Defining Documentaries and CitizenFour


As this will be my last post on documentary films, I wanted to discuss the meaning of the word “documentary.” When the term “documentary” comes to mind, most of us describe it as something truthful. As Henrik Juel discusses in his article “Defining Documentary Film,” the genre is usually explained as “a type of film that is based on the real world and real people, depicting things they are or telling about historical events in a supposedly truthful or objective manner.”

However, this definition can be disputed on all points. As Juel explains, a security camera records reality, yet we wouldn’t consider that to be a documentary. A surveillance camera would show real people in their real lives, yet without cutting or editing the video it lacks the substance to be considered a film.

Trying to decipher my own example, the film The Imitation Game came to mind. This film depicts the life of the mathematician, Alan Turing, known for his contribution to winning World War II and developing the computer. The Imitation Game was classified as a drama, yet it still told the story of historical events in a truthful manner. While yes, actors were cast to portray the real people, other films use reenactments all the time, and are categorized under the documentaries genre.

And reality tv has real people, yet most of what we see are previously structured plot lines and not portraying reality.

So what is the perfectly defined definition of a “documentary”? I DON’T KNOW. And it’s really starting to frustrate me.

But anyway… keeping the guidelines of what I do know about documentaries in mind, I watched my last film, Citizenfour.

Citizenfour chronicled the events of Edward Snowden’s exposure of the National Security Agency’s massive covert-surveillance programs. The film was created by Laura Poitras, a filmmaker of whom Snowden first reached out to with the classified information he wished to bring to light about the NSA. The film was like watching history unfold by the minute as Poitras and Journalist Glenn Greenwald strategically released the information to the public via the media.

Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden

Citizenfour was created using real footage of conversations between Snowden and Greenwald in a hotel room, along with video clips from broadcast news stations. The film simply relays facts, nothing more. Therefore, you cannot dispute that anything occurring in the film is false. Yet, the way that the film is constructed, there is a clear bias against the NSA and American Government. But does that hinder the film’s ability to be considered truthful? So now I asked myself, can “truth” and bias live in the same place?

Edward Snowden featured on broadcast station

I think a documentary has to be more than telling the truth. To me, a documentary not only exposes true life, but it has to convey something else as well. It shows the audience a “back-stage view” of a current situation with the purpose of making a point, teaching the world, or provoking a conversation.

Contemplating a similar debate about truth in a documentary, Juel references the founder of British documentary movement, John Grierson. Grierson coined the phrase “creative treatment of actuality” when trying to interpret what a documentary really is. I don’t know if we will ever nail down an exact definition of the genre, but I have to say, I kinda like that one! Nice work John, I salute you.

John Grierson


Google and the World Brain

I am a lover of books. I truly enjoy reading for pleasure and as a personal preference, always read from a real book (reading a book in Barnes and Noble while drinking a Starbucks coffee is my ultimate happy place).

I find that I don’t get the same affect from reading a book on a screen, and to be honest, it hurts my eyes after a while. I disliked when eBooks grew in popularity, which is why I have decided to base my class project on the subject of books, and more broadly, libraries (and also why I might be a bit biased in this post).

As a research project and eventual short documentary of my own making, I will be investigating the transition that libraries are undertaking due to our advancements in technology.PLAKAT_SWANSKI_WATCHDOCS_WEB

In lieu of this upcoming project, I decided to watch Google and the World Brain for my fifth documentary post. The 2013 documentary outlined the Google Books Library Project as well as the controversy it caused. In the context of this documentary, I wondered how libraries would be affected if all books became free online.

Ultimately how reading went from looking like this 📖 … to this 📱

Google’s mission for the Google Books Library Project was to scan every book in the world with the intention of allowing everyone to have access. Sounds great doesn’t it?


By scanning every book, Google would make it easier for people to find relevant books, specifically those that couldn’t be found anywhere else, such as books that are out of print. However, some say Google might have had an ulterior motive.

While giving people access to a world library would be beneficial to the public, Google would also be the only company to have control of this information and could use it to drastically improve their search engine over the rest of the industry. In essence, Google would create a “world brain.”

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 11.38.34 PMGoogle also failed to gain the rights to digitalize the books from the authors who wrote them, resulting in a lawsuit from The Authors Guild. Google scanned 10 million books into their system, 6 million of which were in copyright, and not asked permission. Google’s excuse for performing these actions was “fair use.”

The Google Books Library Project was eventually stopped, but millions of books are still available for free on Google Books.

While watching this film, I was interested to see how the digitization process would change the culture of books and libraries. A project like the one Google was trying to accomplish, would have left thousands of authors receiving no commission on their own book.

In addition, issues of attribution and language also came into play. As Google continued to publish books online, most were all in English rather than its language of origin. One of the advantages of books is to learn about and spread different cultures. In the instance of Google, the digitization of books led to an international upset. In fact, President of the National Library of France, Jean Noel Jeanneney, was so strongly opposed to Google’s actions, Jeanneney held a meeting to plan a “counter-offensive.”

From a different perspective, digitalization of books allows preservation. And in this reasoning, other projects such as the Digital Public Library of America and Europeana continue to try to bring books to the Internet. The success of these libraries can be attributed to the ideas of the Google Books Library Project.

But for me, nothing beats reading a real book in a real library, even Ryan Gosling agrees…


Good Ol’ Freda


Good Ol’ Freda brought out my inner fan girl. As an avid lover and listener of The Beatles, I can’t help but imagine what it would be like to be a part of their rise to international fame. This is the story that Freda Kelly describes as she recounts her job as The Beatles’ secretary, telling her story for the first time in 50 years.

Freda Kelly and Paul McCartney outside the Atlantic Hotel in Newquay, 1967, during filming of Magica

Kelly humbly begins the film asking the question, “Who would want to hear the secretary’s story?” Kelly charmed me right away with her gentle demeanor and endearing English accent. The film flows through the years of 1961 to 1972 as Kelly reminisces about seeing The Beatles for the first time to answering the thousand of fan mail letters she received everyday.

The film does not expose any exciting or revealing information, but is strung along through Kelly’s voiceover, recounting historical events while providing her own backstage view. As Kelly relays her story, archival photos and footage make there way across the screen.

Demonstrating a simple structure, the film goes through Beatles’ history year by year intertwining Beatles music, archival footage and talking heads of Kelly in the present. I enjoyed the black and white photos as they seemed to create a flipbook that placed me back in time. The filmmakers’ effort can be seen as much of the pictures directly correlated to the story being told.


I also thought it was effective to place Kelly in some of the landmarks of her past. For example, as Kelly recounts her daily visits to see Ringo’s mother for tea, Kelly walked down the street of the former residence. While Good Ol’ Freda takes a laidback approach to an expository documentary, I found it interesting to watch and even choked up as Beatlemania came to a close.

Kelly’s spirit and loyalty shine throughout the documentary and it was truly wonderful to learn about her life. Kelly agreed to participate in the documentary after all these years as a tribute to her children. After her son Timothy passed away without learning of her past, Kelly utilized this documentary as a way to share her contribution to music and culture with her grandson. She explains, “I would like him to be proud of me and see how exciting my life was in the 60s and the fun I had.” And I’m sure he will be.

Screen Shot 2015-04-23 at 9.48.18 PM


Competitive Intelligence: The Secret Weapon in Business Strategy

Big Fish Results Founder, Tony Guarnaccia intrigued a full-capacity crowd on Tuesday April 7 at the Newport Interactive Marketers networking event. Drawing upon 15+ years of experience, Guarnaccia gave an animated and detailed lecture to help Rhode Island’s local businesses, bigger brands, and agencies improve their strategic planning.

Guarnaccia has always had an entrepreneurial spirit, even sharing a personal anecdote through candid conversation about how he sold violins as a kid in order to earn money for his spring break. Guarnaccia still utilizes the same business drive in his techniques to prosper his company as well as his clients’.

Throughout Guarnaccia’s presentation “Secrets of Your Competition,” the main question that connected his marketing insights is WHY?

It’s important to understand the marketing attributes of your competitors, but the information is useless if you don’t know what to do with it. If a competitor is thriving or failing at something … ask yourself “WHY?” and then take action.

Big Questions

When conducting a competitive analysis, Big Fish Results uses a top-down process to answer five questions:

  • How much traffic do you generate versus your competitors?
  • Where is this traffic coming from?
  • How much does your competitor spend on advertising?
  • What are the specific search terms they use to create SEO?
  • And then WHY this data occurs.

Tools to Use

To answer these questions, there are several online tools your company can use to acquire data on your competitors. But remember, as Guarnaccia says, “The tools aren’t the secret, it’s what you do with them that makes a difference.” Here are just a few examples:

  • SEMrush
  • Google Trends
  • Google Keyword Planner
  • Similar Web
  • Simply Measured

Competitive Intelligence

Once you’ve acquired information on your competitors, this is how Big Fish Results would move utilize it:

  • Segment your data
  • Look at trends
  • Benchmark
  • Filter
  • Exclude Brand Keywords

Use these techniques and you could be a “Big Fish” in your market. Now get to work luring in your own competitors’ intelligence.

NIM Networking event, “Secrets of Your Competition” shaped up to be a great night! Here’s what some of the Newport Interactive Marketers were saying on Twitter:

Mia Lupo: For traffic trends, compare long-term performance; identify surprising peaks and dips then WHY this happens #NIMRI #trends

David Englund: Getting “schooled” from Big Fish Results is like drinking from the fire hydrant at #nimri

Ryan Belmore: So much great information was shared last night at #NIMRI! Nice to see everyone and thank you Midtown Oyster Bar and @sue_DesigEditor!

Newport Restoration: a good way to see how far a company’s come & what they can do to improve. #NIMRI


The Thin Blue Line


Police car pulls someone over. Cop gets out of police car and walks to other car. Gunfire. Cop falls. Milkshake is thrown. Repeat.

This is Errol Morris’ documentary, The Thin Blue Line in a nutshell. Considering its prestige and accomplishment of getting a free man out of jail, I was very surprised how much I disliked the film.

The Thin Blue Line dramatically re-enacts the true story of the arrest and conviction of Randall Adams for the murder of a Dallas police officer in 1976. Randall Adams ran out of gas one day and was picked up by a runaway, David Harris. After being stopped by a police car, one of the men shot the police officer. The documentary lays out the evidence found throughout the investigation, insinuating that David Harris is a much more likely suspect, than the already convicted Adams.

The documentary took a very cinematic approach in revealing the sequence of events leading to the arrest of Randal Adams. I thought this was way over done, adding a cheese factor to the whole thing. I can only watch the a police car pull over to the side of a street in the dark so many times…

The fact that there were no lower thirds in the entire film also ruined it for me. I spent the first hour of the film still trying to figure out who was being interviewed on screen. Much to the annoyance of my movie-watching partner, I continuously asked questions as to what was going on, before I had to pause the film and look up the backstory.

For your reference, here are labelled pictures of the men involved in the case. You’re welcome.

David Harris

Randal Adams

In addition, by showing David Harris in an orange jumpsuit, it was my assumption that he was the one convicted of the murder. But I had the two main suspects mixed up. It wasn’t until I did further research that I realized Harris was in jail for an entirely different crime (hence the jumpsuit). Maybe it was just me, but how affective can a film be if you don’t even know who the characters are?

Overall review: Disappointed.


Life in a Day


Comprised of 4,500 hours of video from 192 countries, Life in A Day is a collaborative experiment created by National Geographic, Scott Free UK, and YouTube. The documentary chronicles what it is like to live on Earth today.

After reading Chapter 2 of Dave Saunders’ text, Documentary, which focused on filmmaking trends throughout history, I began to wonder what type of documentary would define our current generation. While films of the 1940s reflected the conflict surrounding World War II, and the Free Cinema Movement in Britain influenced an increased representation of the working class, what film reflects the year 2015?

This question is what led me to the documentary, Life in A Day. This film is something that could not have been produced 40 years ago, or even 10 years ago. Life in A Day was made possible through the connectedness created by the Internet. The filmmakers asked people to send in videos from their life on the specific date, July 24, 2010, and received more contributions than anticipated. The film exposed the cultures of so many different people, and yet illustrated the commonalities we share. Despite our many differences, a reel of people brushing their teeth, or waking up from a nap, unified us. I thought it was a lovely concept to have a film meant to connect our world, be produced by the people living in it.

You can get an idea of the filming technique from this clip:

Experimenting beyond the conventions of an observational documentary, Life in A Daycompiles footage taken by the participants themselves. Some talk into the camera, others just shows us what they see around them, either way, it adds a personal and almost intrusive aspect to the film. I found the footage remarkably similar to Snapchat videos, which unintentionally summed up our generation perfectly. Following the year of the selfie, this filmmaking technique illustrates the nature in which we document our lives today.

The video clips show a glimpse into one person’s life for a short period of time, and then they’re gone, and we’ve moved on to a new person and new country. The live footage portrays a range of human emotions, altering between humorous and disheartening.

Here is a clip of one of my particular favorites. She is describing the contents of her purse: (Note: the chicken-shaped handbag)

Final thoughts on Life in A Day: it inspires you to think. Especially at a time when I am unsure of where my own future will take me, it was important to see how many different lifestyles exist in world. And humans are fascinating…


Eeyore or Elvis?

In an age where we can’t seem to put down our phones, it was nice to hear Gail Lowney Alofsin give a presentation involving face-to-face communication at this week’s Newport Interactive Marketers Networking event.

Newport Interactive Marketers (NIM) was established in 2010 as an assembly of new media talent. NIM attracts speakers from across New England to share their marketing experiences.

Last night’s speaker, Gail Lowney Alofsin is the Director of Corporate Partnerships at Newport Harbor Corporation as well as a professor in the Communications Department at URI. Alofsin is also the author of her first book, “Your Someday is Now.”

Alofsin began her speech, drawing philosophy from her book, explaining the power of networking. While giving many helpful tips along the way, here are a few that stuck out to me:

Mindset: Every networker needs to begin with a positive mindset. It is easy to sit back and not take part in something. Particularly when an opportunity allows you to build relationships, Alofsin advices that you check your “whether report.” No, I didn’t make a spelling mistake…the “whether report” is a way to address a situation to decide whether to go or not. Take advantage of any opportunity that comes your way (or make your own opportunities).

Clearly making an impact, newportFILM even used the expression in a tweet, “@sue_DesigEditor glad my “whether report” told me it was going to be friendly & awesome at #NIMRI 😉 THNX for the wise words @gailalofsin!”

Network before you need it: Meeting new people can be fun! Remember to spend time with your colleagues and reinforce current relationships. You never know when you might need them, or whom THEY know.


You, Inc.: Alofsin also stresses the idea that EVERYTHING communicates. It is important to pay attention to how you present yourself. When networking, try to “disconnect to connect” by putting away your phone and communicating with the people around you.


Attire, body language, attitude, as well as what you say, all contribute to a person’s perception of you. Are you going to enter a room like an Eeyore or an Elvis? When communicating with people: be present, be interesting, and be your best.

After all of this inspiration, the NIM event also provides its attendees with the opportunity to utilize some of these skills. With over 50 people in attendance, all were able to mingle and create new contacts.

Filled with old timers, new comers, and great food…the NIM Networking event was a success! The next event will be held on March 11th. If you’re interested in joining us, please see the link below.