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Don't Look Back - Direct Cinema

by Michelle Langford

The 1960s witnessed a major shift in documentary cinema style – This was in part aided by the development of a lightweight portable tape recorder that enabled filmmakers to record synchronous sound on location. This also allowed documentary crews to be reduced to as small as two. This radically changed the nature of the kind of documentary that could be produced. In some ways Direct Cinema can be seen as a reaction against the documentary model that followed John Grierson’s approach with its use of voice over narration and authoritative perspective over events. Direct cinema directors were particularly critical of the use of voice over to tell viewers what to think. They wanted to allow the audience to interpret what is happening for themselves.

This clip from Don’t Look Back illustrates many of the formal elements of Direct Cinema including: no Voice of God narration; camera allows the action to unfold naturally; mobility of the camera is determined by the subject, rather than by the filmmaker. Small 2-person crew can capture the action as it unfolds; it doesn’t dictate the action. Creates a sense of intimacy between the subject and the filmmakers; explores the minor, incidental moments of everyday life.

Rules of direct cinema:
Never ask a question
Never ask anyone to do anything
Never ask anyone to repeat an act or phrase that you missed

Don’t Look Back - Direct Cinema

Clip from Don't Look Back

from Don’t Look Back (1967)
Creator: D. A. Pennebaker
Posted by Michelle Langford