Say What Happened: A Story of Documentaries

Faber & Faber. Dec. 2019. 416p. photos. index. ISBN 9780571329564. pap. $25. FILM
Journalist Fraser fell into documentary filmmaking by chance, editing and producing numerous BBC docs including the long-running Storyville. After suffering a stroke in 2017, he recovered by writing this book. As Fraser makes clear in his introduction, this is no exhaustive history; rather, it’s a deeply personal musing on the genre. How do documentaries fit into society today, in an age of social media and “fake news”? What is “truthful” in these films? What effect do they have on their viewers? In an attempt to answer these questions, the author blends analysis of documentaries with his own experiences; he recalls how Eugene Jarecki’s Why We Fight was born out of a conversation between him and Jarecki about the media images of Ground Zero and discusses how the series The Great War affected him as a teenager. Fraser is an excellent, probing writer, but it is not always clear if his book is meant to be a memoir, personal reflections on documentaries, or a combination. Documentary enthusiasts may appreciate Fraser’s insights, but casual film fans may struggle to follow the sometimes meandering narrative.
VERDICT Viewers who count The Sorrow and the Pity or Paris Is Burning on their top ten film list will welcome this contemplative exploration of documentaries.

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