Film Studies in Motion: From audiovisual essay to academic research video

Personal documentary

About 99% of video essays are made up entirely of re-edited existing audiovisual footage. A minority, however, take to shooting their own footage, similar (or identical?) to the personal documentary. These more playful instances are rare, and thus far the best-known examples have been videos that attempt to provide a manifesto for a new form of video, instead of already attempting this new form. When self-shot footage is included, this generally takes up the larger part of the video. Nevertheless, these instances, so far, are not consistent or specific enough to be associated to the video essaying practice of our focus here, and thus are not forming a solid category in our taxonomy. For instance, Kevin B. Lee’s inflammatory The Essay Film – Some Thoughts of Discontent (2013) is one of the most notable examples, bearing close resemblance to the personal essay and to the essay film, about which genre the video was actually made.
Besides the personal additions, however, Lee’s work largely mixes archive excerpts from film, television, screengrabs, gif animations, and stock footage. Another video by Lee shows the exception to the hardly formulated rule. In this personal – adaptation – documentary, Sight and Sound Film Poll: An International Tribute to Roger Ebert (2012), self-shot footage functions as a diegetic link between the video’s author (Lee) and the source-text that is being adapted in the video (the 1988 edition of Roger Ebert’s Movie Home Companion).
We see a montage of the pages of Ebert’s book, and shots of hands holding and opening the book. When a voice-over reads aloud from the book, the video cuts to footage from the referenced film, and super-imposes Ebert’s words on top. Like with most of Lee’s videos, the strategy is plain and simple [Figure 32].
The most notable academic attempt to personal documentary form is a video supplement to a written manifesto by Thommy Eriksson and Inge Ejbye Sørensen, Reflections on Academic Video (2012), appeared on
The scholars behind Reflections are also responsible for erecting Audiovisual Thinking, The Journal of Academic Videos. In the manifesto they ask thought-provoking questions, revolving, for instance, around the debate on whether or not we should immediately be pairing ‘academic video’ up with ‘audiovisual essay’ (nevertheless, their explorative inquiries are ultimately devoid of answers). Eriksson and Sørensen’s video, although less assertive in tone, is similar to Lee’s work on the essay film. Often, this self-made footage or ‘personal documentary’ consists of shots where questions are posed, or established knowledge is questioned, undermined or even destroyed: see for example the rows of bookcases in Eriksson and Sørensen’s video, or the burning pieces of paper that list cinematic categories in Lee’s work. Although their incentive is progressive and the subtitle of the journal claims to be “the journal of academic videos”, the actual content of the platform consists of documentary-like works that are better defined as ‘videos by academics’ rather than video that is academic or scholarly in quality [Figure 33].[62] For this reason, we have not included extensive discussion of this mode of presentation in this book.

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