Relinquishing the Real. New Strategies of Documentary Practice

Thumbnail Image

Persistent link to this item

View Statistics

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Relinquishing the Real. New Strategies of Documentary Practice

Published Date




Thesis or Dissertation


I argue that there is a new development in documentary film that responds to a crisis of perception brought on by a changed media situation in which the image itself has become precarious. The topics these films address remain hidden, invisible, inaccessible and go beyond what is sayable. The new strategies of filmmakers that aim to overcome this crisis of perception are characterized by a high degree of artifice. By introducing artifice as a major strategy, contemporary films accept the impossibility of an immediate, objective representation of reality, and shift the focus to our way of looking, a perception obstructed by our highly medialized surroundings. The use of artifice has two major effects: Its blatant presence sidesteps a reception based on empathy and identification which represent conventional documentary devices used to produce social impact. In an era oversaturated with images created to make the viewer empathize, however, these emotional strategies have lost their potential for meaningful engagement. The disruption of empathy in these contemporary films distances the audience from the issue at hand. Devoid of a trained reaction providing comfort in its familiarity, the audience is forced to reflect on its own perspective. This puts it in an active state where a critical engagement with social topics is possible again. Artifice is a driving force in all examined films but is most prominent in the examples of what I call Indirect Cinema. Indirect Cinema replaces the unmediated, authentic appearance with artifice, the deliberate and unconcealed manipulation of what we see. Examples of Indirect Cinema avoid direct representation altogether, and instead opt for a new production of abstractly related images. The self-referentiality of the images allows an interrogation of the potential of documentary film in a crisis of perception, and provides a new and different access. A critical space emerges where the viewer can critically engage with these issues. I examine nine films from the past 15 years using structural analysis and close readings. These analyses create the basis for the development of a new documentary mode specific to a historical and medial context in which the image has become precarious.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. June 2017. Major: Germanic Studies. Advisor: Matthias Rothe. 1 computer file (PDF); vii, 160 pages.

Related to




Series/Report Number

Funding information

Isbn identifier

Doi identifier

Previously Published Citation

Suggested citation

Hofmann, Maria. (2017). Relinquishing the Real. New Strategies of Documentary Practice. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

Content distributed via the University Digital Conservancy may be subject to additional license and use restrictions applied by the depositor. By using these files, users agree to the Terms of Use. Materials in the UDC may contain content that is disturbing and/or harmful. For more information, please see our statement on harmful content in digital repositories.