentaries are polemic however in order not to appear manipulative would include the opinion of others oppose, this is a powerful technique as it demonstrates the filmmaker has considered both sides before making its conclusion, as well as allows the audience to do the same. Because of this reason I have been more leaning more towards presenting an alternative point of view in my documentary such as an authority figure in politics who would defend the rights of the government and possibly provide a reason why they have began, or always have intervened.

According to the Film Journal website ( an interesting article by Mark Richardson presented an argument of “Polemical posturing vs Feigned naivety in documentary” which explored the difference between using the reflexivity technique by filmmaker Nick Broomfield and Micheal Moore’s more “direct style”. Reflexivity is term by Michael Rabiger another filmmaker, it entails creating a relationship with the subject and those behind the camera. In regards to Nick Broomfield, his approach towards his subject normally result in doubt, either if what was captured true, or if his initial thoughts were false and why. For instance in “Aileen: life and death of a serial killer” he started the documentary with a theory as to why the subject killed several men with her past being the main cause psychologically. According to the article a useful technique of including “ad-lib” allows the audience to understand his thoughts thus presenting a personal and direct connection with the audience. On the other hand Micheal Moore expresses the “truth” however in a more comical manner in order to present more impact when displaying shocking facts to the audience. For instance the example given in the article is in “Bowling for Columbine” Micheal Moore ends up blaming the bowling industry in order to present how absurd lengths people go in order to place blame anywhere. The main comparison given between both filmmakers is the first would present the documentary in the form of a journey, whereas the second is more of an argument and therefore more aggressive. This as a result demonstrates that if I were to use a polemic approach such as Micheal Moore the content should be presented in a forceful manner in order to be interesting, however not necessarily comical. And on the other hand I could still introduce my views but instead use the content of the documentary develop my opinion as well as the audience’s, therefore suggesting an interesting approach that we both enter a journey.

Furthermore in “Yale daily news” ( an article compares the concept of creativity vs polemic by Alec Joyner; according to Andrew Grace a documentary teacher, he believes that the consistence of using a polemic approach has influenced the public into believing or even expecting all documentaries to have a strong opposition of something, and therefore always encouraging them to agree. He expresses that films do not need to have “sociopolitical agenda” but instead should focus on the process. From this insight I do agree as a starting media practitioner I view the project as focusing on the result rather than the process. Therefore I further agree that a reflexivity approach of being involved actively in the documentary but instead of proving a point should set out to find it out.

In addition, an article of the Guardian titled “Louis Theroux: I’m not that comfortable doing polemic” ( discusses how the career of the filmmaker has evolved from producing several shocking documentaries to becoming in some form more mild. In his words “I think what I’m good at is getting to know people, and trying to build a relationship over a few weeks and trying to get to the truth.” which as a result indicates that producing a documentary that may appear polemic could be a result of just find out the truth, and in some form be viewed as one-sided by allowing the subject to express themselves.

In conclusion, even though I feel very passionate towards this project which normally would result in a polemic approach, I believe professionally a more suitable path would be a “reflexivity” technique not only as I can still present my ideas and point of view, but most importantly not appear as stubborn and only focused on getting the audience on agreeing.


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