Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2015

Access Restrictions

Access restricted until 07/13/2018

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Film Studies

First Advisor

Steven Ungar


This project interrogates the status of documentary film as an oppositional force and conduit for radical social and political change. The first two chapters examine the interconnected transnational history of the radical or "committed" documentary. This historical inquiry leads me to construct a set of parameters for how the radical documentary was defined and codified between 1926 and 1990. My investigation is particularly attuned to how documentary filmmakers in this tradition moved away from a didactic mode of address that sought to educate a state sanctioned "citizen subject." Instead, I argue that the radical documentary tradition grew out of the modernist avant-garde movement and activated a "revolutionary subject" in opposition to the state. To date, there have only been a handful of accounts locating post-1990s documentary practices within the domain of radical political concerns and the possibilities presented by the intersection of documentary and new media technology. The second part of the dissertation examines how such practices extend and challenge the aforementioned historical definitions while intervening in a diverse range of contexts. The final three chapters focus on an eclectic corpus of films and videos that include the work of the video advocacy organizations WITNESS and B'Tselem, student documentaries made in Iraq, and interactive documentary projects by new media artists Zohar Kfir and Sharon Daniel. I argue that these groups and artists create an "activist subject" that intervenes within specific social and political situations during wars, occupations, and cases of human rights abuses. Ultimately, I conclude that the radical power of documentary film lies not in and of itself as singular object of art or evidence, but in the discourses it engenders and within the discourses and contexts in which it is placed. In the increasingly post-digital age of new media, the study and practice of radical documentary demands a multi-faceted approach as well as an openness to expanding definitional boundaries of what a documentary is, how it functions, how it circulates, and how its impact is measured.


Documentary, Film Studies, New Media, Radical Documentary, Video Advocacy


xi, 282 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 266-282).


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Copyright © 2015 Ryan Grant Watson