Formal Academic Essay

In his piece “Civic Visions: Forms of Documentary,” John Corner seeks to give the documentary genre more agency by describing it as ideally an “intervention…in the public arena rather than as [a] commentary upon (mostly predefined) issues.” Please pick a TV documentary, watch and analyze it, discussing the ways in which it might aspire to be an intervention rather than just a commentary. In other words, what does the viewer learn having watched this documentary? Are the makers of this piece setting out to change something in the viewer in addition to reporting something to the viewer? If so, what? Make sure you consider both the content and the form – i.e. not just what is said and depicted, but also how. Please use at least one outside scholarly source to help you with your argument.

***Please note: Remember that you are to pick a TV documentary, not a documentary film. This distinction is starting to blur more and more, particularly with documentaries and docuseries made for Netflix. Those are acceptable, but please make sure you don’t pick a documentary that was exclusively made as a film and for film distribution. Documentaries on PBS are also a good choice as TV documentary examples (Frontline, Nature, Secrets of the Dead, etc). Documentaries by Ken Burns (the more famous brother of Ric Burns, the director of The Donner Party) are also good choices. In your analysis, please also address the ways in which the fact that this is a televisual rather than a filmic documentary influences the content of the piece.

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