DIGITAL DOCUMENTARY – THE REVOLUTION
THAT IS NOT BEING TELEVISED
Digital Documentary In the Early 21st Century
June 2, 2014
Professor Erik Hedling’s Doctoral Seminar
Department of Film History
University of Lund
For my father, Ellis I. Folke, who always believed in me;
for my dear wife Bua , who has always been there for me;
and for grassroots documentarians around the world.
“All media work us over completely. They are so pervasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical, and social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered. The medium is the massage. Any understanding of social and cultural change is impossible without a knowledge of the way media work as environments.”
Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore, “ The Medium is the Massage”
Table of Contents:
II. Statement of Purpose
III. Digital Documentary and the Digital Revolution
IV. Towards An Operational Definition of Documentary
V. Digital Documentary Pre-Production
VI. Digital Documentary Production
VII. Digital Documentary Post-Production
VIII. Fair Use, Copyright Issues, and the TPP
IX. Digital Documentary Financing and Distribution
XI. Ex Cursus: Interviews with Digital Documentarians
XII. Appendix A: Bibliography
XIII. Appendix B: Relevant Links and Websites
“In this age of computerized information and satellite systems, we must work for the growth of what might be called a “ communicatarian” democracy, giving everybody access to the technical resources of the mass media both at the national and the international level. All countries have a long way to go in this respect.”
Sven Hamrell, The Dag Hammarkjold Foundation
On July 1, 2012, after almost 5 years as Chief of the Video Unit of MONUSCO,
the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, I reached the compulsory UN retirement age of 62, and was forced to separate from the organization. The break was not unwelcome; the DRC is a difficult working environment under the best of circumstances. However, after 4 decades working in film and television production on 5 continents, I
now finally had the time to study the extraordinary evolution of communications technology in my lifetime popularly known as “ The Digital Revolution”.
Thanks to the kind indulgence of Professor Erik Hedling of the University of Lund, and the support of Docent Mats Jonsson, I have been able to systematize my thoughts and findings, and this thesis is the result. On that note, I would also like to extend a special appreciation to the reader for understanding that we are entering uncharted academic waters, and that the Digital Revolution presents a challenge to all us - particularly to those of us working in the constantly changing field of multimedia. Attempting to describe and define contemporary multimedia phenomena is a bit like trying to catch the proverbial lightning in a bottle.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I must confess the elitist nature of the film medium has always troubled me; aesthetically, I always felt more affinity for the works of Akira Kurosawa, Ingmar Bergman, Luis Bunuel and Federico Fellini than I ever did for anything produced in Hollywood. I was also an enthusiastic advocate of what might be called American Underground Cinema, examples of which can still be seen today at Jonas Mekas’ Anthology Film Archives. 
Hollywood could never figure out a commercial formula for exploitation of documentary films, so, almost by default, documentary films were almost always independents, or films produced outside the Hollywood system. My first job in film was working as an assistant cameraman on cinema verite films in New York in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s; I had the opportunity to work with many of the legends of that movement - Ricky Leacock, Shirley Clarke, Bill Jersey and Robert Elfstrom - and the experience has stayed with me; I will never forget the passion and dedication of those film artists.
After making my own first experimental feature, a science fiction thriller titled “Mato Grosso Bye-Bye”, I subsequently began work as writer/director for United Nations Television in New York, and had the opportunity to make a number of documentaries dealing with global issues. These were fascinating assignments, but some of us at UNTV began to wonder if it would not be better if the people in the developing world were empowered to tell their own stories. 
In 1978, I was invited to join Professor Ingvar Holm’s Doctoral Program in Drama, Theatre and Film at the University of Lund in Sweden; after completing my course work, I received a grant from the Swedish International Development Agency to do doctoral research for a thesis on the Indian film industry as a potential model for production in the developing world. At that time, little was known in the Western world regarding the Indian film industry, except that it had competed successfully with Hollywood in some parts of the world, and was supposedly the world’s largest film industry.
After six months in India in 1979, I discovered that the Indian film industry was far more complex than I had realized; it was extremely difficult to get reliable data of any kind, and, not being Indian, I did not feel qualified to make any aesthetic assessment of the films I was seeing. I was forced to conclude that the Indian film industry and a uniquely Indian phenomenon which could not be exported as a role model for Third World film production.
Film production, even 16 millimeter, was simply far too expensive a medium to become universally available as a means of expression around the world. I had reached a philosophical dead end; it seemed there simply was no viable alternative to the Western-dominated media world, as exemplified by Hollywood and television network news broadcasts.
I then returned to Sweden to further my own professional development as a film director, graduating from the Directors’ Line of Dramatiska Institutet in Stockholm in 1983, and have worked in the industry ever since in projects around the world, the bulk of which has revolved around United Nations Peacekeeping
Missions in countries like Timor Leste and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In the process, I have worked with a wide variety of film and video formats; in the past decade, I have had to learn digital production techniques, and have seen first hand how what at first seemed like an irritating excuse for a tyranny of button pushers and malfunctioning machines has evolved in less than a decade into a liberating new medium with enormous potential to finally make production of visual media accessible to most of the world.
I was first introduced to digital documentary production in 2000 as a producer for UNTAET, the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor. Our hardware had already seen better days, and was poorly maintained, while our software was a user unfriendly clone of Adobe Premiere called Speed Razor, which I would not wish on my worst enemy. The good news was that we had sturdy Sony TRV 900 cameras, and, thanks to my Timorese colleagues, we were eventually able to do some decent work. Unfortunately, the island infrastructure was non-existent, so broadcast was out of the question.
Confronted with the massive devastation left behind due to the scorched earth policy of the retreating Indonesian army ( popularly known as the TNI) as well as with the disappearing evidence of massive human rights violations committed by the TNI, I decided to gather material for a feature documentary on East Timor’s arduous path to self-determination that could be shown to future generations of East Timorese, as well as to international audiences. It was impossible to produce such a long form documentary for UNTAET, so I decided to leave the mission with some 70 hours of mini-dv tapes in my backpack, and do my own independent production back home in New York.
With the help of user friendly New York Apple service centers like Tek-Serve, I
was able to buy a Final Cut Pro 3 editing suite for about $10,000. , and some of my students at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology were kind enough to serve as interns on the production. One – Jade Ann Benetatos – deserves special mention, since she had used Final Cut Pro before, and patiently taught me how to use it while editing the documentary. Previously, I had edited 16 and 35 mm film professionally both in Sweden and the United States, but digital editing was an entirely new proposition. All of my instincts were wrong, and Jade Ann, as a true digital native, showed me how I had to fundamentally change my approach to digital media.
Since we were making a compilation documentary, we were constantly searching for archival material to compliment the original material I brought back from East Timor. United Nations Television had given me the rights to that material free of charge, but otherwise I had to digitize whatever material I could find, and hope to find money to pay for the rights when the project was completed. Thanks to John Miller, of the East Timor Action Network, I was able to obtain a lot of excellent material which filled in the gaps in the historical narrative I wanted to tell.
In August, 2002, I was invited to screen a rough cut of the documentary to help celebrate Timor Leste’s Independence Day at the United Nations in New York.
The working title was EAST TIMOR: BETRAYAL AND RESURRECTION, and the audience included many veterans of the 1999 siege of the UNAMET mission compound in Dili; their response was very positive, and extremely gratifying .
I was also thrilled by the quality of the projected sound and image in the theatre; it was hard to believe that these images had come from the innocuous Mini-DV tapes I had brought back from East Timor in my backpack.
In December, 2003, the full-length final cut of EAST TIMOR: BETRAYAL AND RESURRECTION won the UN Correspondents’ Association’s Ricardo Ortega Award for Excellence in Electronic Journalism; I shared the dais with fellow UNCA Award recipients Hans Blix, Lakhdar Brahimi, and Nicole Kidman, and former UNSG Kofi Annan presented the award. That was a proud moment; my competition for the award had included producers from the BBC, CNN and other major global networks. I had become part of the Digital Revolution in Documentary, and I decided to dedicate myself to the cause. 
In 2005, I was invited to return to Timor Leste by Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao and President Jose Ramos Horta to do a documentary sequel on the economic development of the country; my wife and I sold our house outside of New York, and I bought a Sony Z-1 camera and a customized Apple Powerbook for editing on location. We set up a production office with an editing suite in Thailand in 2006, and made preparations to go to Timor Leste. Then we learned that President Ramos Horta had been shot and seriously wounded in post-electoral violence, and we had to put our plans on hold.
One year later, I received an offer from the United Nations Mission to the Democratic Republic in the Congo (MONUC) to become Chief of their Video Unit. I accepted, and found a very talented international staff of 10, equipped with the latest Sony HD cameras and several state-of-art editing suites. The job was a dream come true, and I found the Congo a fascinating and very complex subject.
Over the next 5 years, we produced some memorable long form documentaries for an international audience, as well as over 200 weekly video magazines shown across the Democratic Republic of the Congo. My five years working in the Congo have only served to strengthen my belief in Digital Multimedia as a medium with enormous potential for enabling low budget but high quality multimedia expression for people around the world.
This is a profound change, with massive socio-economic implications which extend far beyond the world of communications media – implications which are now being felt around the world in phenomena like the Arab Spring. Indeed, many observers have suggested that social media played an important role as communications tools in the revolt.
Meanwhile, other social scientists and media critics have asserted that the impact of digital media transcends even cognitive functions; these social scientists today are asserting that the first generation which has grown up with access to digital technology seems to be significantly different than preceding generations, and that their brains actually function differently than those of preceding generations. As American educator Mark Prensky puts it, “Our students have changed radically. Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach.”
In other words, there is a major generation gap in the works that educators and other professionals are now striving to define. Prensky calls those who have grown up with digital technology Digital Natives, and those of us born earlier Digital Immigrants.
Dr. Gary Small, who has been conducting research into the neurological effects of internet , goes even farther, asserting that a phsyiological brain gap has been created by use of digital technology, and that this gap is increasing day by day.
The results of this transformation are still under study; however, most pundits seem to agree that Digital Natives have short attention spans, read fewer books and newspapers, and have a tendency to ignore historical precedents.
These tendencies they attribute to what some have called information overload, or information glut; there is simply too much information to process which is assaulting our senses in the present, and reflection therefore becomes impossible. Digital Natives are frequently in a state of continuous partial attention, or what Dr. Gary Small terms a digital fog.
In terms of documentary, this means there is a major disconnect in progress among Digital Natives with the tradition of analog cinema, in general; just as it is difficult for today’s educators to get students to read books, it is difficult to get today’s students to watch old films – particularly black and white, not to mention silent films. However, speaking as a Digital Immigrant, it has been my happy experience as an educator that all is not yet lost; once the initial threshold of resistance is passed, contemporary students can appreciate cinematic quality of all kinds, no matter how old it is.
It has also been my experience that the same is true of supposedly less sophisticated audiences in the developing world; audiences everywhere still respond to quality, and, contrary to the view of some communicators, it is not necessary to “dumb down” communications products for anyone – be they Digital Natives or citizens of the developing world.
As shall be seen, documentarians, with few vested interests to protect, and being generally radical by nature, have enthusiastically embraced digital technology, and – unlike many of their corporate and political sponsors - are now in the vanguard of exploring the possibilities of this new age of human development. Indeed, the documentary genre is in the midst of something of a renaissance. We should all try to profit from their combined experience and their examples.
As shall also be seen, digital documentary, being significantly less expensive and easier to use than its analog predecessor, is making documentary far more democratic and international than it ever was during the analog era. While this might seem a utopian ideal, the potential implications of this change are profound.
As noted previously, analog cinema was never a particularly democratic form of communication. As American cinema historian James Monaco writes:” Film has changed the way we perceive the world, and therefore how we operate in it. Yet, while the existence of film may be revolutionary, the practice of it most often has not been. Because the channels of distribution have been limited, because costs have prohibited access to film production to all but the wealthiest, the medium has been subject to strict control.
One of the buzzwords in developmental planning circles in the past decade has been capacity building; this means passing on technological skills to developing countries so they can become self-reliant and independent. In the world of communications media, as noted previously, the cost of using analog film, audio and television technology has been a major stumbling block. Now, thanks to digital technology, this stumbling block has disappeared – a development I witnessed first hand in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where I saw the phenomenon of Radio Okapi, which is easily the most successful example of developmental communications capacity building in the world.
The result of a joint effort by the United Nations and the Swiss foundation Fondation Hirondelle, Radio Okapi was created in 2002 to provide a reliable source of national information in a country devastated by war. Today, a little over 10 years later, with a staff of 200 reporting from around the DRC, Radio Okapi reaches over 50% of the population, and is the most popular and trusted radio station in the country.
To say that Radio Okapi is a remarkable success story in digital media would be a gross understatement; personally, I would have liked to emulate the Okapi capacity building model in digital video production, but this activity lay outside our mission mandate, and probably would have been blocked by our partners in the Congolese government, who already had periodic conflicts with Radio Okapi reporting on sensitive issues. Freedom of expression comes at a price in the DRC; three different Radio Okapi journalists have been murdered under very suspicious circumstances.
I am convinced that Radio Okapi is only the beginning, and that developing countries around the world will soon develop their own brands of digital media for domestic consumption. The bottom line is that the advent of Digital Documentary means that people around the world can, for the first time, visually document and share stories about their realities with their peers virtually everywhere. This is a radical change. In this respect, the state of digital documentary is but a microcosm of the larger world of multimedia; to echo the words of many a pundit, we find ourselves at a watershed moment in human development, a moment at which we suddenly have access to tools and capacities we could only have dreamt of a few years ago. Our ability to harness these tools in a positive way will be greatly dependent upon our grasp of the many implications of their use.
In this context, I would like to acknowledge an inspirational debt to Professor Gene Sharp; written in 1996 as a blueprint for democratic change in Burma, his best known book “ From Dictatorship to Democracy – A Conceptual Framework for Liberation”, along with his other works, has played a major, albeit somewhat underpublicized, role in non-violent democratic movements around the world from Eastern Europe to Burma.
Professor Sharp’s work affirms the power of universal democratic ideals , and , in addition to providing practical scenarios for positive, non-violent change, also give one cause for both optimism and hope regarding the future of mankind.
If this thesis can follow in that illustrious tradition, it will have achieved its goals.
However, I am well aware that my humble effort here is also a bit like trying to catch lightning in a bottle; as the American cultural critic Neil Postman warned us in 1992,“A new technology does not add or subtract something. It changes everything.”
I.2 A Few Notes on Terminology Employed:
Let us attempt to put the Digital Revolution in a historical context; prior to the millennium, analog technology was the standard for communications industries around the world; today, a little more than a decade later, digital technology is the almost universal standard for these industries. While a digital copy might appear identical to an analog original, it is inherently different; in simple terms, analog media is linear, and sequential, while digital media is non-linear.
These distinctions are fundamental to understanding digital technology, which was first mentioned in a paper written in 1936 by a brilliant British mathematician named Alan Turing, perhaps best known for cracking the German Enigma Code in World War II. Working with a theoretical computer model, Turing proved that a digital computer could be “ programmed to perform the function of any other information-processing device."
The subject of this thesis is the new media form called Digital Documentary; one cannot properly assess the impact of this new medium without putting it in the greater context of what is now called multimedia. Traditional academic distinctions between analog media forms such as print, film, and even television are not valid when transferred to multimedia.
For example, in film studies, documentary has generally been categorized as a genre of the film medium. What, then, is the relationship between documentary film and digital documentary?
The answer is that they may be aesthetic cousins, employing the same general aesthetic conventions, and subject to but they are fundamentally different media forms.
For example, a digital documentary copy of a documentary film such as Robert Flaherty’s classic Nanook of the North, might appear to be identical, but, in reality, as this thesis shall attempt to demonstrate, a digital documentary is as radically different from a documentary film as an internet blog is from a traditional newspaper. The content might appear identical, but the medium is different.
As shall also be seen, the entire process of documentary production from financing, research through to distribution has been dramatically changed; new creative paradigms are rapidly evolving, as are new business models.
Indeed, the very terminology of traditional cinema studies is in a state of flux to keep pace with the Digital Revolution. While this problem is hardly unique to cinema studies, the term documentary itself has been the subject of heated debate, thus further muddying the water; this latter debate shall be dealt with in some detail in Chapter III, Towards an Operational Definition of Documentary.
To minimize confusion between the terms analog and digital documentary , let us from now on, call analog documentary documentary film , and the new hybrid form, digital documentary.  The term “ Digital Film”, and variations thereof, such as “ digital documentary film” is fundamentally incorrect; a digitized copy of a film might seem identical to the original, but it can never be an analog film.
Otherwise, for general purposes, this thesis shall employ the terminology used by American film critic and cinema scholar J. Hoberman, who makes the following distinctions between the terms cinema, movies, motion pictures and film: “Cinema means a form of recorded and hence repeatable moving image and, for the most part, synchronized recorded sound. Television kinescopes and TV since videotape are cinematic; so is YouTube. The terms motion pictures or movies imply a projected image; film refers to movies that are produced on or projected as celluloid (or its derivatives) and hence have some basis in photography.”
 Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore (The Medium is the Massage) Bantam Books, 1967. p.26
 Andreas Fuglesang, (Filmmaking in Developing Countries I: The Uppsala Worskhop) The Dag Hammarskjold Foundation, 1975, p.9
 For more, please see their website, www.anthologyarchives.org
Here is a link to “ TO BE THIRTY” , the United Nations Thirtieth Anniversary film, which I co-wrote and directed: https://vimeo.com/69173621
 Links to “EAST TIMOR: BETRAYAL AND RESURRECTION “, Parts 1-5, with Intro:
https://vimeo.com/69258997 https://vimeo.com/69272262 https://vimeo.com/72096853 https://vimeo.com/72080093 https://vimeo.com/72137587 https://vimeo.com/72137909
 For more, please see http://socialcapital.wordpress.com/2011/01/26/twitter-facebook-and-youtubes-role-in-tunisia-uprising
 Mark Prensky ( Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants) in The Digital Divide, ( ibid), P.3
 Gary Small and Gigi Vorgan ( Your Brain is Evolving Right Now) in The Digital Divide, (ibid) p. 79
 Small and Vorgan (ibid.) p.
 James Monaco( How to Read a Film-Movies, Media and Beyond) Oxford University Press, Fourth Edition, 2009. Pp.578-637
 Instead, we paid to broadcast our weekly programs on all the major existing television stations in the DRC, and we also were the first UN Peacekeeping mission to have our own channel on YouTube: www.YouTube.com/MONUCVIDEO
 Gene Sharp ( “From Dictatorship to Democracy – A Conceptual Framework for Liberation”Committee for the Restoration of Democracy to Burma, Bangkok, 1993
 Neil Postman ( Technopoly- The Surrender of Culture to Technology) Vintage Books, 1993, p.18
 Nicholas Carr ( is google making us stupid?) in The Digital Divide, Edited by Mark Bauerlein. Jeremy P.Tarcher/Penguin, 2011. P.69
 It is important to bear in mind prior to 2000, there were also analog video documentaries, mostly shot on Betacam videotape, along with other short-lived formats.
 J.Hoberman ( Film After Film – Or, What Became of 21st Century Cinema?) Verso, 2012, p.3