Four Documentaries Report

While studying the documentary unit we have watched four different documentaries; Trevor McDonald on Death Row, Life in a Day, The Business of War and A Tourist’s Guide to North Korea.

In the Trevor McDonald documentary we are given a glimpse behind the scenes of an Indiana State prison which houses convicts who are waiting on death row. The film covers subjects such as what life is like being on death row, as well as what other people feel about seeing people go into a room, knowing they’ll never see them again.

The approach McDonald takes while going about his questioning is neither judgmental, nor sympathetic. Throughout he remains very impartial, allowing the prisoners, on and not on death row, to give their accounts without interruption, despite how bad their crimes were. He remains a very calm figure which gives the prisoners a good impression and in turn makes them feel comfortable to open up to him without holding much back.

He is also impartial in his views on capital punishment full stop. He gives his views briefly that he is against the death penalty as a punishment while at the same time acknowledging why it is used, as some crimes can be too heinous.

The film itself remains impartial to a degree in how it shows the prisoners. While it constantly reminds the viewer of the crimes these men have committed, it doesn’t paint them as total moral less and remorseless monsters, as they acknowledge what they did and know they deserve everything they are getting.

His question style remains quite simplistic and open throughout, usually asking why they were in prison in the first place, the events which were behind what they did, and what life is like in their situation, or the situation of others.

The film makes me question whether capital punishment is something we should have, before I quickly decided that it’s something I am against.

Life in a Day shows us how the world goes about their daily routine, showing the differences and similarity between people and societies. It delves into subjects such as what people do, what they have, and even little things like how they brush their teeth.

Because there is no presenter and it’s a compilation of clips sent in there are no questions to look at. However, in pre-production the director asked in an article “What do you love? What do you fear? What’s in your pocket?“, questions which are shown between clips throughout the film.

It remains impartial by showing people from all corners of the world, going as far as sending cameras to the poorest regions so they could tell their story too. It also does it by showing contrasts in situations and emotions throughout such as going from the man who had just lost everything, to the man showing off his Lamborghini, to the man who has nothing in his pockets but still looks happy.

The film answers more questions than it does makes them as it shows how people live their life.

In The Business of War we are shown a convention in Jordan where war generals from around the world gather to look at weapons with billions of tax paying money burning a hole in their pocket. It covers subjects such as the nations attending, the American stranglehold of the event, as well as the things which freak him out about the event, such as the training simulators.

The film made me feel uncomfortable and made me question the necessity of the convention. To me it was merely selling the idea of war and killing innocent people which the film also concluded with. I wondered how world peace could be a priority with nations making billions from selling this kind of weaponry?

The questions he asks aren’t exactly cutting, probably due to him being scared of offending powerful people surrounded by weapons. He starts by asking where they are from, breaking the ice in a weird situation. He frequently tries to mask his discomfort of the situation by joking around. He tries to remain impartial but he fails on a number of occasions as he mentions how freaked out he is and compares the convention to a parody and he feels like “Austin Powers” surrounded by “Dr Evils”.

Overall he wasn’t a particularly good presenter as he was very intimidated by what surrounded him and that affected the film as a whole, it tip toed around the subject rather than questioning it to their faces.

A Tourist’s Guide to North Korea does what it says on the tin and simply shows you the account of an American journalist who tours the closed country and his observations.

The approach taken was as anti-North Korea as the country itself was anti-US in it’s propaganda, and it doesn’t attempt to be impartial in the slightest. It frequently highlights the oddities of the place and doesn’t show any of it’s redeeming features; if there are any.

There are no real questions in this as he isn’t really allowed to interview people and it’s more concentrating on his observations, such as the Tea Lady and how he is on tour rather than a tourist.

All of these films are set out chronologically throughout days; Death Row follows McDonald around the prison over a couple of days, throwing in the odd well timed clip to back up what is being discussed at the time. Life in a Day follows the time of day for structure with it beginning in the early hours of the morning and then ending just before midnight, grouping clips of waking up, having breakfast etc together. Business of War follows the journalist around during his day at the event while Tourist’s Guide to North Korea does the same over a number of days.


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