Documenter Website - www.documenter.com
review by Stephen Stockwell
Documenter Vol 1 No 1 September 1998
Why go to print? Readers of TEXT will be familiar with this question. The web offers the opportunity to produce a magazine that will be read around the world without exorbitant printing costs, tortuous distribution deals or any of those little compromises required to attract and keep a significant level of advertising.
The down side is that readers can only do their reading on a computer or from a print out so the webzine is not ideal reading matter for beach or bed - though I do know a few techno fanatics who connect their Powerbooks to the bedside phone line.
Also, the reader is held hostage to the vagaries of the medium and can spend quite a lot of time waiting for an article to materialise. The Documenter homepage is a case in point: the index of the issue is by way of a beautifully textured graphic but using my Mac Performa's Netscape 2 on a standard Ozemail line, the graphic took about 2 minutes to load up.
Even worse, my attempts to download Daryl Dellora's shooting script for something called Conspiracy crashed my computer twice in a 24 hour period. None dare call it conspiracy!
Nevertheless Documenter is an exciting innovation that shows what a webzine can do when it is approached with a seriousness of purpose. Its target audience are those interested in making and understanding documentaries and, if the first issue is anything to go by, it promises to keep us abreast of not only the ever-burgeoning debates about the nature, purpose and future of documentary but also the practicalities of the genre.
In fact, its practical focus is Documenter's killer app. Meaty interviews with Heather Croall and Steve Thomas reveal the bleak realities of documentary making in Australia. There is little money for production, few slots for programming and don't give up your day job but the rare pleasure of making something meaningful and getting it on screen keeps attracting people willing to give it a go - there's 500 self-identifying documentary makers in Melbourne alone.
They should all read John Marshall's practical insights into international co-productions and his down-to-earth-advice about how to approach this nebulous area. This article will be of benefit to all film and video makers, not just documentary makers and it makes a visit to this zine worthwhile all by itself. Perhaps if Tom Zubrikyi had read this article he could make some more significant contribution than his mercifully short piece bemoaning the failure of the ABC to give him lots of money for a documentary that he made without considering where it would be shown.
In terms of debates about the genre, reflection about Race Around the World is ubiquitous and predominantly negative. I think this points to the central problem facing the documentary in Australia today. Russell Porter's "The Dumbing Down of Docos" and Deb Verhoeven's piece on Race attack the program's banal superficiality, the Racers' lack of expertise and the Judges for existing. They can see nothing positive in the interest in the genre it has generated or the experience and exposure it has given young players.
I am concerned that behind their attacks lies a view of documentary making not as a chance to document something that might be important to an audience but rather as a lifestyle that is so worthy that it deserves government support. This view of documentary will lead to its swift demise. As an activity, documentary-making is in danger of becoming so cerebral that it floats off above its audience while they tune into Real TV. What's wrong with this picture? The reality is that if you've got a video camera rolling in the middle of an interesting event, then you've got an interesting TV program and the audience is doing it for themselves.
The challenge for documentary makers is to learn from what works, to forgo the ultra-expensive feature film industry as a model and instead to look for models that have survived without government support by concentrating on communicating to audiences. Dare I suggest that it is time for documentary makers to consider lessons from the rock music industry which flourishes despite its anti-Establishment stance and governments' often malicious opposition?
Stephen Stockwell is a lecturer in Journalism at Griffith University, Gold Coast Campus
Vol 2 No 2 October 1998
Editors: Nigel Krauth & Tess Brady