Memory, Place and Subjectivity: Experiments in Independent Documentary Filmmaking

PhD Thesis

Daniels, Jill 2014. Memory, Place and Subjectivity: Experiments in Independent Documentary Filmmaking. PhD Thesis University of East London School of Arts and Digital Industries
AuthorsDaniels, Jill
TypePhD Thesis

The research in this doctoral thesis focuses on the mediation of place, memory and
identity in experimental western documentary films and contains film theory and film
practice components. It is comprised of the production of two experimental
documentary films ─ Not Reconciled (41 minutes) (2009) and The Border Crossing
(47 minutes) (2011) ─ and a 50,000 word written exegesis that analyses those films
and films made by others. The key analytic approaches I deploy are located within
the framework of film studies, trauma and memory studies and theories of space,
landscape and spectatorship.
My aim is to advance a critical understanding of the opportunities and limitations in
the cinematic strategies that are available to experimental documentary filmmakers in
the mediation of place and memory, including trauma and autobiography. The goal of
the experimental film is to offer alternative and different ways of thinking to
mainstream films about methods deployed in the mediation of the historical event.
The notion of experimental begins and ends with uncertainty rather than
verisimilitude. Experimental documentary film aims to open the window of uncertainty
a little wider to offer an expanded discussion of the subject of the exploration. My
thesis contextualises my discussion of experimental documentary filmmaking by
outlining the history and development of independent filmmaking in Britain, with a
specific focus on my own development as an independent experimental filmmaker.
I argue that where subjects live and where their identities are formed, are central to
memory and experience. Place may be represented in experimental documentary
films, therefore, not as an adjunct to space or as a support to subjectivities but as a
character that is foregrounded and interacts with memory and subjects.
Subjectivities, including autobiography through the filmmaker’s voice as subject and
filmmaker, are central in my cinematic mediation of memory and traumatic experiences and I devote specific focus to spectatorial engagement with films. I argue that there are difficulties in the mediation of traumatic experiences and that therefore strategies of evocation are needed. I argue that there are similar difficulties in relying on classical linear narrative in articulating memory and narratives of association may be more effective. Finally, I argue in this thesis that an experimental documentary film may deploy disparate filmic strategies such as realism, metaphor, allegory and fiction, yet still remain identifiably a documentary film.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Publication dates
PrintMay 2014
Publication process dates
Deposited27 Oct 2014
Publisher's version
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