User-generated Video as a New Genre of Documentary

Mohamed Said Mahfouz

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This study analyses the behavior of Internet users interested in producing their own documentary videos and assesses the characteristics and techniques that govern the production of such videos. The development and global diffusion of Internet 2.0 technologies have facilitated a rapid proliferation of user-generated video, of varying quality and aesthetic seriousness, on the Internet in recent years. These videos are produced by amateur Internet users, and express the dominant social, cultural, and political trends of their respective milieux while also reflecting the new availability of affordable mobile cameras and editing software. These new tools are helping thousands of ordinary people to explore their political and artistic concerns in an unprecedented, public way. User-generated video is increasingly considered a valid source of information by mainstream media networks, to the point that it is even coming to occupy a central role in some forms of news broadcasting.

This study raises an essential question: Can we view user-generated amateur video as a new form of documentary? From this question there derive other important questions about the various forms that these new videos take, the ways that they are produced, the expertise of the people who make them, the distinctive characteristics, if any, of their content, and the extent to which their makers comply with the ethical standards of professional documentary-making.

The theoretical part of this study explains the concept of the professional documentary, its formal characteristics, modes, and ethical requirements, as well as highlighting the differences between documentary, news and reality TV. A working definition of user-generated video will then be proposed in light of developments in media studies and new media theory. The practical part of the study centres on an e-workshop for non-professional documentary-makers in Egypt called egdoc. The workshop is set up in such a way as to allow the behavior of amateur users of the site to be analysed and ultimately compared with the behavior of professional documentary-makers. The launching of the egdoc website coincided with the aftermath of the revolution which began in Egypt on 25 January 2011. This dramatic context, and the unprecedented quantity of amateur video documenting revolutionary events, generated a healthy level of interest in the egdoc project and soon gave rise to an adequate sample of amateur video. The egdoc study also serves, in its own right, as a valuable snapshot of Egyptian public opinion in the historic period that it covers. The most important lesson gleaned from the egdoc experience was that the distinction between professional and user-generated amateur documentary is fast becoming blurred. Some of the users of egdoc can hardly be described as amateurs when you compare their final product with a professional production in terms of either content or form. In addition, the egdoc experience suggests that political and social circumstances may contribute to the development of new forms of non-professional documentary in the future.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Ellis, John, Supervisor
Award date1 Nov 2012
Publication statusUnpublished - 2012

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