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.


Arundhati Roy – “We”


  • Spread the anti-imperialist and social justice politics to everywhere
  • Advocate peaceful world

Fascinating Speech

“Nationalism of one kind or another was the cause of most of the genocide of the twentieth century.”

“When writers, painters, musicians, film makers suspend their judgment and blindly yoke their art to the service of the “Nation”, it’s time for all of us to sit up and worry.”

“Nearly three thousand civilians lost their lives in that lethal terrorist strike. The grief is still deep. The rage still sharp. The tears have not dried. And a strange, deadly war is raging around the world.”

“We cannot avenge those who have died. War is only a brutal desecration of their memory.”

“Those of us who have only ever known life in a democracy, however flawed, would find it hard to imagine what living in a dictatorship and enduring the absolute loss of freedom means.”

“War is never fought for altruistic reasons. They’re usually fought for hegemony, for business. And then of course there’s the business of war.”

“”The American Way of Life” is simply not sustainable. Because it doesn’t acknowledge that there is a world beyond America.”

“Power has a shelf life. When the time comes, maybe this mighty empire will, like others before it, overreach itself and implode from within.”

“Soviet-style communism failed, not because it was intrinsically evil, but because it was flawed. It allowed too few people to usurp too much power. Twenty-first century market capitalism, American-style, will fail for the same reasons. Both are edifices constructed by human intelligence, undone by human nature.”

“The time has come, the Walrus said. Perhaps things will become worse and then better.”

8793779_origStyle of this film

  • Lots of impressive footage were used to illustrate the themes and specific historical events
  • Make use of wonderful background music to quicken the pace and increase the feeling