Style and Format of Essay Film


  • unorthodox, personal, reflexive
  • intersection of personal, subjective and social history
  • personal investigation involving both the passion and intellect of the author
  • a meeting ground for documentary, avant-garde, and art-film impulse
  • beyond formal, conceptual, and social constraint
  • to record, reveal, preserve; to persuade/ promote; to express; to analyse/ interrogate
  • self-reflective and self-reflexive
  • literary and filmic
  • reflectivity and subjectivity


  • lay open my self
  • essayist: conscious of his own self, must find himself and build something of himself
  • directors: express their inner self and their personal dreams in their films

Protean Form

  • indeterminate, open, ultimately, indefinable
  • the essay’s innermost formal law is heresy
  • create from within itself all the preconditions for the effectiveness and solidity of its vision
  • does not obey any rules
  • saying almost everything about almost anything
  • no longer binds the filmmaker to the rules and parameters of the traditional documentary practice (e.g. chronological sequencing/ depiction of external phenomena) → free reign to the imagination


  • the filmmaker/ author writes with his camera as a writer writes with his pen
  • allows the beauty and intelligence of words to transfer also to the visual component
  • cannot do without a poetic, intelligent, written text read by a voice-over
  • all filmic material that might help the case (e.g. still images, engravings, photos, animated cartoons)
  • filmmaker’s personal style in the approach to reality was valued
  • do not take a “passive subject” but an “active theme”

Must have words

  • in the form of a text (spoken/ subtitled/ intertitled)
  • represent a single voice
  • attempt to work out some reasoned line of discourse on a problem
  • impact more than information
  • have a strong, personal point of view
  • eloquent, well written and interesting as possible

Relationship between essay and experience

  • experience represented in the essay
  • experience of representing a subject writing the essay
  • experience of a public receiving that essay

Textual Commitments

  • expression of a personal, critical reflection on a problem or set of problems
  • does not propose itself as anonymous or collective, but a single authorial voice
  • not in order to present a factual report, but to offer an in-depth, personal, and thought-provoking reflection

Rhetorical Structures

  • creates an enunciator who is very close to the real, extra-textual author
  • represents the author’s views, and is his/her spokesperson
  • remain a voice-over or also physically appear in the text
  • does not conceal that he/she is the film’s director
  • voices personal opinions that can be related directly to the extra-textual author
  • personal and individual, rather than social and collective
  • “I” always clearly and strongly implicates a “you”
  • openness: opens up problems, and interrogates the spectator
  • person who speaks must situate herself in what she says, must display her own subjectivity, and must address the person who watches
  • produce a different, more active type of viewing experience

Structure of the Essay Film

  • a constant interpellation
  • each spectator, as an individual and not as a member of an anonymous, collective audience → engage in a dialogical relationship with the enunciator, to become active, intellectually and emotionally, and interact with the text
  • the essay film asks questions and dose not offer clear-cut answers (pretend to discover things, but to lay open my self)
  • presented by the speaking subject as a subjective, personal meditation, rather than as objective truth
  • enunciator is able to convey an argument and enter into a dialogue with the spectator through images unaccompanied by commentary (uses both visual and verbal language)

Inscription of the Authorial Figure

  • direct: making the filmmaker’s body visible and his/her voice audible
  • indirect: use of a narrator/spokesperson, or of intertitles, or of musical commentary, camera movement, etc

Reference: Laura Rascaroli. (2008). The Essay Film: Problems, Definitions, Textual Commitments. Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media.

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