PHILDOC –Philosophy and Documentary Film. Mediating the Real
is a research project funded by FCT, the Foundation for Science and Technology, under the project EXPL/FER-FIL/0045/2021. It is conducted by researchers of the working group “Thinking Documentary Film”.

Thinking Documentary Film
is a research group at CineLab/ Nova Institute of Philosophy (IFILNOVA), at FCSH/New University of Lisbon, investigating how documentary formats produce, contest, subvert and question political, epistemological and aesthetic values on multifold levels. Adopting a dialectical approach, we aim to generate a productive dialogue between artistic practice, philosophical thinking, critical theory and film aesthetics, so as to develop original perspectives on the performative agency of forms through documentary film.

Documentary films appeal to philosophical thinking in a particularly challenging way.

On the one hand, they raise the problem of the real in an emphatic sense, because they address reality directly and take on an “assertive stance” (Plantinga ) towards it. On the other hand, they encourage us to think the multiple mediations through which something appears as real, pertinent, genuine or true, and thus lead us to problematize the forms and concepts through which such attributions acquire their compelling evidence. For documentaries convey, through their inherent claim to truth, implicit ideas about the very structure of reality, the relation between what appears on the surface and deeper layers of society, and the relation between subjective experiences and their social meaning.

Moreover, they carry out an implicit epistemological reflection on the concept of objectivity and its relation to factual accuracy. Hence, they combine a specific claim to veracity with the artistic intervention of the filmmaker, whose aesthetic, thematic and political choices determine how the reality in question is to be mediated. Neither artworks in the traditional sense (i.e. aesthetic constructions entirely created by an artistic subject), nor mere mechanical reproductions of reality, documentaries are “creative treatments of actuality” (Grierson).

By contrast, certain artistic or independent productions problematize the commonsensical manifestation of reality through artistic means. Consequently, they undertake a transformative immanent critique of conventionalized perceptions and the corresponding conceptual framework. Rather than claiming to represent reality “as it really is”, they wrest it from its alleged obviousness, deflect the focus onto divergent perspectives and carve out a truth content that eludes conventional representation.

This complex, Janus-faced situation of documentary film, its capacity to either endorse or disrupt the appearance of reality as a coherent entity, is the starting point for PhilDoc. Our working hypothesis is that the performative potential of documentaries lies, first and foremost, in its formal configuration, in the way how form not only mediates content, but also confers a particular meaning to it.

Therefore, following Adorno’s aesthetic theory, we consider form as “sedimented content” (Adorno 1997). Throughout the project, we will undertake an immanent critique of specific films through a dialectical approach, with the aim of extracting the intelligibility of the sensible of documentary configurations.

PhilDoc puts the emphasis on the question of mediation and on the critical potential of form, thereby approaching documentary concurrently as a philosophical problem, a form of art, and a socially and politically relevant medium.

Project Team/ PhilDoc
Stefanie Baumann (PI, IFILNOVA)
Patrícia Castello Branco (IFILNOVA)
Susana Nascimento Duarte (Co-PI, IFILNOVA)
Susana de Sousa Dias (Filmmaker and professor at Faculdade de Belas Artes, Lisboa)
Giovanbattista Tusa (IFILNOVA)

Further members of “Thinking Documentary Film”
Erik Bordeleau (PhD, IFILNOVA)
Gaëlle Boucand (artist/filmmaker)
Tadeu Capistrano (PhD, UFRJ/ Rio de Janeiro)
Philip Cartelli (PhD, artist/filmmaker, Wagner College, New York)
Maile Colbert (PhD, IFILNOVA)
Margaux Dauby (artist/filmmaker)
Olivier Hadouchi (PhD, independent researcher and curator)
Vittorio Lubrano (PhD candidate, IFILNOVA)
Sara Magno (PhD, The Lisbon Consortium / University of Copenhagen)
Dima Mohammed (PhD, IFILNOVA)
Sam Mountford (artist/filmmaker)
Susana Mouzinho (PhD-candidate, IFILNOVA)  
James Newitt (PhD, artist/filmmaker)
Uriel Orlow (PhD, artist/filmmaker)
Anže Peršin (producer)
Liliana Rosa (PhD, IFILNOVA)
Marie Voignier (artist/filmmaker, École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts de Lyon, France)
Emily Wardill (artist/filmmaker, Malmö Art Academy, Sweden)

Contact: phildoc@fcsh.unl.pt
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