Sawyer Seminar

Documentary Media & Historical Transformations

This seminar series is designed to bring filmmakers, historians, legal scholars, film and media scholars, anthropologists, cognitive scientists, journalists, and documentary together. It consists of three lectures, three 2-day conferences, a film series, and a concluding series of screenings and panels at the Visible Evidence XXV conference. Many of the Sawyer events are hosted at the Indiana University Cinema, including screenings, lectures, panels, and round-tables. Each event addresses the relationship between documentary and major historical transformations—colonialism, human rights, neoliberalism—examining how documentaries both reveal and shape sociopolitical change.

Among others, we explore the following questions: How do films made during historical transformations reveal a new understanding of the status of the nonfiction image? How do documentary filmmakers work with and for communities and do so not only during the initial release of the film but over the extended “life” of a film?  How does accounting for the circulation of documentary films reveal the historical networks that shaped the reception of the films and the key players’ (individual, institutional, governmental) interests in the films?  How are the dynamics between political urgency and ethical treatment often revealingly reconfigured in moments of historical transition?  How have changes in media technologies related to documentary informed its role in shaping social imaginaries?