The Dream is Now is a participatory “documentary” about undocumented children in the US, deriving its content from UGC ‘confessional video’ style pieces to camera.
This doco captures, to great effect, is the moment – in this it replicates the strength of social media, the ability to take the pulse of now. But what happens when the situation changes – if these people get what they so ardently want, for example. Sure, they could then upload a new vid celebrating the event, but the structure and design of this doco is unable to represent that something has changed. It would be a matter of chance if the viewer uncovered the historical trajectory of events. We can’t sort it; we can’t interrogate the database, let alone follow a suggested (ie, editorialised) path.
What this may mean is that complex arguments, or sophisticated philosophical positions, are unlikely to emerge. The genre becomes a type of propaganda. Although the footage is very modest – people talking to web cams to mobile phone videos – Lene Reifenstahl would have understood this style of documentary (if not, necessarily, the specific message). Structurally, the creators have made no room for complexity – and the more I think about it, the more reservations I have about calling it a documentary at all.
Of Michael Renov’s 4 ‘aesthetic functions’ of documentary:
1. To record, reveal, or preserve–derived from photographic antecedents, a documentary’s realism, a film-maker’s primary desire to ‘record life as it is’… (Renov p 75);
2. To persuade or promote–to mount an argument in favour of a position on some issue of social or cultural import. State-supported propaganda films are extreme examples of this function;
3. To express–perhaps the most controversial, a documentary-makers use of aesthetics to ‘add value’ to the raw record, thus possibly distorting it;
4. To analyze or interrogate–perhaps the most overlooked, this function seeks to analyze and question the very record that justifies the doco in the first place (Renov 83).
I figure The Dream is Now only really does justice to (2).
Renov, M (2004). The subject of documentary, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, pp 191-215.