Three Documentary Filmmakers

Errol Morris, Ross McElwee, Jean Rouch

Edited by William Rothman

Subjects: Film Studies, American Culture, Ethnography, Aesthetics
Series: SUNY series, Horizons of Cinema
Paperback : 9781438425023, 252 pages, March 2009
Hardcover : 9781438425016, 252 pages, March 2009

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents

William Rothman

Part 1. Errol Morris: The Fog of Film
1. Errol Morris’s Irony
Gilberto Perez
2. Errol Morris’s Forms of Control
Ira Jaffe
3. The Philosophy of Errol Morris: Ten Lessons
Carl Plantinga

Part 2. Ross McElwee: I Film Therefore I Am

4. Coincidence in Ross McElwee’s Documentaries
Diane Stevenson
5. Reflections on Bright Leaves
Marian Keane
6. Drifting in Time: Ross McElwee’s Time Indefinite
Jim Lane
7. Surprise and Pain, Writing and Film
Charles Warren
8. Sometimes Daddies Don’t Talk about Things like That
William Rothman

Part 3. Jean Rouch: The Filmmaker as Provocateur
9. Jean Rouch and the Power of the Between
Paul Stoller
10. The Pause of the World
Daniel Morgan
11. Jean Rouch’s Les maîtres fous: Documentary of Seduction, Seduction of Documentary
Alan Cholodenko
12. Petit à Petit and The Lion Hunters
Michael Laramee
13. Jean Rouch as Film Artist: Tourou and Bitti,The Old Anaï, Ambara Dama
William Rothman
Works Cited
List of Contributors

Uses new critical approaches to demonstrate deep affinities in these vastly different filmmakers’ philosophies on film, fantasy, and reality.


Film study has tended to treat documentary as a marginal form, but as the essays in Three Documentary Filmmakers demonstrate, the films of Jean Rouch, Ross McElwee, and Errol Morris call for, and reward, the sort of criticism expected of serious works in any medium. However, critical methods that illuminate what makes Citizen Kane a great film are not adequate for expressing what it is about Rouch's The Funeral at Bongo: The Old Annaï, McElwee's Time Indefinite, and Morris's The Fog of War that makes them—each in its own way—great films as well. Although these filmmakers differ strikingly from one another, their films are deeply philosophical and personal, and explore the paradoxical relationships between fantasy and reality, self and world, fiction and documentary, dreams and film, filming and living. It is a challenge to find terms of criticism capable of illuminating such works, and the essays in this book rise to that challenge.

William Rothman is Professor of Motion Pictures and Director of the Graduate Program in Film Studies at the University of Miami. He is the author of several books, including Documentary Film Classics and Hitchcock: The Murderous Gaze, and also the editor of several volumes, including Cavell on Film, also published by SUNY Press, and Jean Rouch: A Celebration of Life and Film.


"Rothman's contributors … all bring fruitful perspectives to bear on their subjects. The pieces vary widely in focus and approach, but the collection is solid and provocative. " — CHOICE

"The force and virtue of this book can be found in the interstices between and among three vastly different auteurs, styles, subjects, and cinematic dispositions. It will cause readers to think of documentary along new and unforeseen paths of inquiry. " — Tom Conley, author of Cartographic Cinema