Traditional historical documentaries strive to project a sense of objectivity, producing a top-down view of history that focuses on public events and personalities. In recent decades, in line with historiographical trends advocating “history from below,” a different type of historical documentary has emerged, focusing on tightly circumscribed subjects, family archives, and often first-person perspectives. In my recent book Filming History from Below: Microhistorical Documentaries, I categorize these films as “microhistorical documentaries.” They include, among others, Péter Forgács’s films dealing with the Holocaust; documentaries about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; Rithy Panh’s film on the Cambodian genocide, The Missing Picture; films about the internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War, such as A Family Gathering and History and Memory; or Jonas Mekas’s chronicle of migration in his diary film Lost, Lost, Lost. In my presentation, I will outline the key features of these documentaries, identifying their parallels with written microhistory and showing how they use the filmic tools to underscore specific traits such as their affective dimension or their essayistic approach. I will finally focus briefly on a paradigmatic example, The Maelstrom, by Péter Forgács.
Efrén Cuevas is Professor of Film Studies at Universidad de Navarra, Spain. His main research interests include documentary cinema, autobiography, and home movies. On these topics, he co-edited the books The Man without the Movie Camera: The Cinema of Alan Berliner (2002), and Landscapes of the Self: The Cinema of Ross McElwee (2008), and he edited La casa abierta. El cine doméstico y sus reciclajes contemporáneos (2010). He has also contributed to books such as Amateur Filmmaking: the Home Movie, the Archive, the Web (2014), and The Cinema of Me (2012). His latest book, published by Columbia University Press, is Filming History from Below: Microhistorical Documentaries (2022). More info at www.efrencuevas.com.