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Studies in Documentary Film

Volume 7, Issue 3, 2013

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Autobiographical documentary—the ‘seer and the seen’

Autobiographical documentary—the ‘seer and the seen’

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Tony Dowmunta*

pages 263-277

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Despite the apparent inadequacies identified by Elizabeth Bruss and others, of film as a medium for autobiography, first-person film-making has had a long history, stretching back decades. Its current growth may have been stimulated by the increasing availability of accessible digital recording technologies, but filmmakers have been attracted to it for over half a century, and the issues it raises are central to the development of our ideas about documentary. This article argues that the particular circumstances of autobiographical film-making, the confrontations it engenders between the film-makers' selves and the others that appear in their films, continually raise key questions about the (power) relationship between film-maker and subject in an always overt and often reflexive fashion. This is particularly the case when the film-maker self-shoots—is both the ‘seer and seen’, observer and observed: in self-shot autobiographical work these key questions are often clearly displayed precisely in the way that film-makers make use of their cameras.


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  • Published online: 28 Apr 2014

Author affiliations

  • a Goldsmiths University of London


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