As part of our blog series for Open Access Week 2018, we caught up with Geoffrey Cox, Editor of Soundings: documentary film and the listening experience, to chat about OA monograph publishing is changing the way documentary film research is discovered and read.
Documentary film research
The sharing of knowledge and discoveries is a fundamental of all scholarly research and especially so when it involves the illumination of practice, since it then can have an effect on the practice itself. Documentary film research involves those studying the medium as well as those involved in the making of non-fiction films, with the notion of practice-as-research sitting at the heart of the continuum between the two. Unlike fiction film, this has been true from the beginning of the form in the late 1920s, since the ethical dimension of documentary has always required philosophical thought by the filmmakers themselves. This is evidenced by numerous scholarly articles and books written from the outset by the likes of John Grierson (‘Father’ of the documentary), Basil Wright, Paul Rotha (all filmmakers) and numerous others in journals such as Cinema Quarterly and Sight and Sound in the 1930s. The issue of sound and music in documentary was and remains a key concern, since the development of documentary crossed over with sound’s introduction and early development, and so became bound up with the central concern of documentary of ‘truthful’ representations of the real world.
How does open access publishing impact filmmakers?
These ruminations in written form had a profound impact on what the filmmakers did as they developed different approaches to documentary style and elucidated different aims. Though commercial documentary practice today takes less obvious account of such thinking due to its more directly commercial and educative nature (especially on mainstream television), and the fact that the principles elucidated early on are still in play and naturally drawn on, this still remains very much true in more experimental forms (especially in cinema) and amongst those wishing to revisit and expand on those early forms. The issue of open access is therefore important as the dissemination of scholarly writing, whether from researchers or filmmakers has a direct impact on documentary practice. The intertwining of scholarly thought and practice is still a crucial dimension of documentary film so the availability of such writing to those outside of academia is very important since the cost of non-open access materials can be prohibitively high.
How can open access monographs increase dissemination?
I am both a documentary filmmaker and scholar of the medium, and coming from a music composition background, I have a keen focus on sound and music in documentary. I ran a conference at the University of Huddersfield in 2017 on documentary sound and this lead to the idea of an edited collection on the topic. Dedicated collections on sound and music in fiction film are numerous but rare on documentary so the idea seemed especially prescient. Given the importance of access and dissemination described above, the policy of Huddersfield University Press to offer free download versions of their publications was a key reason for approaching the press in the first place and I am glad to say that since publication in July 2018, the book has already had over 800 downloads. The book has therefore almost certainly been far more widely disseminated than would have been the case for any paid version.