BreMM19 | Kopecký

Jakub Kopecký
Czech Academy of Sciences | Staré Město, Czech Republic

Social identities of filmmakers within documentary films

Documentary film is a specific type of multimodal discourse in which the description of reality is often mixed with a peculiar and subjective approach to it. Even though documentaries are basically oriented toward displaying a certain kind of actuality, the ways “reality” is captured differ significantly. This is also related to the various ways in which the filmmaker is positioned in the non-fiction film. In this presentation, I will focus on the diverse social identities of filmmakers that are constructed in the documentaries, i.e. on how the documentarian categorizes himself by using cinematic resources, and on the semiotic character of these identities (cf. e.g. Norris 2011, Iedema 2001). I will introduce both the traditional identities of filmmakers, such as the omniscient interpreter of reality or its explorer, and more recent types such as documentarian-activist or private person (e.g. in documentary diaries). I will place the different types of identities into context using some classifications of documentaries such as Bill Nichols’ (2010) taxonomy of six principal modes of representation in documentaries. The aim of the analysis is to examine how various semiotic modes, especially moving images and verbal language, are involved in the process of identity construction, and to investigate the relationship between these modes. Attention is devoted to whether the filmmaker appears in front of the camera as one of the social actors, is present only verbally through his/ her voice, or remains hidden in both audio and video tracks, whether the documentarian visibly interacts with other actors, etc. I also deal with the implications of the filmmaker’s positioning for the overall meaning and function of the film. The subject of the analysis will be several contemporary Czech documentaries, including Český žurnál: Gadžo (Czech Journal: Gadjo), Cukr-blog (Sugar Blues), Epidemie svobody (Epidemic of Freedom) and others. In addition to multimodal analysis, I utilize ethnomethodological membership categorization analysis (Fitzgerald & Housley 2015).


Fitzgerald, R. & Housley, W. (2015). Advances in Membership Categorisation Analysis. London: Sage.

Iedema, R. (2001). Analysing Film and Television: a Social Semiotic Account of Hospital: an Unhealthy Business. In Th. van Leeuwen & C. Jewitt (Eds.), Handbook of Visual Analysis. London: SAGE, 183–204.

Nichols, B. (2010). Introduction to documentary. 2nd edition. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Norris, S. (2011). Identity in (Inter)action: Introducing Multimodal (Inter)action Analysis. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.


I am a research fellow in the Czech Language Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Department of Stylistics and Text Linguistics. I am one of the editors of the linguistic journal Slovo a slovesnost. My research interests include sociolinguistics, argumentation theory, multimodality, discourse analysis and conversation analysis.

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