Weber, Thomas: The Hybridization of German Documentary Formats since the 1990s, 25.11.09

AVINUS Magazin Sonderedition Nr.7, Berlin 2009.

Kompletter Aufsatz als PDF-Version: The Hybridization of German Documentary Formats since the 1990s


The diverse documentary formats – with their “relatively random thematic content” (Mühl-Benninghaus) – now seem to have nearly no common denominator. Not considering affirmative formats (travel, instructional, industrial films and the like), it is remarkable how – regardless of individual filmmakers’ ambitions (and the quality of their films) – each documentary format attempts to underwrite its promise of authenticity through calculated interruptions and flaws, i.e. by refuting the traditional logic of conventional depiction. 

This tendency, also called hybridization, is demonstrated not only in the aesthetics of new formats, but also on every level of production, technology, economy and reception, as Paul Soriano recently noted. It is not only mixing genres, or styles of depiction, but also using analogue and digital technologies, and a production rationale geared towards simultaneously employment in various media and the pluralization of communities.

Examining representative examples from German television, essential aspects of hybridization shall be determined by focusing on “Reality Television” (for example “Die Auswanderer”, “Frauentausch”, as well as pseudo documentaries like “Lenßen & Partner”, “ Abschlussklasse 05” etc.). Here we are dealing with typical aesthetic patterns characteristic of hybridization, and with new technical and economic challenges resulting from the Internet. From the perspective of the “ambitious documentaries” of the 1970s, these are often associated with a degradation and, moreover, a deterioration of television culture (Feil, Bertram et al.). Ultimately, it a question of analysing the functional transformation of documentary principles and the related changes in values and the criteria of plausibility, on which new documentary formats are oriented.