top of page

Creating the Griersonian Character and Breaking the ‘Yahoo’ Tradition

DOI: | Issue 3 | April 2020

Catherine Gough-Brady

RMIT University, Melbourne


In the 1920s and 1930s, John Grierson railed against the use of the individual heroic character in documentaries. He felt that the individual character was an outmoded ‘yahoo’ idea that promoted anarchy. He was interested in revealing the mass nature of society, and suggested using a ‘co-operative’ character. I argue that a co-operative character is one that shares a common goal with other characters in the film and where they work together towards that goal. I examine the co-operative characters found in Grierson’s Drifters (1929) and uncover archival material in which he discusses his creative process. Through this, and the creation of my own co-operative character film, Expect Delays (2018), I find that the co-operative character often lacks an expression of inner-self and therefore no guide for how to view the world contained in the narrative. Just as characters provide a guide for how the audience should interpret the world of the narrative, I found that they also provide a guide for the documentarian’s choices in the edit. Finally, I explore whether we still make documentaries with co-operative characters, or if the co-operative character is a solution to the story-driven documentary that is no longer used.


As you read this article, imagine that the ‘characters’ of John Grierson (who created the word ‘documentary’ and to some extent the form itself) and Murray Smith (a scriptwriting academic known for his work on character) are in the same room arguing with each other. This creative method is used to contextualise debates about the use of character. I am interested in exploring forms of academic discourse that can be used to both argue and embody the subject matter of the documentary character. I debate this central theme through reference to the process of creating my own film, Expect Delays (2018) [1].

Expect Delays (2018) is a film that experiments with John Grierson’s idea of ‘co-operative characters’: the idea that no one character is central to the story. In the film, humans and machines work together to destroy, rest, and then create our world. Expect Delays, available to watch in full here, is directed by Catherine Gough-Brady, with sound design by Mitchell Waters and Kyle Barbour-Hoffman.

The Opening

I was at the after party for a documentary film festival. In the corner I noticed John Grierson and Murray Smith. They were arguing about the role of character in documentaries. I grabbed a glass of the passible red and made a beeline for them. After all, they are both larger than life characters in the film world, and to have them in the same room arguing together was not an experience to be missed.

Murray Smith looked exactly as you imagine a British academic should look: lean and tall, with short greying hair, a grey jacket, and no tie. He was mid-flight, ‘Our propensity to respond emotionally to fictional characters is a key aspect of our experience and enjoyment of narrative films’ (2004: 1).

John Grierson responded, ‘individualism is a yahoo tradition largely responsible for our present anarchy, deny at once both the hero of decent heroics (Flaherty) and the hero of indecent ones (studio). In this case, you will feel that you want your drama in terms of some cross-section of reality which will reveal…’. He paused, and took a sip of his drink, ‘… which will reveal the essential co-operative or mass nature of society: leaving the individual to find his honours in the swoop of creative social forces’ (1946: 82).

Unimpressed by Grierson’s dismissal of the central character, Murray was quick to reply, ‘Geertz's study of Balinese notions of personhood suggests that even within a culture…’.

Grierson interrupted, ‘Joris told me…’, but Murray continued, ‘… which, unlike ours, emphasizes the shared traits and responsibilities of members of various kinship structures a basic notion of individual, personal agency persists and finds some cultural expression’ (2004: 23).

As I listened to them arguing about the value of a central character, my mind drifted away and began to think, what would a contemporary film with Grierson’s co-operative characters look like? As a practitioner who has created documentaries for television and radio, I see documentaries as the artefact that results from a series of relationships, including between the documentarian, the recorded person, the theme and the audience [2]. I had not previously focused exclusively on the relationship between the characters, except to use it to reveal aspects of the main character. Grierson was proposing that characters within the film become a part of a ‘swoop of creative social forces’ and he was highlighting the importance of a sympathetic social relationship between multiple characters. I was interested in what effect this would have on the type of character, or narrative, I could create.

Murray Smith’s energy drew my attention back to the discussion, ‘I do not wish to dispute that the cinema, as a technology, emerged from a bourgeois and patriarchal society – but I do argue that the potential uses and effects of a technology may outstrip its origins, and that this is certainly the case with the ideological effects of cinema’ (2004: 9). I agreed with Murray Smith that cinema contains ideology: from the methods of production through to the message of the film. But I was unconvinced cinema could ‘outstrip’ ideology; instead I feel it reflects current ideologies, shifting as they shift.

So, I joined the conversation with a provocation, ‘I think the films we make reflect our current attitudes. Current successful documentaries have complex central characters that, in many ways, act as avatars for our growing interest (and dismay) in individuality over social cohesion. Think of the con artist Frederic Bourdin in The Imposter (2012): a central character whose identity is fluid, changing to increase his personal gain. Or the films in which the individual is in opposition to social cohesion, like Steven Avery in Making a Murderer (2015). We don’t make Griersonian films anymore, where multiple characters get along and work together.’

At that point Grierson challenged me to create a contemporary film containing co-operative characters. ‘You photograph the natural life, but you also, by your juxtaposition of detail, create an interpretation of it’ (1946: 81-2). He thought it was possible to work against the current trends and that my creative treatment of actuality could embrace the co-operative character [3]. Murray Smith smiled at the idea of it.

On the drive home that night I was slowed down by some roadworks. As I crawled along, I saw mostly male workers and machines at work under volumetric (and flashing) lights. I realised that this world is visually fascinating and I could use night roadworks to explore the co-operative characters found in Drifters (1929) and Night Mail (1936). As Michael Renov wrote, documentary had ‘from its inception, been tied up with modernism’ (2004: 131). And, here was a modernist setting: the combination of workers, machinery, dust, and lights in the destruction and re-surfacing of a straight flat road.

Attempting to create a contemporary example of the co-operative character also interested me because it would force me to avoid being a ‘yahoo’ who uses a central character as a key narrative device. I had a feeling that filming the roadworks would reveal as much to me about the function of a central character as it would about Grierson’s co-operative character. Sometimes the best way to understand a thing, like a central character, is to see what happens when it is removed from the equation.


Grierson directed and edited Drifters (1929), using Basil Emmott as the cinematographer. A reviewer at the time wrote, ‘this subject might, in the wrong hands, easily have proved a disastrous one, but Mr Grierson … has tackled it in such a way as to give it tremendous dramatic power’ (‘The John Grierson Archive G2-24-7’).

The narrative structure of Drifters contains the cycle of one fishing trip. The men walk over hill and dale to the port and to the ship. The ship is hybrid machine-human powered; we see the machines at work alongside the men. We also see the fish swimming free, and then captured. The fishermen’s work is not completely safe, the sea battles against the ship, but they return intact to port with their catch, which is then sold to wholesalers, and in turn to retailers. As Jamie Sexton wrote about the fishermen, ‘they are posited as protagonists in a drama between nature, man and machine’ (2002: 46).

The underlying filming premise of Drifters, though not the editing style, is remarkably similar to mid 20th century observational documentaries. Grierson called it ‘Natural Cinema’: ‘The life of Natural cinema is in this massing of detail, in this massing of all the rhythmic energies that contribute to the blazing fact of the matter’ (‘The John Grierson Archive G7A5-04’). ‘Kinoman’, a reviewer at the time, commented, ‘We are taken down to the sea to the herring shoals. The salt spray bites into our cheeks, and the waves toss our vessel about like a cork. We strain at the nets’ (‘The John Grierson Archive G2-24-18’). The reviewer writes about the experience of watching the film as if he was there, as if he was one of the fishermen. The characters are observed as they complete their daily tasks on the fishing trip and these fishermen exist in the present, they do not reflect on past events. The fishermen are not telling the story, they are living it. The camera is not a stranger, it is one of them. Compare this with the way observational filmmaker DA Pennebaker talks about his process:

I could put [the camera] on my shoulder and have eye contact with people. I could join groups and hear what they were saying, and know that I was getting it. The wide-angle lens became the finishing lens for a film. It’s where the filmmaker joins all the people he's filming, and becomes one of them (Cunningham, 2014: 95).

The present tense of Grierson’s co-operative characters corresponds to the methods used by observational filmmakers like Pennebaker.

Grierson edited Drifters using Russian ideas of montage, and he was proud of what he achieved with his use of rhythm and tempo: ‘I believe they outdid the technical example of [Battleship] Potemkin’ (1946: 86). Grierson modified Russian montage ideas to suit his own needs and cultural context: ‘English production might easily add to the Russian intensity something of the English sense of moderation’ (Sexton, 2002: 46). Jamie Sexton noted this ‘moderation’ resulted in ‘the absence of a sense of the working classes as a force for revolutionary action’ (49). For Grierson, the difference between his and ‘Sergei’s montage’ was that ‘I was not concerned with the ideological situation’ (‘The John Grierson Archive G7a-5-4’ 13). Clearly Grierson had an ideological position, but it differed from Eisenstein’s: the characters Grierson created from the fishermen do not bring about radical change, they are living a life that is moderately moving towards modernity without losing a sense of tradition or nature. Grierson wrote that the characters ‘had something of the noble savage’ surrounded by ‘steam and smoke’ (85). The characters reflect his admiration of co-operation and his slightly patronising belief in the nobility of labour. The characters in Drifters co-operate and all work together towards a goal, whereas the same could not be said of Eisenstein’s characters. The ‘collision of independent shots’ (Eisenstein, 1949: 49) binds rather than separates the human, animal and machine characters in Drifters. Grierson’s modification of Russian montage can be seen as aligning with his ideal of co-operative characters.

Grierson was also keenly aware of the need for dramatic tension: ‘The westerns give you some notion of the energies. The Russians give you the energies and the intimacies both. And Flaherty is a poet.’ He went on, ‘The net effect of this cinematic upbringing was to make me want a storm: a real storm, an intimate storm, and if possible a rather noble storm’ (‘The John Grierson Archive G2-9-4’ 11). Co-operation between characters somewhat excludes drama being created by conflict between them. Grierson found his dramatic tension elsewhere, he waited at the port for a storm to brew and used the weather as an antagonist. Having said this, it is important to note that the film is not a ‘man against nature’ narrative, because while the fishermen have to contend with the sea, there is also a sense that they are used to working with it. As one reviewer at the time wrote, implying the relationship was a tempestuous romance, ‘The sea reluctantly gives way, and the nets appear laden with shining fish’ (‘The John Grierson Archive G2-24-18’). The result is that dramatic tension in Drifters is mostly found in the doing of the work in the environment, not in the relationship between the characters.

Co-operative characters as a narrative device

Grierson’s co-operative characters correspond to Murray Smith’s claim that ‘imaginative engagement with fictional narratives’ requires ‘a basic notion or human agency or ‘personhood’, which is a fundamental element of both our ordinary social interactions and of our imaginative activities’ (2004: 17). As a viewer, I may not ‘know’ these fishermen, but I can recognise them as fellow humans, who have varying degrees of agency. Essentially, I can recognise the broad notions of the social structures they work within. As Murray Smith wrote: ‘characters depend not only on a general conception of human agency but also on conceptions of social roles specific to cultures’ (2004: 21) [4]. Grierson’s co-operative characters emphasise the shared links between the characters. I have a sense of the relationships between the fishermen, an inkling of different work/social roles: from the sleepy teenager to the man at the helm overseeing the action. But the fishermen fall short of claiming full character status: I do not know their names, I do not know what they think about being a fisherman, I am not sure if I would like any of them, or if they like each other. I am not aware of what Craig Batty calls their ‘inner character’ (2012: 62).

Drifters has no sync sound for the fishermen to speak their minds, but in the silent film era inner character could be revealed by interstitials. In Nanook of the North (1922), for example, Flaherty created an interstitial that reads ‘Nanook proudly displays his young ‘huskies,’ the finest dog flesh in all the country round’ (11: 31). This interstitial is designed to indicate Nanook’s feelings (pride) and that huskies are valuable within the social group. It gives us an understanding of Nanook’s inner character, and how we should look at what we see [5]. Interstitials are not used in Drifters in this way, and that means we do not have insight into the fishermen’s inner character. The interstitial that introduces the storm in Drifters is ‘Dawn breaks with heavy swell over land and sea.’ This gives the viewer little indication of how the fisherman perceive the storm: is this a worrisome storm, or just a bit of an annoying squall? The inner character does not just tell us about the person, it tells us about their world.

Murray Smith argued ‘that our entry into narrative structures is mediated by character. … Characters form salient nodes of narrative structures, but they do not stand outside them’ (2004: 18). It is hard to claim that the fishermen in Drifters are ‘nodes’ in the narrative structure, or even expressions of the various Jungian archetypes popularised by Christopher Vogler in The Writer’s Journey (2007). For the fishermen to move beyond recognised ‘personhood’ into nodal importance, we would need to be able to explore their individual selves within the social context. By exploring the individuals, the consequences of their actions would become clearer, and they would become protagonists whose actions are central to the narrative. In Drifters we are unable to see nodal points because we do not understand enough about the individual fishermen within their social context to understand which actions and interactions form nodes. For instance, what were the consequences of the sleepy teenager being late to his post? If he were a central character, this moment would have formed a nodal point in the narrative, and the consequences of his actions would have driven the story in a certain direction. This was not the case in Drifters, a co-operative character film is one in which an individual character does not determine the narrative arc and, in the case of Drifters, does not tell the viewer how to understand the world in the narrative.

Contemporary co-operative characters

In my search to understand more about how Grierson’s co-operative characters might exist in contemporary times, I viewed the work of Heddy Honigmann. She creates documentary works in which there is no central character. Honigmann’s films contain what can be seen at a basic level as vox pops encounters with strangers, a type of documentary equivalent to street photography. The characters are nearly all strangers that reveal some part of themselves to Honigmann. Once a character has had their say, we might never encounter them again. Just as Grierson’s co-operative characters are bound together by a boat or a train, her characters are bound together by a location (Forever (2006b)) or a book of poetry (O Amor Natural (1996)). While Honigmann is an off-screen presence throughout her films, she never fulfils character status: we do not see her, we do not know her.

There are significant differences between Grierson’s and Honigmann’s characters. Honigmann’s sit down and chat, they do not know each other or work together towards progress, they are not often ‘observed’, more often they are interviewed, or as Honigmann calls it ‘interrupted’ (2006a, 8: 30). While the method of filming and editing the characters is quite different the outcome of a feeling of the ‘mass nature of society’ (1946: 82) is remarkably similar. Honigmann has, as Grierson requested of those rejecting individual heroes, abandoned ‘the story form, and seek like the modern exponent of poetry and painting and prose, a matter and method more satisfactory’ (1946: 82). The massing together of Honigmann’s interactions with various characters who reflect on the key theme of the film gives the sense that we are all wonderfully unique and important, but at the same time insignificant as individuals. There is more intimacy in Honigmann’s characters than Grierson’s, despite the fact she has spent much less time with each of them than Grierson did with the fishermen. This comes from the characters reflecting on their own lives and experiences, from which their inner characters are revealed. Honigmann’s characters are not strictly speaking co-operative characters, but they are characters that work against the idea of the heroic central character. Her means of arriving at Grierson’s outcome is different, but her characters accomplish what Grierson sought.

Once I realised that Honigmann’s work could be seen as a modern exponent of what Grierson was proposing, it occurred to me that characters do not need to be in the same scene, or even know each other, or be observed, that they do not need to be a Griersonian co-operative character to avoid the ‘yahoo tradition’. Many contemporary documentaries, known in the industry as ‘talking head documentaries’, tell the story via a number of different characters, and sometimes none of them are central characters. Possibly Grierson had not lost the argument with Murray Smith after all, because the documentary form, while it has a lot in common with the feature film, also has its own set of rules about characters. Expression of character that would be seen as experimental in fiction, such as a group of characters who never meet each other, who never even stand up and move about, are seen as normal in documentary. If the co-operative character was separated from the observational form, and allowed to exist in the talking head form, then it was very possibly alive and well. Think of Morgan Neville’s 20 Feet from Stardom (2013) and Ava DuVernay’s 13th DuVernay (2016), or Daryl Dellora’s Conspiracy (1994).

Daryl Dellora says about his documentary work, ‘Characters are incredibly important as they are in any kind of filmmaking’; he went on to qualify this by saying, ‘but the way those characters are placed within the context of the story, particular story that you are telling, might be more important in some films than others’ (Gough-Brady, 2019: 6:24). As with the co-operative characters, Dellora’s characters rarely determine the story arc or form Murray’s ‘nodes’.

Conspiracy examines the Hilton bombing in Australia in 1978 and explores various theories about who placed the bomb and why. For Dellora, a policeman injured by the bomb forms a central character in the film, but the policeman’s personal story does not drive the narrative of the film, instead it becomes a part of a wider narrative. Dellora says about the injured policeman, Terry Griffiths:

His sequences in the film are actually very moving character moments where you get to understand the damage that’s been done to an individual person on a very intimate sort of level. However, I wouldn’t say that was the most important thing about that film at all. I’d say that was a secondary thing in the film because the film raises so many very important issues about Australia at that time, which are far more important, and in many respects more engaging, than Terry’s personal story (Gough-Brady, 2019: 6:46)

A character such as Terry Griffiths moves beyond ‘personhood’ and reveals an inner self. As a viewer, I know what I think about him, and what he thinks about the world. In fact, I would go as far as to say Terry Griffiths‘s raw inner self makes him one of the most interesting talking head characters ever to be filmed. But his character does not form a node in the documentary, his actions only occasionally drive the story forward. As Producer Sue Maslin said about Terry’s role in Conspiracy, ‘His story is a through line in a sense, but it’s not a character documentary’ (Gough-Brady, 2019: 8:49). Maslin recognises that each character has a storyline that is woven together, with other characters, to form the fabric of the film. The narrative formed from this weave can become more important than individual elements. The ‘issue’ raised by the film, in this case the Hilton bombing, is like Grierson’s fishing trawler, or Honigmann’s book of poetry. It becomes the common goal binding the characters. It could be said that in story terms this is similar to Grierson’s ‘leaving the individual to find his honours in the swoop of creative social forces’ (1946" 82). As with Honigmann’s films, Dellora’s characters are not ‘authentic’ co-operative characters, but the resulting film, with no central heroic character driving the action, achieves what Grierson was after.

Expect Delays

When I filmed the roadworks for my co-operative character challenge, I did not pack my radio lapel mics that help me to home in on the individual; in fact, I packed no mics at all. Without a microphone, I was not going to encourage the conversation that would inevitably begin, and fall into the trap of turning that person into a central character. Implied in this choice is the assumption that a central character in a documentary requires dialogue. It had not occurred to me at the time this could be achieved via interstitials.

Once I edited the footage down to nine minutes, what I noticed is that without the audio, without a central character, there were no pair of eyes, no person, no voice, to provide the interpretation. Not only did the viewer have no guide about how to interpret the scenes, as the filmmaker I also had no guide for editing them. Craig Batty suggested about drama scriptwriting that ‘It’s through character that we see everything else – the world, action, dialogue, theme’ (2012: 59). Without the character sharing their point of view, the viewer falls back on stereotypes or fantasy to understand who that character is and what they are doing. Without a person revealing inner character, I fell back on chronology and diurnal structure when I was editing. In my attempt to eradicate the central character I had essentially eradicated all character and ended up with a symphonic film.

By focusing on the co-operation between the characters, I had not developed an understanding of any of them as individuals. Honigmann’s characters reveal inner self, and while they are not in control of the narrative of the film, they inform the scene in which they exist. Some of Dellora’s characters reveal inner self and he uses this to lead the viewer into a story where other characters will take over. None of the people I filmed were ‘talking’ to me in my edit, telling me what is important, and what does not matter. As much as the documentarian shapes the filmed person into the documentary character, that character in turn shapes the narrative around them. Grierson wrote about his experience editing that ‘the shots were massed together, not for description and tempo, but for commentary on it’ (1946: 86). I was not used to having that much control over what happened in my timeline and my narrative structure.

In an earlier experimental work I created, funded by the Australia Council, Suleiman’s Journey (2012), I realised that in a narrative, characters claim time, and make it their own. Their emotional experience distorts time so that some events are given more screen time, and others passed over quickly, or even hit the cutting room floor. Narrative time is linked to the character. It was not until the last couple of days in post-production that I was forced to revert to ‘yahoo traditions’ and create a main character in Expect Delays (2018). There was a section of the audio design which never worked. The problem was solved when I sat down with the sound designers and we realised that the big machine ripping up the road, had to become the main character for the first act of the film. Even if it was in the background of the shot, it needed to be in the foreground of the sound design. Choosing a main character shaped the choices in the sound design. Because the humans in the film revealed so little inner character, the main character could easily become a machine. Without realising it, I had created an example of non-representational methodology: machines and humans had equal status in the relationships, the everyday interaction was being foregrounded as human voices were silenced. As Vannini wrote, ‘non-representational work puts a premium on the corporeal rituals and entanglements embedded in embodied action rather than talk or cognitive attitudes’ (2015: 13).

Awards Night Party

Around a year later, I was in the line for a documentary awards ceremony and I ran into the writer and television presenter Tess Brady and we began chatting about the modernist underpinnings of Expect Delays. The film had been nominated as a finalist in the experimental films category. She said about the film, ‘It made me think that this is how it is, humans and machines do co-exist and that co-existence forms a synergy’ (personal communication).

I said, ‘This is the thing, isn’t it? The Greirsonian co-operative characters in Expect Delays lead us into focusing on a harmonious relationship between the characters, rather than the inner self of a particular character. This means the machines are as much characters as the people.’

Liz Burke and Liz Baulch had moved forward in the queue to be with us. Liz Burke suggested, ‘Because of the use of wide shots, and the lack of close-ups, there was no-one I really identified with. I also think this is because they're all wearing hi-vis jackets. They all look the same to me’ (personal communication).

I responded, ‘It’s true, I didn’t film close ups of the people. Grierson filmed close ups in Drifters, and yet I found that the close up was not enough to reveal inner self.’

Tess nodded, and said about Expect Delays, ‘Was there character? Not for me’ (personal communication).

Liz Baulch didn’t entirely agree, ‘I wondered what the guy’s story was who was in white sitting down with his head in his hands’ (personal communication).

Filmmaker Christine Rogers added, ‘When the guy with the weird hair chucks stuff on the ground. He’s one character I potentially identify with – the stoner hairdo and the oh so tight pants!’ (personal communication).

I thought about this as we entered the awards venue. Character identification was not easy in a co-operative character film where inner character is not revealed, but it was not entirely impossible. It was more likely when a person looked different, wore a different colour, sported a different hairstyle, possibly because this became an expression of inner self. The rest the viewer had to fill in for themselves. And people will do that. In Expect Delays I had created a work without central characters, and as much as I love creating documentaries that include clearly defined characters that express their inner self, I realised that by not doing that I was leaving much more up to the viewer, and their interpretation. I had, at least, fulfilled Grierson’s desire that I move into a different way of creating the narrative.

Strictly speaking, Grierson’s co-operative character is an observed character living in the present. The dramatic tension is mostly found in the doing of the work in the environment, not in the relationship between the characters. Introducing a common goal for co-operative characters means they become defined by that goal and we do not learn about their thoughts and feelings outside of that common goal. When I created a modern version, the co-operation between the machines and the humans was brought to fore, as both had equal levels of inner self revealed.

There are contemporary documentaries that do not use a central character, and while they do not necessarily use a Griersonian ‘co-operative character’ they do fulfil Grierson desire for ‘the individual to find … honours in the swoop of creative social forces’ (1946: 82). So while his character type may not be in use, the underlying aim of telling the story via multiple characters still has currency.

As a result of this analysis I realised that the inner character does not just tell us about the person, it also tells both the spectator and the documentarian about the world of the narrative. Key characters help the documentarian to edit the documentary because characters claim narrative time and influence how the narrative is shaped. Without them, the audience resorts to speculation, and documentarian resorts to linear and diurnal structures.

Trouble is, the film won the prize [6], and I was left wondering, how could a film with no central (or really any) characters win a prize? Are characters less valuable than I thought? Have the non-representational theorists got it right and a human-centric narrative is not necessary? It seemed so unlikely that I decided to press on with my examination of character, rather than drop the idea.


This article was first presented at the 2018 Australian Screen Production, Education & Research Association (ASPERA) conference, Melbourne, 27-29 June.


  • Batty, Craig. 2012. Screenplays: How to write & sell them. Harpenden: Kamera Books.

  • Batty, Craig, and Susan Kerrigan. 2018. Screen Production Research: Creative Practice as a Mode of Enquiry. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.

  • Cunningham, Megan. 2014. The Art of Documentary. 2nd ed. USA: New Riders.

  • Dellora, Daryl. 1994. Conspiracy.

  • DuVernay, Ava. 2016. 13th.

  • Eisenstein, Sergei. 1949. Film Form: Essays in Film Theory New York: Harcourt.

  • FitzSimons, Trish, Pat Laughren, and Dugald Williamson. 2011. Australian Documentary: History, Practices and Genres Melbourne: Cambridge University Press

  • Flaherty, Robert J. 1922. Nanook of the North.

  • Gough-Brady, Catherine. 2012. Suleiman’s Journey.

  • Gough-Brady, Catherine. 2018. Expect Delays.

  • Gough-Brady, Catherine. 2019. Empathy with the Masses.

  • Grierson, John. 1929. Drifters.

  • Grierson, John. 1946. "First Principles of Documentary." In Grierson on Documentary, edited by Forsyth Hardy, 78-89. London: Collins.

  • Honigmann, Heddy. 1996. O Amor Natural

  • Honigmann, Heddy. 2006a. A Conversation with John Anderson.

  • Honigmann, Heddy. 2006b. Forever.

  • Kerrigan, Susan, and Phillip McIntyre. 2010. "The ‘creative treatment of actuality’: Rationalizing and reconceptualizing the notion of creativity for documentary practice." Journal of Media Practice 11 (2):111-130. doi: 10.1386/jmpr.11.2.111_1.

  • Layton, Bart. 2012. The Imposter.

  • Neville, Morgan. 2013. 20 Feet from Stardom

  • Renov, Michael. 2004. The Subject of Documentary. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota.

  • Ricciardi, Laura, and Moira Demos. 2015. Making a Murderer.

  • Sexton, Jamie. 2002. "GRIERSON'S MACHINES: Drifters, the Documentary Film Movement and the Negotiation of Modernity." Canadian Journal of Film Studies Spring 2002; 11 (1):40-59.

  • Smith, Murray. 2004. Engaging Characters: Fiction, Emotion, and the Cinema. Oxford: OUP.

  • Vannini, Phillip. 2015. Non-Representational Methodologies : Re-Envisioning Research, Routledge Advances in Research Methods. New York: Routledge. Book.

  • Vogler, Christopher. 2007. The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. 3rd ed. Studio City: Michael Wiese.

  • Watt, Harry, and Basil Wright. 1936. Night Mail.


[1] The combination of fiction and non-fiction is inspired by Leo Berkley’s chapter in Screen Production Research (Batty and Kerrigan 2018, 29-46).

[2] It is interesting to note that a similar view of documentary is found in the introduction to Australian Documentary: History, Practices and Genres (FitzSimons, Laughren, and Williamson 2011) where they explore ‘how representational modes and conventions are used in historical relationships of practice, through which documentaries find their purpose and form’ (8).

[3] For further discussion on the ‘creative treatment of actuality’ see Kerrigan and McIntyre’s article “‘Creative Treatment of Actuality”: Rationalizing and reconceptualizing the notion of creativity for documentary practice’ (2010).

[4] To be clear, ‘agency’ in this context is not the ability of the filmed person to control the filming or editing of the film, as it is sometimes used in discussions on documentary ethics. This idea of ‘agency’ is one bound by culture and is akin to the way in that cultural theorists like Chris Barker use the term (237).

[5] Obviously Nanook’s inner character is strongly mediated by Flaherty’s point of view, but nevertheless there is an inner character to guide us. The argument about how much it is Nanook, and how much it is Flaherty, is for another article.

[6] SAE ATOM award for Best Tertiary Experimental Film.

bottom of page