Realist Film Theory, Semiotics and the Documentary Film
Recent work by Ian Aitken and others has sought to re-establish a "Realist approach" to the documentary film in reaction to the postmodernist, pragmatist approach popular in the 1970s and 80s. The Saussurian/Lacanian orientation o f the semiotics that played a large role in the older film theory is rejected and replaced by an analytic theory of representation based on the work of Mary Hesse, Hilary Putnam and W.V.O. Quine. Although this may seem a setback vis-a-vis semiotics, it actually opens up Realist Film Theory to an application o f the doctrine of signs more closely aligned to traditional realism, that of Pierce and Poinsot. This presentation outlines how Realist Film Theory can be enriched and developed by such an application. In particular, Aitken's model for the processing of the truth-value communicated through a documentary film can be strengthened in this manner. We will look at a short filmic example to illustrate the resulting development of the theory, manifesting how the documentary film is anchored in both reliably
representing reality and creatively organizing and construing it.