Digital Images in Documentary

“I wish to acknowledge at the outset that I am concerned with cinema in a narrative mode but not in the context of documentary. Questions of photographic truth are relevant to documentary in ways they are not for fiction film, and issue of indexical meaning have a different inflection in documentary than they do in fiction. Documentary is an assertive mode. It states to viewers that some situation or event exists. Fiction does not inherently do so (Prince, 2012, p3).”

In this quotation, Prince illustrated the reason why he avoided discussing the relationship between the visual effects in the context of the documentary. Documentary here is understood by Prince with un-fictional nature, which needs the photographic images to tell the viewers how the original events look like, rather than adding indexical meaning to the event because it might impair the credibility of the reality. However, this argument might also become untenable when animation was adopted as a method to represent and concrete the reality in a spiritual level which is not easily to be captured, such as memory, dream, emotional changes, etc.

Waltz with Bashir is an example that can be used to query Prince’s opinion. The project started with Folman’s own dream which drove him to interview other soldiers he used to serve with. The interviews that Folman conducted were staged and videotaped. The animators make their drawings based on the video materials in 2D style. The main body of the project was constituted by soldiers’ memories and feelings towards the war, which is difficult to be captured by photographic images. So the filmmaker used the flexibility of animation, concreted the fragmented memories of different soldiers about the real events happened during the war, and then to construct the appearance of the history.

Meanwhile, although animation is a fictional method, its function of assisting the expression of real anti-war emotion should not be ignored. For instance, in a memory of Folmasn’s comrade, it was represented by a warm tone to infer the cozy atmosphere before the war, but later, it was shifted into a cool tone, to infer how the war destroyed the peaceful life of ordinary people and forced them to face the war. As a result, instead of just using photographic footage, the digital images provided the filmmaker more possibility to represent the spiritual reality in documentary and represent the reality subtly.



Waltz with Bashir is actually a documentary represented the reality in spiritual aspects. Digital images within this documentary indeed contained an indexical value which was reflected by the visual effects such as the changes of color tone to concrete how the war influenced people’s spiritual world, and is helpful for the filmmaker to express his real attitude to the war.


Prince, S. (2011). Digital visual effects in cinema: The seduction of reality. Rutgers University Press.

Written by GE ZHAN


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