Compare any one documentary film with any one cinema dramatization of real events. Compare and contrast the cinematic techniques each film uses to persuade the audience that they are witnessing real story The films I have chosen are based on the favelas (slums) of Rio de Janeiro. The first being the cinematic film “City of God,” 2002, directed by Fernando Mierelles and Katia Lund1 and “Dancing with the Devil,” 2009, a film documentary by Jon Blair2.
The two films are intended to be an insight into the violence in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. Both films employ techniques to try to engage with the audience, for example the use of narrative, sound, lighting, camera angles, props, editing and the use of a narrator and this is what I plan to explore. City of God is based on the 1997 semi autobiographical novel “Cidade de Dues” by the Brazilian Paulo Lins3. Cidade de dues translates into City of God4 and is the name of the housing project created by the government in the 1960’s as an attempt at removing favelas from the centre of Rio de Janeiro and settling the inhabitants in the suburbs5. Rio de Janeiro is home to nearly 12 million people, over 2million of them live in favelas or shanty towns and up to 8,000 people are killed every year as a result of violence6.Dancing with the Devil is a documentary film which was instigated in early 2007 when a Rio-based foreign correspondent named Tom Phillips, met a Pastor named Dione dos Santos, one of the main characters, while researching a story on the evangelical revolution in the slums of South America. Fascinated and intrigued by his controversial pastoral work with Rio’s drug traffickers, Tom continued to visit the preacher accompanied by an American photographer Douglas Engle.
Whilst there Phillips met the Oscar-winning filmmaker Jon Blair who was in Brazil working on another project and this is how the documentary idea was ignited7. One of the biggest differences between cinematic films and documentaries is the purpose of creation. The main push behind cinematic films is to entertain their audiences, while documentaries seek to inform. The cinematic intention is to pull the viewer in and entertain them whilst documentary strives to reveal an injustice or educate the public, a social vehicle for informing the masses. Cinematic films generally follow a sequence of ups and downs. The story, plot, location and characters are neatly intertwined to capture the viewer’s attention and portray a story with a beginning, middle, climax and end where as in documentaries, directors generally use hand held cameras to follow the action as it unfolds, often not knowing what will happen next and so they cannot necessarily control and develop a plot which takes you on a journey of ups and downs8. Fernando Mierelles strived to create an entertaining film through emotive persuasion of how violent it can be in the favelas. One way in which he attempted to do this was by recruiting actors from the favelas.
All of the amateur actors in the film were from the favelas and “Rocket” the narrator and main protagonist actively lived in the City of God9. In doing this the acting appears natural and as a result the film feels more authentic which is very successful in supporting the persuasion of realism.It also is a good platform to work from as it gave Mierelles an insight into their everyday life. This comes through into the film again enforcing its realism, one example of this is when we hear Rocket talking to Marina, his newspaper colleague, about never taking a bath, it was not scripted and actually came from Rodrigues (Rocket) and Moretto (Marina) talking off camera10. It’s apparent in Blair’s film that his intention was to capture the everyday ins and outs of life in the slums from opposing perspectives; his method of persuasion is therefore through insight. He uses the perspective of the gangster and a police to illustrate the whole picture and “Johnny” the pastor is there man in the middle. The feeling we as an audience get from the documentary is not action packed or glamorised it’s more like we have stepped into these peoples workplace and shadowed their everyday activity.
This in itself is effective as it feels as though the audience is actually there in the midst of it. As Blair follows these three main characters the audience become to identify with these characters, they feel as though they have come to know them personally. This identification adds to the persuasion of it being real and true.
A narrative is a chain of events in a cause and effect relationship occurring in space and time11. In simple terms it is what happens to cause something else happening in reaction, in a specific place at a specific time. It means that there is nothing in a cinematic film that isn’t necessary to telling the story. There are three parts to a narrative; the “exposition”, the facts needed to begin the story. The “conflict”, which in essence is what leads to the climax and the “resolution”12, which wraps up the stories elements. A films beginning provokes expectations and set the audience in search of motivations by setting up a specific possibilities of causes and effects.
With this in mind, it’s obvious to see how a cinematic film can absorb your attention and have you completely identify with it so that you are watching something real. City of God’s beginning provokes a mass of emotions and is very powerful at inciting expectations; the start is a snippet from the beginning of the end and in doing this the audience are instantly expectant, thinking forward to what this might be about and how the plot and character have got there, they don’t even know its relevance but understand it must have significance due to it being placed in the film. The plot is a rollercoaster of ups and downs and this is how Meirelles hooks the attention of the audience and can then enforce his image of truth. Non fiction film makers on the other hand cannot invent characters and a plot but instead find them in the raw material of life. Documentary involves choice making, the choice of which stories are being told and why, what information or material is included or excluded13 and this where the interest and image of truth and persuasion of realism is buttoned up. It’s expected that the genre of documentary is reliable, audiences trust documentary and that trust is key to the films power and relevance14. In Dancing with the Devil we are taken through the streets by one of the three main characters.
Blair chooses to include interviews with family members. There is an interview with Pitbull’s (policeman) son and with Spiderman’s (gangster) mother. In doing this the characters become more identifiable and we can relate with them more. Blair also includes short interviews with some of the characters and in doing this in collaboration with the questions asked we get a glimpse of how things effect them personally, and the in hearing them talk about their feelings and sharing there stories makes you naturally feel more towards them and again establish a stronger connection with them. Blair also chooses to include shots that show the makeup of the favelas buried in the hills of Brazil, this acts as a reminder of place and reinforces realism. In further support there are spontaneous pictures from within the streets of the favelas, such things as children barely clothed or the unfazed faces of locals as heavily armed police rush through there streets, there are lots of shots with guns as the focus and there is one shot of graffiti, its an illustrated alligator wielding a rifle with the words “filled with hate.
”All of this imagery is intended to provoke an emotional response from the audience and if successful making the films sense of truth stronger. The lighting in both cinematic and documentary film are key in persuading the viewer that what they are seeing is real as all of the cinematography builds up the ultimate persuasive aura around the on-screen action, the stronger the aura the more gripping and believable the film becomes. There are two small things within lighting namely contrast and affinity which can add to the strength of the picture and they apply to how intense the picture is. The greater the contrast in a picture the more visual intensity or greater dynamic it has. Affinity, being the opposite, is the less visual intensity15. An example of contrast in the City of God is in “Benny’s farewell” which is when Benny is shot dead in the middle of a party.
There is strobe lighting which cuts the picture in and out and it becomes almost black and white. There is high contrast between the two characters in frame and their background. It is very powerful and clutches your attention.The strobe lighting makes the picture almost abstracted as you can only make out the two grappling silhouettes this adds to its intensity and ability to hold your focus. The viewer has to really concentrate on the picture and this interaction means the viewer is drawn in and therefore it has more emotional value. This generates persuasion as the heightened emotional connection means the viewer feels they are witnessing something real. A perfect example of effective lighting in dancing with the devil can be found in the interview with Spiderman’s mother, were there is a low contrast between her and her backdrop.
Doing this means there is no distraction from her; her facial expression, body language and her words. It’s static camera and she is sat central in the frame, all of which makes her the only point of focus on screen. With her looking straight into the camera, you as the viewer feel as though she’s in conversation with you. This means what she’s saying becomes more impacting and you identify with her as well as her words about her son forging a stronger connection with you and the both of them, which in turn strengthens the viewer’s perception of the reality of the film.
City of God. DVD. Directed by Fernando Mierelles.
Miramax, 2002“Camera angles are used to suggest a relationship between the viewer and the subject of the image16” and the different angles express different relationships, these relationships help in making a picture more impacting on the heart and mind and so help enforce a sense of realism. Dancing with the devil is all raw footage. The cameras used are mobile and so are handheld, “the aesthetic of a hand held camera gives a rugged and jerky effect and denotes a kind of gritty realism making the audience feel as though they are part of the scene rather than viewing it from a detached, frozen position,17” this enforces realism. Blair also uses static cameras, which as a complete contrast to the hand held, creates a more focused and more intimate relationship, In addition he uses close-ups at the same time.
An example of this is in “Tolt’s” interview. Close ups “magnify the object and takes us into the mind of the character, in reality we only let the people we trust get that close to us so a close up of a face is very intimate. A filmmaker does this to make us feel extra comfortable or extremely uncomfortable about a character which promotes verisimilitude. The camera angles in City of God, include low angle, birds eye, close ups, extreme close-ups, eye level and high angle. Merielles’ frequently uses low angle shots with Lil Ze at the foot of the camera. Low angle shots “help give a sense of confusion to a view, the added height of the person inspire fear and insecurity in the viewer, who is psychologically dominated by the figure on screen18” In doing this Lil Ze becomes and over powering, authority figure, which sparks emotional response from the audience. This heightened feeling towards the character enforces how it hits there heart and mind and adds to the verisimilitude of the film.
Meirelles chooses to mimic a documentary style through the implementation of hand held camera work, although this time not because of functionality but instead in order to “denote a gritty realism.19” he also employs the tactical use of long shot to slow the pace of the film down to create a sense of disposition of espionage or voyeurism, which aim to form emotional response from the audience and for them to form an attachment in response, further strengthening its appearance of realism. Dancing With the Devil. DVD. Directed by Jon Blair. Channel 4, 2009Michael Rubiger author of directing the documentary says, “music should not have to substitute for anything; it should compliment action and give us access to the inner, invisible lives of characters and their situations. It can initiate emotional aspects of the sequence that the audience should investigate.
20” In my opinion the implementation of audio in Dancing withthe Devil is perfectly in line with Rubiger’s comments. The audio in the opening scene is very ominous; it has a low bassy verb accompanied by extended metallic sounding screeches noises which build up to a deep slow paced drumming which sounds almost like a heartbeat. This music instantly sets the tone for what’s to come and will inevitable induce the audience with expectations. Similar music can be heard throughout the film, the fact that this music is continually used in situations of violence you as the viewer become to subconsciously make an association and it becomes apparent further on in the film that the music starts to become a tool to trigger anxiety before a scene of violence. The music helps to trigger and emphasis the emotion felt from the on screen pictures. Similarly more rhythmically faster and slightly more intense music with the same basics, is used on the introduction to Spiderman and other gangsters again this provokes a certain feeling around the character before the audience even knows who or what he or she is about leading to heightened relations to their character.
There is also a slow crescendo in ambient noises further endorsing the expectations. The same techniques can be found in the City of God where audio plays a big part in setting the scene, in building up expectation, as the use of music to accentuate the picture. Blair uses music the same as he does camera angles for persuading and emphasizing the mood he wants to be associated and taken from any single character, he builds all of the components into a network which represent any one character so that the viewer can identify and take from them what necessary in persuading them they are a real person in a real story. City of God and Dancing with the Devil are both very encapsulating.
The use of all there visual, audio and narrative techniques definitely enhance their emotional and psychological appeal and effect. The network of components that wrap the plot and the characters unmistakably pull at our heart and minds to make for an entertaining experience that we feel as though we have almost lived but in adding these enhancements do we actually get an insight into the real story behind it or get lost in the journey that it takes us on and is that simply their aim.BibliographyFilmsCity of God.
DVD. Directed by Fernando Mierelles. Miramax, 2002Dancing With the Devil. DVD. Directed by Jon Blair. Channel 4, 2009BooksBLOCK, B. The Visual Story, Burlington: Focal Press, 2001RABIGER, M.
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