Although easily traceable, are always possible in

Although some of Winston Brian’s, statements appear to be correct,
he has certainly formed a polemic approach in his article, “Changing Fortunes”,
thus making unfair and exaggerated claims that the only change factual films
could bring are the awards to their creators. He wants his readers to believe
that the only aim of documentary should be to portray life as it is, without believing
in actual impacts in the form of revolutions and giving this form of motion
picture any further social change strengths. I can agree with the author, that
the documentaries are not as popular as fiction stories and that their profits
will probably never be as high, but that doesn’t mean that social change, or
movements cannot be initiated through the use of factual films.

Winston has been using statistics and case studies to disprove the
reach of documentary and channel 4’s claims of documentaries causing “serious
social change”. Changes, although not easily traceable, are always possible in
a varied extent, based on who is being targeted as an audience and who or what
needs to change. The changes can be traced through the sales or drop of sales
of the relevant products or interest rises/drops in the specific services shown
or also through online questionnaires. Winston’s example of the Sea World
entertainment’s share price losses, 18 months after the release of Gabriella’s
Cowperthwaite’s documentary on cruelties in marine parks, has proved that
documentaries have the power to afflict a positive change, although this is not
the case when whole governments are targeted as “the bad corrupted side”.

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Oppenheimer’s “The Act of Killing” as well as “Cartel Land” are
both very well structured and carry a powerful message to the relevant
societies in Indonesia and Mexico, but a change there is not expected, no
matter how famous or watched these works are, since the politicians and their
governments are involved in both occasions in crimes and because of their
powers they cannot be punished or replaced. They might not control the criminals
but certainly profit from their activities. Winston’s statement does sound true
based on Heinemann’s “Cartel Land”, but that doesn’t mean that efforts for
change should not be made or that changes are not taking place. Changes for
example can be made on a personal and an international level first before they
begin within the troubled society, after months or years of negotiations.

Another example is Morgan Spurlock’s “Supersize me” where the
filmmaker becomes the subject who wants to prove the negative effects of eating
fast-food, to the physical and psychological state of a human. How corporate
greed and unhealthy eating practices devastate a whole society and turn America
to an obese nation. The documentary started a public nutrition debate that has
since been adopted by many, including Jamie Oliver and Michelle Obama. Six weeks
after the film premiered, McDonald’s announced that it was removing the Super-Size
option from its menu, to reduce the calories consumed on one visit to their
stores. No great change has been seen yet, as millions of people continue to
consume these products and corporate giants are proving to be too powerful to
be changed.

Heinemann in “Cartel Land” uses similar techniques to narrative
fiction films. The motives of the production were to experience and understand
the sustainability of vigilantism. To witness from a front row seat the scary
and horrific reality of the Mexican and American citizens, taking law into
their own hands and fighting back the drug cartels. All the violence that the
viewers are invited to observe, is juxtaposed with direct interviews of the
American militia group leader, Tim Foley. 
Even though being a cinema verite – direct cinema production, filmed in
an observational manner, the director has employed an array of techniques that
originate from fiction films. He used the three act system, the framing device
scene (with the cooks making meth) in the beginning and ending, a narrative
opening hook, plot twists (With the Autodefensas group members taking part in
illegal activities, while they were portrayed as “the good guys” in their beginnings)
and a non-linear editing (we end as we start, with the meth lab). Scenes are
not necessarily shown in real time, as they evolved. Sequences were moved,
shortened and changed, to facilitate a more dramatic story, all from a
multiperspective angle (The two vigilante groups on both sides of the border,
the government, the crowd of Michoacán, the American public through voice
overs, The American News etc.).

A Chicago tribute journalist, Michael Phillips in his review,
describes Cartel Land as a “visually sophisticated thriller” as it involves
great story telling techniques, intriguing characters and entertains the
audience, which are witnessing, first hand, through interviews and other visual
evidence, all the gruesome activities of the narco cartels in Mexico.

The main two characters are introduced after a sequence of
cinematic shots, while in action and stating their intentions and reasons for
taking part in their respective vigilante groups of Arizona Border Recon and
the Autodefensas. They are both portrayed as heroes that uphold the law, where
governments cannot maintain it. In Mexico Mireles states that the the
government is usually mixed in criminal activities, so can’t be trusted. The
two figures become the so long awaited saviours and protectors on their
territories. Heinemann has portrayed them is this way to make the audience
understand that they are the main subjects and the most important figures in
the storyline. The filmmaker chose very cleverly the right protagonists. Their
personalities appealed to people and attracted them. The antagonists in this
story are the drug traffickers, the cartels, the corrupt Mexican government
officials, the corrupt Police and Army. Some of the leaders of the
Autodefensas, who went against Mireles, can also be regarded as antagonists to
my opinion.

The unpredictability of the story and the excitement of following
a vérité story in real-time, as it’s unfolding, is what hooks viewers most of
all to this film. The audience targeted is really wide to my opinion, as the
film examines so many layers of the society and relates to a common enemy, the
drugs, the cartels, the corrupted governments and other organisations that create
drugs and promote them on international level. The citizens of Mexico are
targeted in the first place and then the Americans, who fuel the violence by
buying the drugs that are coming from the other side of the border and are generally
unaware of the deadly wars. Heinemann has certainly achieved his goal to raise
awareness on the matter, as his film is shown in theatres across Mexico and the
US as well as topped the ITunes documentary charts in Latin America, which
means that a lot of people are watching the film at home, on their computers.

The film follows a non-linear, 3 act structure by introducing the
problem (cartels) and it’s outcomes (killings, tortures, cemetery scene) as
well as the good guy, the first “hero” or subject (US vigilante leader) by the
13th minute, where act one ends, to my opinion. The audience is then
being presented to the charismatic persona of Dr. Mireles, (the 2nd
subject to be followed). Some plot twists are appearing on the way, like the
plane crash and near fatal accident of Mireles. The story and the fights
against the cartels build up until the 50th minute where the
audience is being informed that the Autodefensas are raiding houses and carry
out criminal activities, along with the police and corrupted government. At
this point, which I believe is the end of act 2, the audience is confused as to
which side is the good one and act 3 begins where the whole story is being
untangled (Mireles lieutenants going against him and joining the rural police.
Autodefensas shown to torture a lot of people, on man is taken away from his
crying daughter, at gunpoint. Mireles having an affair and losses family) Act 3
starts at 1 minute and 30 seconds with Mireles’s monologue saying that the
violence has to stop then Tim’s monologue follows saying that cycles can be
changed, but it’s necessary for someone to act and that nobody wants to change.
The final sequence of the “cooks” shows a masked man, wearing a police uniform,
saying that nothing is going to stop the cartels, while there is profit from
drug trafficking and while corruption exists. It’s a never ending story.

By following the story in this particular way,
Heineman has broadened the audience of the film. He has shown how a large
number of innocent people have been murdered and tortured in the beginning of
the documentary, by the cartel. This has immediately provoked the sense of
complete injustice and natural interest to find and punish the criminals as
well as protect the rest of the civilians and guarantee them their basic human
rights. The film observes the arming of the civilians in order to protect
themselves, their families and their properties against a common enemy.  The stakes are really high and the viewers,
of different ages, are interested to know what happens in a similar situations
and gives them a question to answer. What would they do if this happened to
them? If their families were tortured, raped or worse, murdered? It’s the primitive
survival instinct that intensifies the need to know what happens next. The
conflict was presented in a way, which brings the viewer to the epicentre of
the unfolding events. The conflicts that arise between the armed civilians and
the cartel are shown as deadly, dangerous and appalling in some cases, but they
have to happen, in order for justice to triumph and order restored. Short
conflicts are shown to be taking place between the Government and the
Autodefensas but these are being resolved, in contrast to the conflicts with
the cartels, which continue their activities after being simply rebranded and
just keep a lower profile.

The Narrative storytelling techniques create a familiar pattern of
events shown, they reduce complexity, which helps the audience to understand
the story easier and relate to it quicker. Since the art of Documentary is a
lot about the entertainment of the viewers, the filmmaker increased the drama
by following this good vs evil form and the simple observational way of filming.
I believe that the truth is in any case slightly compromised, even if the
documentary is observational or direct cinema. By choosing what to keep and
what to cut out, at the editing process, the filmmakers apply their own
judgements in any case. That means that documentaries could sometimes break the
promise and rule of the art form, to keep all the facts true. The filmmakers could
manipulate reality in the favour of a more attractive and saleable product. Dramatising
the story, making it to conform to the 3 act system and follow the arc of
events is very important to making a successful documentary. Heineman has used
time very wisely and certainly expanded scenes that looked more interesting to
the audience, to emphasize particular moments.  Early examples of cinema verite films that changed
time through editing are the “Man with a camera” and “The factory” of the
Lumiere brothers. Both films have sequences where shots taken at different times
were put together in edit and showed as they had an uninterrupted flow.

Feature documentary, unlike shorter forms such as news and social
media, builds sympathy more by taking longer time, involving viewers directly
and immersing them entirely in the situation of others, motivating them to participate
and act. An example of how a documentary can help and change public policy is
the film “Ilegal”, a Brazilian documentary which shows a young girl with epilepsy
that can only be relieved by cannabidiol, originating from marijuana, which is
not legal in Brazil. The girl’s parents are fighting the bureaucracy and in
2015, Anvisa, the national agency that controls the importing of drugs in
Brazil, approved cannabidiol for import. This could not have happened without a
character-driven documentary film, with a correctly chosen target audience.
Cartel Land has not given any actual results and answers, but it gave hope to
millions of people, that it is possible to change governments and their policies,
if they are willing to break the circle and are ready for real change.

The filmmaker, to my opinion, was simply an observer at the 9-10
months of the production period of Cartel Land, both in Michoacán and in
Arizona. There is no evidence that suggests a constructed story. He has chosen
to follow the two characters and everything that unfolded in front of the
camera was not planned. Especially the conditions in Mexico were very unstable
and dangerous. The US vigilante’s sequences could be anticipated but again they
were not constructed, I believe. The audience was directed to the most important
issues of the societies, which are corruption and greed, at all levels. While
Mireles felt that his end was near and the end of the autodefensas was certain,
on the other side of the border, Tim still has hopes that change is possible. Through
his last interview, he clearly states that all is required, is action from the
public. The film clearly calls for action while showing and evaluating the
current policy.

I believe that the observational documentaries, although showing
life as it unfolds, can be really deceptive, as filmmaking techniques can
create certain meanings and ideas. The camera operator can choose what to film
and how to frame it, which means that the information shown can be chosen. Furthermore
the action or reaction of the subjects can change due to the presence of the
film crew. Finally while editing, the director can change meanings of the film
by the position of shots and how they start and finish. “In documentary we deal
with the actual, and in one sense with the real. But the really real, if I may
use that phrase, is something deeper than that. The only reality which counts
in the end is the interpretation which is profound”, said John Grierson. Stories
can be manipulated by filmmakers, but I don’t believe that this happens in the
Cartel Land. Heineman simply shows the conditions, suggests who is responsible
and calls for action, through some of his subjects, while lets the audience to
decide, whether the drug trafficking can be stopped or not.

Some documentaries make an impact and change the way we live while
other can’t. The reason for this can be the focal point through which the
filmmakers present their stories. Different people can see the same issue from
different angles and present it in different ways. By creating documentaries that
appeal more to the audience, through a stronger bond with the subjects, the
filmmakers has higher chances of success, starting new coalitions and
partnerships which can bring transformation. Furthermore, important factors
that determine which kinds of films will succeed are the popularity of the
topic and whether there is strong and organised opposition or little

The targeting of an audience changes the whole production process.
Heineman’s Cartel Land could have had a different scope of audience if, for
example, he would focus on the legality of the two armed vigilante groups (instead
of their war with their common enemy) and just had talking head interviews,
basing his research on the public and the “expert” or political views. The
impact would be completely different and societies would possibly condemn both
groups and their activities, even though they have been trying to help the
fight against drug trafficking. Heineman stated that “My goal was to capture
the story as it unfolds in real time, as people experience it, through my
subjects’ eyes, not outside experts or some official government statement”. By
keeping it real and within the front line, we were able to enhance our understanding
on the actions that happened and take a clearer stance as to, who is right or

The stories of the two groups were told alongside because the
filmmaker, wanted to show the current conditions on both sides of the border
and the significance of the war against the brutal drug cartels on an
international level. He juxtaposed the vigilante groups in Arizona, USA with the
Autodefensas in the state of Michoacán, Mexico. We were able to experience,
first hand, the efforts of both of the armed civilian groups to gain control on
their territories and protect their families and properties, since they lost
trust in their governments and their security mechanisms.

Documentaries are being watched because they allow the viewers to develop
a general base of knowledge on specific matters, keep the brain active by
giving our minds new information to absorb and think about and also introduce
us to new worlds and lifestyles. Furthermore the audiences are increasingly
choosing fact over fiction. Possibly the current lack of realism is making more
audiences to prefer authentic storytelling over fantastic fake plots. People also
watch documentaries for the drama of real people. Although more Documentaries
are released at the cinemas every year and despite making up 13% of 2013 cinema
releases, they grossed only £10.7 million, or 1% of the overall UK box office.
Just £6.7 million in 2016. Documentaries don’t stay in cinemas as long as
mainstream films, but are very successful in the TV broadcasting world and on
platforms as Netflix and Amazon Prime. Over 68 million people watched
documentaries on Netflix in 2016. The public sees the documentaries as part of
the TV industry and this stereotype will not help or allow them to achieve huge
profits or views in the cinemas, to my opinion. I believe that people’s
interest in watching factual films will continue rise on television and on
these online platforms.

The main attractions for the audiences will continue to be the
interesting stories and information, an array of classic, Hollywood style,
narrative techniques, used correctly, the charisma and relatability of the
subjects as well as the quality of production. The modes that I believe will
bring the most viewers are the observational and the performative. An important
technique that I would follow, is to show instead of say. This will make the
audience feel more participating in the story and therefor more interested in
the film. The human brain is set to make fast impressions followed by quick decisions,
so a good first impression is vital. A great conflict with high stakes for the
subjects is very important in a good story too. The use of audio can also
change the feeling of a moment, within a film and affect the story too, which
makes it also an important factor to consider as a technique that changes the
way a story is being received.

Expository documentaries
speak directly to the viewer, often in the form of an authoritative commentary
employing voiceover or titles, proposing a strong argument and point of view.
These films are rhetorical, and try to persuade the viewer. (They may use a
rich and sonorous male voice.) The (voice-of-God) commentary often sounds
‘objective’ and omniscient. Images are often not paramount; they exist to
advance the argument. The rhetoric insistently presses upon us to read the
images in a certain fashion. Historical documentaries in this mode deliver an
unproblematic and ‘objective’ account and interpretation of past events.­­­­­­­­

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