(Note: The quote cited in the headline is from Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering’s documentary On The Record (2020) and the words of the female main character Drew Dixon accusing a producer in the music industry of sexual abuse).


The directors Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering have a documented excellence in investigative documentaries, for instance The invisible War – however not all their documentaries have the same high standard.

“The private is political” was one of the slogans of the 1968-generation. With this they alluded to family structures, sexuality and norms as an important domain of public and political interest. As for instance Michael Renov has documented in his book The Subject of Documentary (2004), this slogan also left its mark on documentary. From the 1960s and on we see a wave of intimate, autobiographical documentaries and documentaries also dealing with the privacy of others and the life behind the windows of private homes. This can lead to greater knowledge of the human self, and the interaction between people in everyday life. It can  develop explorations of how the public and private sphere influence each other and the understanding of self and others in private and public. A fantastic documentary demonstrating this is Sarah Polley’s documentary about her own family secrets in Stories we tell (2012). One can hardly call it an investigative journalistic film, but it works it’s way through layers of family life and memories, statements from people with very different perceptions of their family, to reveal a deep and very private secret. In this film it is her role in the family, her ability to talk to and reveal secrets in her own family, which gives it not just journalistic and documentary credit but also an ethical standard. The authoritativ, investigative documentary is just one of four basic prototypes. Other forms like observational documentary, dramatised documentarry and poetic reflexive documentaries also have ethical standards, but they often treat reality differently (see Bondebjerg 2014 and 2020).

However, even though the private sphere can be as important for documentary storytelling and investigation as documentaries about the public sphere, Jürgen Habermas’ theories of the public sphere (Habermas [1962] 1989 and 2006) has taught us that democracies also rely on the respect of privacy. Only under certain circumstances can the state or other public institutions intervene in the private sphere. A social anthropologist like Erving Goffman has also in his book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959) famously described the psychological, social and communicative differences between frontstage, backstage and deep backstage behaviour. When documentarists make investigative documentaries about cases in the public sphere, the private sphere or cases crossing that line, they must be aware of these different spheres and the roles we often play on the different stages. In many ways, documentaries entering deep back stage need to live up to even higher journalistic and ethical standards than those investigating cases of a public nature.

As humans we act and speak differently on the different stages we move on in everyday life. We tend to be more open when we go private and speak to people, we have a close daily relationship with. We also know that people on the front stage, for instance speaking to the media, presenting themselves in different kinds of public, have a tendency to conceal certain aspects of their life, or just try to present themselves in a strategically convenient way. If we do that in a court room it may be a criminal act, but most people mostly do not directly lie. It is just very human to try to present yourself and your case in the most favourable way. Again, this means that the tendency for people representing public institutions or private companies to speak with different voices when confronted with investigative journalism, may be even stronger when they are confronted on  deep backstage matters.

The thin line between private in media saturated societies

In our more and more mediated society, the line between the public and private sphere has become thinner. Tabloids and popular weekly magazines have always thrived on peeping into the lives of public figures. By now, a series of reality TV formats and also documentaries get their stories also from ordinary people and their will to uncover deep backstage secrets on a public scene. Social media also tend to reveal and produce more journalism on very private matters. Combined with swift reactions to free floating accusations against groups or specific individuals, this can lead to violations of central democratic principles, for instance, that individuals are innocent until proven otherwise. If we are dealing with criminal acts this means in a court of law. However, as we shall see in the following, investigative documentaries can and have often made investigations that directly lead to legal action or retrial of old cases.

Social media and the more active interaction between private and public has its benefits. We can discuss difficult matters in the open, we can reveal and perhaps change structural problems. However, the flipside is also obvious, if private individuals are accused and condemned in public without respect for normal, legal procedures. The media have an important role as investigative voices and as the watchdog on social and political matters of public interest. However, when media condem and convict private individuals that are accused of potentially criminal offenses based on only voices of accusers and before legal action – ethical and democratic standards is at stake.

If the journalistic media and social media act as both investigators and judges – we have a problem. Sexual crimes and accusations of harassment have examples of both: on the one hand victims have a better opportunity of coming forward and society can become aware of systemic malfunctions that need to be changed; on the other hand, public opinion can be a very cruel and swift judge and leave individuals condemned and convicted, even though no legal procedure has taken place. It is therefore important in not just true crime documentaries, but in all other forms of authoritative, investigative documentaries, to follow the common journalistic procedures and ethical rules. This is particularly important when dealing with the private family sphere, with deep back stage, and with cases accusing private individuals in public. Often a more institutional, systemic approach to such cases is stronger than chasing individuals.

True crime documentaries: the dark side of humans and society

True crime is a prominent, relatively new term for a type of documentary which seems to have grown in popularity in the last ten years. Not just on transnational streaming platforms like Netflix and HBO, but also on national public service broadcasters like BBC, and other national broadcasters like for instance the Danish DR and TV2. Crime has on the other hand been popular for a long time on film and television, both in fiction and in documentary. Crime tends to be a theme which allows for the confrontation between not just law and order, but also deeper moral issues about human nature and the scary thin line between a shiny frontstage and a dark deep backstage. True crime documentaries tend to be authoritative, investigative and journalistic documentaries, but also come in other genre formats.

Even before the true crime genre became a popular label, Eroll Morris made one of the best and most creative films.

A prominent, early example of a very complex true crime documentary – long before the term was invented – is Erroll Morris’ The Thin Blue Line (1988). The criminal case deals with a completely ordinary man convicted for a murder, which the film proves beyond doubt was actually done by another person. Following the film, the innocent man was released, and the real murderer convicted. The film is indeed a really impressive piece of investigative journalism. Different forms of evidence, witnesses and potential explanations for the crime is seen from many angles. As viewers we do not just hear the different versions told by the different witnesses, it is also visualised as small narratives.

The film is about an individual case, but at the same time this case is used for a more general, system-oriented look at the American police and legal system and the way they operate. The film even goes deeper than that. The scene for the film is Texas, and a broader discussion of American culture and society, with many visual and symbolic layers, is characteristic for the film. Even though it deals with one individual case, it doesn’t deal with the private sphere, it deals with system problems, institutional problems and plays into the public sphere. It is a prime example of the classical crime investigation where all journalistic and ethical rules are followed, and at the same time it is aesthetically a very creative documentary.

This is certainly not always the case in true crime documentaries, where we often see a narrow focus on the crime in itself and less on the wider public interest behind individual cases. In such cases, some true crime documentaries may appeal more to a simple sensational, populist fascination with the dark side of humans and society. In itself this interest is legitimate; crime does expose and raise important social and psychological issues. However, authoritative-investigative documentaries in particular must live up to high journalistic and ethical standards. This is not always the case, especially if we are dealing with issues related to sexual allegations in the private sphere and with high-profile public figures. When true crime documentaries deal with sexual abuse and crime, we sometimes see a tendency to select juicy stories related to high profile characters.

Jarecki’s true crime series is a masterpiece of investigative journalism.

The question of fairness and impartiality in complex crime cases is important, and it is important to hear all sides and voices, both the claimed victim and the claimed perpetrator. In Andrew Jarecki’s HBO-documentary series, The Jinx: The life and Death of Robert Durst (2015), this principle is obeyed very carefully. It deals with the millionaire Robert Durst, suspected of several crimes, including the murder of his wife. Andrew Jarecki’s interest in Robert Durst, a New York real estate agent dates back to 2010, where Jarecki made a fiction film All Good Things about him, based on his autobiography.

Durst was rather pleased with the film and offered to give extensive interviews for the documentary, Jarecki was planning. Durst was suspected of killing his own wife, Kathie in 1982, but never accused. He was also suspected of killing a neighbour, but never accused. On the other hand, he confessed to having killed his friend, the writer Susan Berman, but he claimed it was in self-defence, and he was acquitted for this murder. This acquittal happened on the very day the last and sixth episode of the Jarecki’s documentary series was shown, a series that found hard evidence of Durst’s guilt in the two murders he was never accused of.

Jarecki’s documentary series is a very thorough and convincing peace of investigative journalism with both systemic and individual case dimensions. The systemic perspective has to do with a system failing to convict a multiple murderer. The individual case dimension is a very deep insight into a man with a front stage image as a successful business man, and a deep back stage image as a ruthless killer of people that got in his way. Apart from the journalistic evidence brought together in the six-part series on the murders and Durst’s life in general, Jarecki also interviewed Durst for more than 20 hours over several years. The interviews are in parts inserted into the documentary, and this also makes it a story of the mind of a criminal. In the last interview – unaware that the microphone was still on – he confessed to all three murders. The trial against the now jailed Durst, based in part on the new evidence put forward in the documentary, is scheduled for 2021. True crime can – if done well – have strong implications for both the system and individuals.

Sexual crimes: public and private dimensions

Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering’s 4 hour long documentary series on HBO, Allen vs. Farrow (2021) has divided critics and audiences all over the world. The intensity of the reactions clearly has a lot to do with the fact that the accusations of incest and the long bitter fight involve two high profile figures of American film culture, Mia Farrow and Woody Allen. It is also clearly fuelled by the rise of the #MeToo movement. The many cases of sexual harassment in several sectors of society and the criminal cases against “powerful” men in the American film culture, Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby for instance, seem to have been one of the reasons for the two directors to take up a case that is almost 30 years old and has already been treated widely in a number of media.

Whereas other Hollywood-figures have been taken to court and are convicted for their crimes, Allen has never been on trial and convicted for Farrow’s accusation of incest against the 7-year-old step daughter Dylan. On the contrary, the case has been dismissed by two public investigations. The New Haven Child Abuse Center was asked by the Conneticut prosecutor to investigate the case an concluded after six months that there was no evidence of abuse. The ruling was among other things based on the videos taken by Mia Farrow with Dylan about the alledged crime and medical examinations and other forms of investigatio. So the videos of Dylan as 7-year old is NOT new evidence, even though they have never been released publicly before. The second investigation was lead by the New York prosecutor Frank Marco. He stated publicly that he had reason to beleive there could be a case against Allen, but he did not open a case. His reaslons for that was to protect Dylan from a traumatizing court experience (see on this also Monggaard 2018 and Yde and Monggaard 2021).

On the surface the film tries to present an investigation based on critical readings and re-evaluations of very old case documents and other forms of material. The only totally new thing is the grown-up Dylan’s statement on camera. However, judged as a four-hour long documentary on a case that goes deep into a long running family feud, a main problem is that it so obviously stages the whole case from a Farrow family point of view. It would have been a very different and more solid journalistic and ethical series, if we had been directly confronted with statements from both the Farrow family and the Allen family. The Danish journalist Mette Davidsen-Nielsen recently wrote:

“No matter what you think of Allen vs. Farrow, we can conclude that it has not contributed to a clarification creating any form of consensus. On the contrary, the series plays into the #MeToo polarisation and very stable and divisive positions. Here you can be convicted and acquitted in advance.” (Davidsen-Nielsen 2021).

Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering seem to have specialized in sexual true crime documentaries, and Allen vs. Farrow is their fourth documentary on such issues, but the first series. These four documentaries can all be defined as examples of the authoritative, investigative documentary genre, a format most often used in true crime documentaries. They claim to have used almost four years on research on Allen vs. Farrow (Adams 2021), and their previous documentaries have also given them credit for excellence in this particular genre. It is a demanding genre which most live up to the highest journalistic and ethical standards.

The fact that such documentaries accuse systems and institutions and also individuals of potentially serious crime, demands un-biased fact-based research, documentation of all evidence in the case and giving those accused a fair chance of presenting their case. Most often documentaries of this kind need and normally use legal advice to avoid pitfalls. To a certain degree such documentaries have to follow some of the same rules as police and courts. Attacking systems or individuals suspected of crime will of course sometimes run into the problem that they resist commenting and give statements – this only complicates things further.

Dick and Ziering’s first documentary on sexual harassment The Invisible War (2012) deals with the deeply problematic sexual culture in the US-army. It has won several international prizes and a Peabody Award and Emmy Award as both Best documentary and for Outstanding Investigative journalism. It is almost an ideal example of a classic, investigative journalistic documentary, and it managed to create very fundamental changes in military institutions and norms. It is an example of what a documentary focusing on institutional structures and using strong cases and statements by victims and those responsible for the military institution can accomplish. Here all sides are heard and included.

We find the same kind of approach in The Hunting Ground (2015) putting sexual harassment in US universities on the agenda. Although the film received serious criticism from 15 prominent legal professor for tampering with data and for exposing especially one famous baseball player among the cases, the film still met wide approval and led to changes. The focus on this theme continues in Dick and Ziering’s next film on sexual abuse, On the Record (2020), this time focusing on the music industry. However, there is a change in focus and documentary approach, since we follow especially one woman, who claims to have been raped by a very powerful man in the music industry, but who is having second thoughts about whether to go public with her accusation. We still have an institutional context, but the central case is between a female victim and a powerful man. #MeToo has made its mark on this documentary. Despite this legal-ethical problem of accusing an individual in a film and not by filing a legal case from the beginning, the film raises an important criticism of sexual misconduct of potential crimes in the music industry.

When an investigative documentary fails to meet the standards

As already indicated Dick and Ziering’s latest series claims to have the same valid quality as their former documentaries dealing with the #MeToo agenda, and we find lots of evidence in the series of their long period of investigation. So the film is no doubt based on a very thorough investigation of this extremely complicated case. The investigation is also clearly influenced by the problem that some of the original witnesses are dead. However, despite the thorough investigation and the intention to live up to journalistic and ethical standards in such documentaries, one starts to wonder, when they claim that Allen vs. Farrow allowed them to expose a “much broader, richer and deeper palette” than their former documentaries (Adams 2021). This question about the motives behind the documentary becomes even bigger, when the two directors go on insisting, it was Dylan’s and the Farrow family’s side of the story which needed to be explored, because: “this story had not only not been thoroughly investigated, but the spin that Woody Allen put out has really created a situation, where this country has the wrong perspective on this story.”

No matter how you view the case, it seems rather difficult to see it as richer, broader and deeper than their previous films. Allen vs. Farrow has a rather narrow focus on one incident in 1992, it involves a limited number of people in the extended Farrow-Allen family. The case has been covered widely since 1992 in all sorts of media and in different forms of public investigations. Although Allen was never convicted, he has in many ways been hit hard by the public opinion, to such a degree that he has been forced to make many of his films since 1992 in Europe. So the statement of Allen as a powerful film maker able to spin and control the media falls flat.

Although the series seems to put Allen in line with convicted sexual criminals, there are no other cases to be found on him besides this case in 1992, so Allen is by all standards innocent. The basic rule is, that we are all innocent untill proven otherwise. Even worse is the attempt to find evidence in Allen’s films of incestuous themes. There are no such themes to be found in his films. To compare an accusation of incest with a child with fictional films about relations between older men and younger females is really far-fetched. It seems to indicate that they have gone far to find new evidence, no matter the quality. So is the allusion to Allens relationship and marriage with Farrows adopted daughter Soon-Yi. She was 19 when they first met, the exact age as Farrows, when she married the much older Frank Sinatra.

When an otherwise well researched documentary starts to include such a hypothetical and complete unfounded arguments in what is a potential criminal case against Allen, the scepticism towards the whole construction of the film becomes very relevant. The very foundation and reason for making the film and the narrow and biased perspective starts to look completely flawed. It would have been a real challenge if the filmmakers had pursued a kind confrontation and investigation of both sides of the story, giving a voice to both Allen and the family supporting him, a voice with the same importance as the extensive Farrow family. To choose only to give voice to the Farrow side with new present day testimonies on top of the many past statements from 1992 and on, is simply a violation of the basic rules and ethics of investigative journalism.

The statements in the film from Allen are all selected by Dick and Zieming, which means that “the accused” is not given a proper voice in the film. There are also very few witnesses speaking for Allen, while those supporting Farrow are abundent. Any individual is innocent until the opposite is proven, and the proof cannot be based on only one side of the story. Having watched all four hours of the series, on starts questioning if this is the most important story to tell. It seems to be a very long and neverending family feud. What is the public interest?

Nobody watching the four-hour long documentary can probably avoid being emotionally touched by the release of the video Mia Farrow filmed over many days just after the claimed accident took place with the 7-year-old Dylan. The same goes for the interview made with the grown-up Dylan by the two film makers. But as an ordinary viewer without special expertise in incest one needs to remember, that the 1992 video was used in the investigation in 1992, and that we cannot know the context of the statement of the now adult Dylan. It is completely relevant and acceptable that the film confronts us with Dylan’s statements. But it is only one side of the story, and we need the full story, including the voices of at least Allen, Moses Farrow and Soon-Yi, who seem to agree with Allen’s own rejection of the accusations. Moses and Soon-Yi are known to have very hartsh and critical views of Mia Farrow as a mother. Such voices and many others are completely absent from the series.

Such family conflicts over many years, the fact that incest cases are notoriously extremely difficult to handle, should make viewers be very cautious in following a series so insistently being partisan and obviously biased. Perhaps it is also wise  to remember that Ronan Farrow, Allen’s biological son with Farrow, has taken his mother’s side in public. He has done that so forcefully, that he also successfully tried to prevent his own publisher in publishing Woody Allen’s autobiography, which was then published elsewhere, Apropos of Nothing (2020). Ronan Farrow won journalistic claim for his book Catch and Kill (2019) about sexual ‘predators’ and abusers. But his journalistic ethics seem to have failed him in the Allen-farrow case (see also Worley (2020). If you want to protect our democracy and the freedom of speech for yourself it is not wise to try a prevent your opponent/enemy from the same right.

The documentary series by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering have perhaps not gone that far, but they have certainly violated basic journalistic and ethical rules. The series is not just too biased. The aesthetic space around the Farrow family is made in a softer, milder visual style than the few old clips with Allen, and the fact that all quotes or visuals with Allen are selected and edited by the filmmakers further raise doubt of truth and representation. I am no legal expert, but it also seems to me that the extensive use of  Frank Maco, the prosecuter who was in charge of the third investigation, almost appears as a friend of the family in the film. I am also puzzled by the original decision of Frank Maco shown in the film, where he states that he had good grounds to believe in Allen’s guilt, but would not open a case in order to protect Dylan from witnessing in the court. As if systems do not have means to treat such cases, where minors are involved. How can a prosecuter publicly accuse a person and then not take the case to court?

It seems to me at least, that this is in a way what the wole film does. Without final proof, without giving the accused a real voice in the film, without listening to counter-witnesses, by using a tainted film style, the film in reality find the accused guilty. The film has not really given us new and valuable information, and the long and detailed attempt to undermine all previous investigation into the matter is flawed. I fail to understand why such skilled investigative documentarists as Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering use so much time on and old case and on what seems to be a deep backstage story of a family feud of little interest to the public. I fail to understand how HBO can broadcast a documentary series like that. The #MeeToo agenda is too important to be side-tracked by what seems to be a very personal and private vendetta.  Allen is thus to me innocent, until proven otherwise.


Adams, Sam (2021). Allen vs. Farrow’s directors on how making the series changed yheir minds about what really happened. Slate Magazine, March 14.

Bondebjerg, Ib (2014). Engaging With Reality. Documentary and Globalisation. Intellect/Chicago University Press.

Bondebjerg, Ib (2020). Documentary, Culture and the Mind. Saxo publish/Saxo.com.

Davidsen-Nielsen (2021). Woody Allen var både dømt og frikendt på forhånd. Politiken, March 20.

Goffman, Erving ([1959] 1990). The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Penguin Books

Habermas, Jürgen ([1962] 1989). The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. Polity Press.

Habermas, Jürgen (2006). Political Communication in Media Society. In Communication Theory, 2006:16, p. 411-26.

Monggarad, Christian (2018). Er Woody Allen skyldig eller ikke skyldig – døm selv. Information 26. januar.

Monggaard, Christian og Katrine Horsnstrup Yde (2021). En ubehagelig samtale om Woody allens skyld …”Nej Uskyld!” “Nej Skyld!”. Information 20. februar.

Worley, Rick (2020). The Rise and Fail of Ronan Farrow. https://ronanfarrowletter.wordpress.com/2020/07/20/the-rise-and-fail-of-ronan-farrow/

We still talk of film and television as two completely separate media. However, especially when it comes to fiction, films and television series, we might be better of if we started talking about different forms and genres within the greater category of the audiovisual arts. Cinematic institutions have a longer history than television, and they have for a long time been connected to the cinema. Television started in the home, and was for a long time in different forms connected to a linear schedule. Public service in Europe and commercial tv in USA. The two media had something in common. To go to the movies meant picking what was available in a cinema near you, at a specific time. To watch television, you depended on what a particular channel offered on a particular day and time. In the multiplaform era after 2000, much of this has changed, and film and television are now available side by side on both the traditional platforms and a lot of new ones. The possibilities of the viewer to choose has increased – but so has the power of global multinationals.

Challenging our traditional understanding of television

This global and technological change of our television landscape is in focus in Andreas Halskov’s insighful and very interesting new book Beyond Television. TV Production in the Multiplatform Era (2021). It is a rich analysis of changes in both the institutional development, the television production culture, and perhaps most strongly in traditional genres, storytelling and style. In his own words, the central argument in the book is:

It is a central argument in the book that modern TV series often challenge traditional understandings of television, moving beyond traditional stylistic choices, traditional modes of storytelling and conventional genres and formats, yet they still have a serialized structure and, in different ways, adhere to televisual conventions (…) The study focuses on productional, narrative and aesthetic aspects, and although it gives preliminary account of the modern TV landscape (…) it is not a technical study of interfaces, distribution and media infrastructures (Halskov 2021: 14).

Halskov also takes us on a historical tour through some of the major changes in especially American television. This is great, because often we find that books dealing with the present and with dramatic shifts tend to forget, that media history is in fact often based on a series previous historical changes. As Halskov rightly points out, we find at least three interesting golden ages or golden shifts in American television history: the era of television theatre in the 1940s and 1950s; the era of quality television series in the 1980s and early 1990s; and finally the cable revolution from the late 1990s. HBO is a frontrunner in this development, leading to today’s streaming culture. The slogan “It’s not television, it’s HBO, signals a liberation from commercials, the posssibility of targeting a paying, quality minded audience.

It’s not television, it’s HBO

Halskov does not directly deal with film or European television, but he points to a certain creative merging between those working in film and television as film directors like Michael Mann and David Lynch started working in television. We see the same tendency in the international Danish breakthrough on television, when Lars von Trier made The Kingdom (1994) and a much deeper creative  merger between film and television took place, when the international Danish wave started after 2000. Rainer Werner Fassbinder in Germany and Krzysztof Kieslowski in Poland are examples of the same development. In the UK, a writer like Dennis Potter already in the 1970s decided that TV was the most appropriate medium for adressing modern mass audiences. He certainly did that in a challenging way in for instance The Singing Detective (1986, see Bondebjerg 2018).

Halskov’s analysis of the transformation of American television series is a story of how a formulaic, commercial TV culture started to reform itself and develop into a much more complex and innovative art form. Somewhere during this development tv started to become almost the leeading creative platform for audiovisual art. In the late 1990s we see a much stronger interaction between film and television, and between mainstream narratives and complex, innovative narratives. Television has moved from a very low status in the cultural hierarchy. Cinema has gone through a similar historical development. The two media are now entering this new multiplatform era on a more equal level.

The art of making television series

Even though Halskov’s book has a lot of really interesting data and insights into the industry and technology of the new form of television, the most valuable in his book is going deep into the industry as a creative field. This includes really useful interviews with a lot of central players behind the American television revolution: David Chase (The Sopranos), David Simon (The Wire), Mark Frost (Twin Peaks), Nic Pizzolatto (True Detective), just to mention a few.

The Norwegian series Beforeigners (2019) illustrate the local-global trend.

The book also has a most interesting focus on local/global and transnational/glocal, dealing with the fact that globalisation doesn’t simply equal homoneginisation.  This section includes an interview with the two Norwegians Bjørnstad and Skodvin, who made the first Norwegian series with HBO, Beforeigners (following the success of Lilyhammar). This link between global and local is also the theme of the interview with Kelly Luegenbiehl, the vice-president of Netflix’s local language originals.

Halskov is a brilliant television analyst himself, and the book has some really outstanding analyses of some of the key series behind the television revolution. But it adds to the book’s quality that Halskovs own analyses integrate observations and creative statements from central TV writers and directors. The concept of transnational television in the book is thus a rather fine tuned complex concept:

  • cross-border mobility of tv-content, talents and formats

  • interaction of broadcasters, regulators and institutions

  • cosmopolitanization of tv audiences, styles and viewing habits

What globalization doesn’t necessarily means is a return to a new way of finding the lowest common denominator. Halskov shows us the result af remakes, but also the fact that original series actually travel, and that transnational audiences can develop into viewers that accept things that differ from their own national content formats. The Bridge and Skam are examples of both remakes and original transnational distribution. Taking up the effects of transnational reception, Halskov’s book also underlines the findings behind ‘mediated cultural encounters’ brought forward by the MeCETES project Transnational European Television Drama (Bondebjerg et. al. 2017), or in studies of how Danish and other national TV series actually make an impact in global television, for instance Danish Television Drama. Global Lessons from a Small Nation (Waade, Redvall  & Jensen, eds. 2020)

Maybe there is an air of hopeful optimism in the book – but it is also based on facts and actual tendencvies. Halskov argues not just for the creative complexity of global and local, but also for the broader breakthrough of what he calls complex and even polycentric storytelling. Taking Thrisha Dunleavy’s book Complex Serial Drama and Multiplatform Television (2018) as a starting point, he expands it further into an eight point definition of narrative complexity:

  • Ambiguity and uncertainty
  • Subjective narration and shifting points of view
  • Non-linearity
  • Cumulative plots and vast narrative memory
  • Long arcs and lack of redundancy
  • Fragmentation and lack of causality
  • Large ensembles and polycenric stories
  • Multi-layered narratives including multiple settings, realsm and/or timelines

In many ways this description of modern television narratives describes forms that have long been known in film and litterature. However, the specific dimension of TV narratives is the ability to develop very long and very complex stories. Not just through season episodes but over many seasons. Still, many of the usual avantgarde techniques seem to have been established more broadly in series that are more broadly accepted by new audiences. At least, this was the main points in HBO’s  reach for global audiences. Public service in Europe, we could argue, has always been about the meeting between the advanced and complex and the mainstream, and we have historically seen this as an alternative to commercial, American dominance. Is this main narrative still quite valid? HBO, Neflix and other streaming services seem more difficult to place in such a dichotomy: here mainstream and innovative forms of audiovisual art seem to meet and influence each other.

Global and national aspects of the audiovisual arts

As already noted, Halskov’s book is mostly about the development of post-2000 American television. However there are many references to national and European  tendencies and cases within the new structure of multiplatform TV. This has to do with the fact that we see similar tendencies in Europe and that the global streaming services are also clearly interested in taking in local productions and thus establish a firm link between a global reach and a regional, national grounding. The global here is to a very large degree still US dominated in film and TV series, but transnational, creative collaboration is also an important tendency. Suddenly it seams that the big global players have shifted strategy towards and integration of local-national products.

It was in the beginning of the rise of globalisation and digitalisation quite common to find books annd articles talking about ‘disruption’, a fundamental change of film and television. Halskov is not taking that position. Even though he talks about fundamental changes, he also stresses the continuity. Film is still film, TV is still TV, although we find all genres and media mixed on the global streaming services. The new forms of globalisation and rise of platforms for audiovisual arts have on the other hand facilitated creative transnational and transmedia collaboration. As Halskov points out in his epilogue, there is planty of talk about the cinematization of telvision, the merging of creative talents and format.

However, looking at both the American and European landscape, it is far too early to declare the death of film and television culture as we know it. One of the lessons from media history studies is that changes rarely kill of old media. It is more likely that the old media will adapt to new situations and technological possibilities. HBO is still a cable TV station in the USA and atv the same time a global streaming service and producer on the rise. In Europe the old public service stations are working hard to find a new place in a changing media world. They are in no way dead or dying. BBC and DR for instance, are both central players in the production and distribution of  film and TV-series, and they are developing into central national streaming services. The national is not dying in our media cultures because of globalisation, they are probably more important that ever in the mixing of global and local.

Andreas Halskov has written a very timely and important book. He gives us a facsinating and deep look into the American-global creative media industries, and by doing that he contributes to the ungoing political media debate. His optimism and passion for the new forms of TV narratives is paired with realism and works against more gloomy perspectives on globalisation. His book brings us into a fascinating new world of TV narratives, and into the creative minds of many of the people that have created a new more diverse and complex way of telling stories on TV. It is a book about American TV, but it is of great importance for the understanding of also national TV cultures in Europe.


Andreas Halskov (2021). Beyond Television. TV production in the Multiplatform Era. University of Soutnern Denmark.

Anne Marit Waade, Eva Novrup Redvall & Pia Majbritt Jensen (eds. 2020). Danish Television Drama. Global Lessons from a Small Nation. Palgrave European Film and Media Studies.

Ib Bondebjerg et. al. (2017). Transnational European Television Drama. Production, Genres and Audiences.Palgrave European Film and Media Studies.

Ib Bondebjerg (2018 [1993]). Elektroniske fiktioner. TV som fortællende medie. Lindhardt & Ringhof, E-bog.





Den grundlæggende, epistemiske forskel på fiktion og dokumentar er, at en dokumentar er mere direkte forbundet med og relateret til den faktiske virkelighed. Fiktionen er naturligvis også forbundet med den samme virkelighed, men den har et langt mere frit forhold til virkeligheden – også udtryksmæssigt – end dokumentarismen. Men selv i forhold til fiktion vil tilskueren også ofte – specielt i realistiske spillefilm – foretage en ret direkte form for reality-tjek. Det indgår i oplevelsen af mange typer af spillefilm, at de faktisk giver os et troværdigt billede af en virkelighed, som man kan genkende – selvom den er fiktiv.

Man kan måske udtrykke det på den måde, at mens dokumentarismen normalt lader os slutte direkte fra det fortalte til en faktisk virkelighed, så er fiktionen relation til virkeligheden indirekte. Det er en del af fiktionsoplevelsen, at man ikke uden videre sammenligner fiktionens virkelighed med en konkret faktisk virkelighed. Man må så at sige oversætte. Fiktionen bygger på en som om oplevelse, som meget vel kan være meget tæt på en genkendelig virkelighed. Men vi ved godt at den er en fiktiv version af en virkelighed. Til gengæld har man en forventning til, at lige meget hvor meget en dokumentar bruger virkemidler og iscenesætter, så handler den om en identificerbar virkelighed, om personer med postadresse og cpr-nr.

Dokumentarismens grundformer

Men det følger ikke uden videre af denne fundamentale forskel mellem fiktion og dokumentarisme, at dokumentarismen ikke består af mange forskellige undergenrer. Dokumentarismen som helhed benytter endog meget forskellige æstetiske virkemidler, når den beskriver virkeligheden. Som dokumentarist er Errol Morris et meget godt eksempel på, at man kan fortælle historier med rod i den faktiske virkelighed på meget forskellige måder. Men der ligger i alle tilfælde en konkret begivenhed og konkrete faktiske personer bag den historie hans film fortæller.

Som man kan læse om i flere af mine bøger og artikler om dokumentarisme (Bondebjerg 2008, 2014, 2018 og 2020) og hos andre teoretikere (Nichols 2001 og Plantinga 1997) er dokumentarismen ligeså mangfoldig både genremæssigt og æstetisk som spillefilmen. Genrevalget sætter forskellige perspektiver i forhold til virkeligheden, og placerer dermed også modtageren i en forskellige receptions-position. Groft sagt kan man sondre mellem fire forskellige grundtyper, som dog også ofte blandes eller bliver til specifikke undergenrer:

  • den autoritative dokumentar er journalistik, kritisk undersøgende og oplysende, og den har ofte en stærk social case, som den gerne vil afdække og forklare; den bruger over autoritativ voice over og et væld af kilder og eksperter.
  • den observerende dokumentar har en ligeså stærk social dagsorden, men her har den autoritative stemme trukket sig tilbage; kameraet er etnografisk observerende, og de mange stemmer og dele af virkelighed vi møder er subjektive statements, som sammenlagt afdækker en virkelighed
  • den dramatiserede dokumentar blander dokumentariske billeder og udsagn med iscenesatte, dramatiserede sekvenser; den beskriver måske dele af en virkelighed, som er svær at dokumentere dokumentariske, og instruktøren kan være undercover; den kan også være en totalt dramatiseret version af faktiske begivenheder
  • den poetisk-refleksive dokumentar er den mest subjektive af de dokumentariske genrer, men den leger bare æstetisk med virkeligheden, og rummer dermed dokumentarisk kerne; den giver os et nyt syn på en kendt virkelighed ved at give den en poetisk og refleksiv dimension

Morris: En mangesidig dokumentarist

Errol Morris er født i 1948 i New York, og han har studeret videnskabshistorie og filosofi på Princeton og Berkeley, men han har ingen filmuddannelse. Han arbejdede i en periode som filmarkivar på Pacific Film Archive, men først i 1975 begyndte han aktivt at arbejde med film. Hans første projekt, som aldrig blev realiseret, handlede om en seriemorder, og mens han arbejdede på det projekt mødte han den tyske filminstruktør Werner Herzog. Der er altså et personligt, direkte link mellem to af den moderne dokumentarfilms mest originale og kreative mænd.

Det var samarbejdet med Herzog, som skabte muligheden for Morris’ første film Gates of Heaven (1978) og den efterfølgende Vernon Florida (1981). Modsat Morris’ senere film er disse to film mere observerende, etnografiske studier af excentriske mennesker og kulturer. Gates of Heaven handler om mennesker omkring en dyrekirkegård. Filmens emne forekom Herzog så bizart, at han svor, at han ville spise en af sine sko, hvis den blev færdig og fik premiere. Det måtte han så gøre, hvilket er dokumenteret i Les Blanks film Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe. Vernon Florida ligger i klar forlængelse, som et studie af en lille by i Floridas sumpområde og dens mange særlinge. Selvom disse film bestemt har klart stilistiske elementer, ligger de tæt på den amerikanske direct cinema tradition. De etnografisk observerende studier i menneskelige kulturer.

Der er et markant æstetisk og også tematisk spring fra disse to tidlige film til Morris’ markante, modne mesterværker: The Thin Blue Line (1988), A Brief History of Time (1991, om Hawkins), Fast, Cheap & Out of Control (1997, om folk med et udfordrende arbejde), Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. (1999, om en holocaust-fornægter, og skaber af en henrettelsesmaskine), The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (2003)- en af de bedste politiske dokumentarfilm om amerikansk nutidshistorie efter 1960, Standard Operating Procedure (2008, om Abu Graib skandalen) og Tabloid (2010, om en tidligere Miss Wyoming kvinde og hendes fald). Som det ses arbejder Morris tematisk set tit med portræt-formen, ofte opsigtsvækkende karakterer, men han har også taget fat på mere komplicerede politiske emner. Det er samtidig karakteristik for alle disse film er, at han har udviklet en meget refleksiv, stilistisk og narrative form, der er helt original, og som ofte kombinerer elementer fra dokumentarismens fire grundformer.

The Thin Blue Line: refleksiv-poetisk true-crime

The Thin Blue Line handler i den grad om en faktisk virkelighed, om to mænd, hvoraf den ene (Randall Adams) er dømt for et mord på en betjent i Dallas, som den anden (David Harris) har begået. Den trevler en retssag og et begivenhedsforløb op, så godt som nogen journalistisk dokumentar kunne gøre det. Og den får en effekt, som den magtkritiske dokumentar drømmer om: den fører efterfølgende til en ny retssag og til frikendelse af den uskyldige. Men Morris fortæller jo ikke denne historie som en ligefrem, journalistisk og faktuel dokumentar. Filmen er cirkulær, gentagende, langsom og dvælende. Vi vender igen og igen tilbage til de samme scener og hændelser, som iscenesættes fra forskellige perspektiver og personers synsvinkel.

Filmen benytter sig af et stærkt, ekspressivt og symbolsk formsprog, og der er masser af referencer til fænomener i amerikansk populærkultur. Det æstetiske og visuelle sprog, den særlige langsomme og cirkulære måde at fortælle på understreges af Philip Glass’ musik. Det er måske værd at huske, at filmen i dag hyldes som en af Morris’ bedste film, og som en af de bedste dokumentarfilm overhovedet. Men den blev ikke engang indstillet til en Oscar i kategorien non-fiction/documentary, fordi den ikke umiddelbart blev anset for at være en dokumentar. Det er – kan jeg sige af erfaring – ikke ualmindeligt, at forestillingen om hvad en dokumentar er, ofte er ret indskrænket.

The Thin Blue Line er hvad man i dag ville kalde ‘true crime’, dvs. den rummer en undersøgende, journalistisk dimension, hvor der graves efter sandheden i en kriminalsag – i dette tilfælde altså mordet på en betjent i Dallas Texas. Men den er ikke en traditionel, undersøgende journalistisk dokumentar. Der er ingen overordnet, autoritativ fortæller, som fører os gennem sagen. Som altid foretrækker Morris at lade virkeligheden selv tale, og at give ordene til både den dømte morder, den sandsynlige rigtige morder, og en række af de nøglepersoner, som indgik i sagen. Han bruger altså meget af sin gamle form: den observerende dokumentars mange stemmer. De taler direkte til os, eller de taler i voice over til billedforløb, der illustrerer og kommenterer deres udsagn. Men det mest påfaldende narrative og æstetiske træk i filmen er, at brugen af mange rekonstruktioner, og at han iscenesætter dem på en markant og ofte symbolsk måde. Han skaber spænding, suspense og usikkerhed hos modtageren ved at forelægge os forskellige versioner af den historie, han fortæller.

Hans metode med at lade personer tale selv, samtidig med at han bygger rekonstruerede billedforløb op omkring det, har han eksplicit forsvaret. Han mener ikke at det at krydsforhøre folk aggressivt, som man ofte ser det i journalistik og i den autoritative kritiske dokumentar, fører til at vi bliver klogere:

I don’t really believe in adversarial interviews. I don’t think you learn very much. You create a theater, a gladiatorial theater, which may be satisfying to an audience, but if the goal is to learn something that you don’t know, that’s not the way to go about doing it. In fact, it’s the way to destroy the possibility of ever hearing anything interesting or new (…) the most interesting and most revealing comments have come not as a result of a question at all, but having set up a situation where people actually want to talk to you, and want to reveal something to you.


Vi ser Morris’ mesterskab som visuel fortæller allerede i filmens optakt og i den første ca. 8. minutters etablerende sekvens. Her udlægges selve filmens titel, både visuelt ved den grafiske leg med titlens farver (hvid, blå, rød, sort), og via et citat fra en af politibetjentene som vidnede i retssagen: “The thin blue Line of police, that separates the public from anarchy.” I alt hvad filmen derefter viser bliver dette citat imidlertid kraftig anfægtet. Læg mærke til den måde byen Dallas skildres på i mange visuelle sekvenser. Her antydes det,  at byen gemmer på mange hemmeligheder, og at det snarere er dem, der står for lov og orden, der er med til at skabe anarki og modvirke lov og orden. Kennedy-mordet nævnes flere gange, men også andre problematiske sager: Dallas bruges gennemgående som en tvivlsom metafor for det amerikanske samfund – ikke bare mordet på Kennedy, men også den berømte soap-serie Dallas. Det er ikke bare en konkret sag i Dallas, Morris undersøger – det er selve den grundlæggende amerikanske myte og det amerikanske demokratis og samfunds sorte sider, der er i fokus.

Kritisk gennemlysning af USA

Der kommer dermed en dyb indre sammenhæng mellem denne true crime dokumentar og to andre film, hvor det amerikanske samfund og det amerikanske demokrati er under kritisk anklage: The Fog of War og dermed hele Amerikas udenrigspolitik siden Kennedy, og Standing Operating Procedure, om USAs måde at føre krig på og deres overtrædelse af fundamentale konventioner og menneskerettigheder. I The Thin Blue Line rummer de mange rekonstruktioner af sagen således ikke bare en narrativ montage, som gradvis afdækker et korrupt lov-og-orden system. Ind i rekonstruktionerne bygger Morris også utallige referencer til amerikansk historie, politik og populærkultur. Texas er jo mytisk frontier-land, og det ser og hører vi når betjentene fortæller deres historie, og når elementer af krimi-fortællinger eller andre typisk fiktive populær-genrer citeres. Der bruges også i udstrakt grad aviser, bøger og andre typer af dokumenter. Facts og dokumentation bygges altså ind i de mange rekonstruktioner set fra forskellige personers perspektiv.

Samme metode bruger i The Fog og War, hvor det er lange interviews med MacNamara, blandet med historiske klip, der afdækker USA’s rolle i efterkrigstiden. Og den teknik bruges også i Standing Operation Procedure, hvor interviews repeteres og vendes igen og igen, og hvor også mediebilleder og fotos af torturscener analyseres fra forskellige vinkler. Som modtagere bliver vi i den grad aktiveret både kognitivt og følelsesmæssigt, filmens stil og æstetik involverer os og får os til at reflektere. Filmene rummer et meget dybt og kritisk perspektiv på USA som nation og som kultur, men Morris bruger ikke ideologiske og moralske pegefingre. Han lader virkeligheden, dens personer og billeder tale for sig selv, men han behandler også sit stof poetisk og refleksivt.. Morris lader virkeligheden og dens personer tale, men han sætter denne virkelighed og disse personer ind i en meget større fortælling. Det kan man også læse om i, Morris’ bog Believing is Seeing: Observations on the Mysteries of Photography (2011).


Bondebjerg, Ib (2008). Virkelighedens fortællinger. Den danske tv-dokumentarismes historie. Samfundslitteratur.

Bondebjerg, Ib (2014). Engaging With Reality. Documentary and Globalization. Intellect/University of Chicago Press.

Bondebjerg, Ib (2018). A documentary of the Mind: Self, Cognition and Imagination in Anders Øsgtergaards films. In Brylla and Cramer eds. Cognitive Theory and Documentary Film. PalgraveMacmillan.

Bondebjerg, Ib (2020). Documentary, Culture and the Mind. Saxo Publish.

Nichols, Bill (2001). Introduction to Documentary. Indiana University Press.

Plantinga, Carl (1997). Rhetoric and Representation in Nonfiction Film. Cambridge University Press.