Fakultäten » Philosophische Fakultät » Filmwissenschaft, Seminar für » Prof. Dr. Margrit Tröhler » Petraitis

Current research project

Title / Titel Telling Life('s) Stories – Historiographic Practices of Everyday Life in Contemporary Film
PDF Abstract (PDF, 14 KB)
Original title / Originaltitel Geschichte(n) des Lebens erzählen – Historiographische Praktiken des Alltags in gegenwärtigen Film- und Videoarbeiten
Summary / Zusammenfassung This dissertation deals with contemporary films and their approach to ‘history.’ Two tendencies in documentary filmmaking are of particular interest for the project: longitudinal and transmedia documentaries.

A rising number of longitudinal documentaries disengage themselves from an objective understanding of ‘history,’ turning towards local micro-histories instead. Incisive social events are no longer depicted as part of a normative and/or strictly chronological historiography, but rather reflected through the everyday life of the films’ protagonists. This focus on everyday life is often combined with an illustration of ‘regularities’ like repetitive and ritualized actions and work sequences. In this way, the films reveal a particular interest in (post-)industrial practices and workplaces.

Longitudinal documentaries like The Up Series (Paul Almond/Michael Apted, GB 1964–) or The Children of Golzow (Winfried Junge/Barbara Junge, DD/DE 1961–2007) constantly switch between micro- and macrohistory, with the resulting back-and-forth expressing a new understanding of ‘history.’ Through polyphonic montage and narrative strategies that show an evolution over long periods of time, the longitudinal documentary accentuates a kind of multiperspectivity that questions the presentability of (social) events, offering new appropriations of ‘history’ aside from ‘big’ historic narratives.

Parallel to the longitudinal documentaries, an increasing plurality of transmedia documentaries raises new questions for historiography and film. These films invite the spectator to actively engage in the historiographic process (‘to create history’) by enabling them to produce their own visual content and thereby making them participate in collaborative projects, or by putting them in a position where they are able to actively organize the narrative. This increasing popularity of user-generated content in contemporary documentaries illustrates a (seemingly) participatory and multiperspectival historiography that is closely linked to bottom-up processes and a democratization of the narrative. These projects further invoke live media events, which mark the transition of everyday life into ‘history’ and emphasize the processual quality of the historiographic act with their simulation of real time, using different online platforms like Youtube and media that range from film and TV to the hypertexts of the web.

The two documentary tendencies contradict themselves only at first sight. On closer examination, they both raise questions about how documentaries impart knowledge and about (filmic) temporality: What can these Documentary forms offer with regard to cultural memory? What is their archival function? What are the historical implications of the filmic approach to everyday life? Which role does film play in this new understanding of historiography? How do the transmedia innovations refer to the filmic potential to appropriate ‘history’? And what kinds of further questions does this raise for film theory and film history?
Project leadership and contacts /
Projektleitung und Kontakte
M.A. Marian Petraitis (Project Leader)
Funding source(s) /
Unterstützt durch
Universität Zürich (position pursuing an academic career)
Duration of Project / Projektdauer Oct 2013 to Dec 2019