Cinema Verité and Authenticity

Imagine you are out for dinner with two of your close friends. The conversation is candid, and flows from one topic to the next. One of your friends pulls out their phone, and begins recording the conversation.

Does the dynamic change?

Do you speak as freely as you did prior to being recorded?

Documentary film aims to capture a subject or topic with some measure of objectivity. But the simple act of turning a camera on a person can change their behaviour. The premise of Cinema Verité is to film a scene in as natural a state as possible – as though the camera and director were merely flies on a wall.

The following video was made by documentary student Stan Huang. Below the video, read about his experience filming the exercise.

Can you explain the exercise that you were given? Rafi Spivak,our editing instructor, was teaching us about cinema verité and he wanted us to go out and film someone doing something. I thought it was interesting because you don’t usually just go to a shop or restaurant and shoot what people are doing.

Why did you decide to shoot at this particular restaurant? For their kitchen, they have an open window for people to watch. Every I time go have noodles there, there are kids just hopping up in the window watching them making noodles, so I thought that would be a cool action to shoot.

What was it like to shoot the exercise? We only had one day to shoot this project. So my project partner Adam and I decided to go there, and I went in and said we’re making a documentary about local food scenes.

Luckily the owner was there and he was cooking. I asked if I could interview him but he was a bit shy so he said you can just interview the waiters. So Adam did that and we got footage of that. Then I went into the kitchen with a slider and just shot whatever I could.

Did you run into any challenges or anything unexpected while you were filming? Yes actually, that was the first time I used a slider with a DSLR and I learned a lot in terms of how to set it up. And space was very limited in the kitchen so we had to deal with that.


Not/Enough: A Student Film Project

Each term our documentary students are given a unique assignment: to create a 3 to 4 minute biographical film. As instructor Steve Rosenberg puts it, if they are to spend their lives pointing a camera at others, it is essential to understand what that feels like. We spoke with current student Amanda Lo about the process for her student film Not/Enough.

Where did the idea come from for your student film?

Amanda: Over the past year or so I’d been talking to friends of mine and just getting some inspiration from them in terms of being in different places in our lives….and how we can get really discouraged, and how in these times we can get caught up in these negative thoughts and words.

We’re the first people who hear the words coming out of our mouths when we talk. And that struck a chord with me. I’m telling myself these things and they’re becoming ingrained in me and I’ve got to start replacing what I’m saying about myself with something better so that I’m not carrying these things around. As I was writing everything for the bio, I remembered that and thought maybe I could do something around it for the bio.

Did you feel any hesitation in revealing your personal insecurities?

Amanda: Yeah definitely. In the beginning I was thinking that I just wanted to make something light, and maybe funny and entertaining. And then we were doing a couple of exercises and I realized that other people in the class were opening up and being vulnerable in front of the camera. And actually I think that’s what inspired me, or gave me the extra courage to make my bio about me, and be more open in it.

Also, I have a background in theatre. So when I realized that I couldn’t make this into a big production, I chose to do something simpler and more theatrical, but with a big impact.