Today on August 24, CS Monitor and on many news sources along with Google’s Doodle for the day honor Duke Kahanamoku, “father of surfing,” who at the of 22 was an Olympic gold medalist. His skill and passion for the surfing sport took him around the globe. Born in Hawaii on Aug. 24, 1890, Kahanamoku won a gold medal for the 100-meter freestyle at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm and then gave swimming and surfing demonstrations around the world. Further, he performed in dramatic and documentary movies, often as himself. For those who want to study the life, skills, and work of Duke Kahanamoku, they can see primary source footage of him on film and through other primary, first-hand sources provided by the Bishop Museum.
Many today spend more time watching movies and other programming than reading. It is significant to understand that historical movies and even documentaries take some liberties with facts, as they compress and arrange the stories to keep viewers captivated and engaged. But these same movies and programs can pique the interest of viewers to read and study the subjects further on professional, educational, and most importantly on primary, first-hand sources.
Films as forms of entertainment and information engage viewers visually, emotionally, and intellectually, as they captivate with music and sound effects. The more artistic the film is, the stronger is its impact. Artistic films of all genres utilize good cinematography, captivating graphics, engaging voice and/or physical acting, and most fundamentally good storytelling. Good stories have multi-faceted characters who grow or develop over time as they overcome great jeopardy in conflicts within themselves or with other multi-dimensional characters and/or environments. Good stories “start late” (at a point of tension without extraneous events) that intensely build to climatic turning points and then are resolved and ended on strong points without extraneous events (ending “early”). Effective stories on film have minimal dialogue with action that tells the story. They also have captivating music and sound effects that keep viewers engaged.
Concerning the presentation of facts in historical dramas or documentaries, filmmakers must tell engaging stories and sometimes include adding fictionalized elements in historical fiction. Even documentaries compress, arrange, and organize historical events to keep the stories clear and developing. Today with more people generally spending more time seeing movies or other forms of media than reading; therefore, it is important to understand that film genres and other filmmaking elements affect presentation of facts in movies. The New York Time’s provides some interesting food for thought on this subject in its article on “Selma,” with Dr. Martin King performed by David Oyelowo (who has performed in many redemptive historical dramas including the upcoming, “Captive”). The New York Times reports that cinematic historical fiction can’t be taken as faithful, factual presentation of history. As time is compressed, events rearranged or synthesized, characters are sometimes created or left out and drama is injected.
Cinematic historical fiction is a genre of film, as in literature, in which stories that have taken place in history are presented by a creative reconstruction of events and personalities. Cinematic documentaries present actual historic footage, reenactments, and or re-creations of actual events, eras, and/or life stories that seeks to be factually accurate and contains no fictional elements. However, even documentaries must present stories and often compress and arrange the documentary stories. A documentary is a non-fiction film that re-enacts, comments on or just generally retells history; but although it intends to be factual, it may also include or reflect opinions. A docudrama, on the other hand, while based on historical events and typically presents factual bits and pieces, is fundamentally a dramatic story. It does not have to be entirely factual, and it assumes the freedom for dramatic license to change and/or imagine events to enhance the appeal of the story. Basically, a docudrama is a fictional story that uses actual historical events as its context.
Many school children and even adults learn about pivotal and critical history from films more than textbooks or other forms of print. However, historical fiction can be a rich resource in classrooms to engage students’ interest and to provide educators a captivated audience for discussing fact, fiction, and interpretation. Historical fiction, documentaries, and/or docudramas can also pique the interest of adults to study history further, especially from primary (first-hand) sources. Primary sources in the forms of journals, photos, and archival film footage and more are easily available online today from educational, museum, and archival sites. As a new school year starts, educators, parents, and adults can use historical films in their various forms to spur further study from scholarly, educational, and primary sources “to see if it were so.” (The Bible)