Documentary Theory; The Leader, His Driver and the Driver’s Wife

Documentary Theory; The Leader, His Driver and the Driver’s Wife




Documentary production has remarkably enhanced the efficacy with which filmmakers deliver the viewer's expectations in an objective manner.  Nichols (2010) asserts that ‘documentary entails a television program or movie that tells facts about actual people and events’ (p.43). The conventional issue is that documentaries present reality and do not entail fiction. There are different types of sub-genres or modes through which documentary makers can adopt. One of the notable modes entails the performative mode, which involves unobtrusive observation of the issue or subject under evaluation. Thus, the performative mode of documentary making emphasises on the filmmaker’s personal involvement with the issue.

Under this approach, the filmmaker is able to represent historical or political reality according to his or her experience (Nichols 2010). Documentary filmmaker illustrates the events that occurred, which presents an opportunity to understand the issue such as the subject’s raw emotions. Documentary filmmakers play a fundamental role in representing other people’s interests.  Nichols (2010) emphasizes that ‘documentary filmmakers offer perspectives of their own, convey impressions, mount arguments and make proposals , that are set out to persuade us to accept their views’ (p. 45).  This paper entails analysis of the impact of inclusion of Nick Broomfield’s performative self on the way we read and understand the documentary ‘The Leader, His Driver and the Driver’s Wife’.


The documentary presents Broomfield's effort to present and shape a profile of an Afrikaner paramilitary leader Eugene Terreblanche.  The performative mode or style of documentary making entails a situation in which people consciously act differently in the presence of a camera or during reconstructions of pre-rehearsed actions (Quinn 2013). According to Bruzzi (2006), Nick Broomfield uses caricature to attain the reaction that he intends.  Jong, Knudsen and Rothwell (2014) affirm that ‘filmmakers can sometimes chance upon a specific approach to their film or their own attitude or relation to it’ (p. 21). This aspect is underlined in the case of Nick Broomfield who discovered that he could present a distinct character in his films. In the process of making the film ‘The Leader, His Driver and the Driver’s Wife’, Nick Broomfield did not succeed in presenting himself as a leader as intended.  On the contrary, the actor decided to include scenes that largely depict his main character.

 In the movie, Terreblanche spends a substantial amount of time with his driver’s wife Anita and the driver. In the process of making the documentary, Broomfield purposively arrives at the interviewing session late, which makes the interviewing session to almost fail (Jong, Knudsen & Rothwell 2014). The rationale of arriving late was to anger Terreblanche in order to understand his personality. In the process of conducting the interview, Terreblanche as the Leader of neo-Nazi Afrikaner Resistance Movement, commonly referred to as AWB is angered by Nick’s lateness to a point that he is unwilling and unable to concentrate during the interviewing session.  Terreblanche’s overemphasis on the Director’s lateness forces Broomfield to repeat and modify the questions asked in order the quest to make Terreblanche understand. Thus, a substantial proportion of the documentary focuses on Bloomfield’s lateness for the appointment.  By the time Terreblanche gets to respond on when he intends to go to war instead of the actual question which was when he had decided he would resort to war (Nash, Hight & Summerhayes 2014). 

As a result of Terreblanche’s concentration on the issue of lateness, the audience’s attention is shifted to Broomfield instead of Terreblanche, who in this case was the subject matter. Therefore, Nick Blommfiled benefits by enacting his character.  By presenting Terreblanche’s inability to reply to the questions asked during the interview, Broomfield intentionally succeeds in presenting Terreblanche as an individual who should be mocked and laughed at and not respected as a leader.  On the basis of this aspect, Terreblanche cannot be trusted to be a leader. Therefore, one can argue that performative mode as employed in ‘The Leader’ is very effective in shifting the audiences’ concentration from the subject matter. Moreover, performative approach enables directors to cleverly create a role for himself, not as a Director the film or documentary director, but as one of the characters in the documentary.  This aspect is supported by Bruzzi (2006) who asserts that ‘the issue of “realness” as it pertains to ‘The Leader, His Driver and the Driver’s Wife is, from the audience’s perspective, relatively unproblematic, as the distinction between Nick Broomfield the director and ‘Nick Broomfield’, the enactment of himself for the benefit of the documentary’ (p.177).

By purposively arriving late for the interview, Broomfield intends to provoke Terreblanche because he is aware of his egocentric characteristic. Thus, Broomfield's ploy to be late for the interview is successful in drawing Terreblanche’s actual personality. This aspect indicates that the performative mode of directing films and documentaries is critical in understanding the actual character of individuals in the documentary in a film which would not have been possible under ideal conditions (Aitken 2013).

In addition to the above aspects, the film underlines the fact that the performative mode of making documentaries can successfully employ the element of power in   illustrating issues that might be missed under normal circumstances (Lin & Sang 2012). For example, in the film, Nick Broomfield provokes Terreblanche by explaining that he and his crew were late for the interview because his crew took time to take a cup of coffee. This aspect made Terreblanche to be further infuriated. Moreover, the element of employing power in making performative documentaties is illustrated in the process of filming the documentary, whereby the documentary’s cinematography holds his camera at a low angle. According to Bruzzi (2006), this action is intended to depict the cinematographer’s power and superiority over Terreblanche.  Bruzzi (2000) further emphasises that ‘through performative documentary mechanism, The Leader succeeds in illustrating AWB’s decline from being a sinister, sizeable power to impotent political side show’ (p. 176).  

At the beginning of the documentary, Nick Bloomfield’s cameraman, Bary Ackroyd is punched to the ground by one of AWB members in front of a rally that was extensively attended. As a result of the brutal action, attendance of AWB’s rallies is significantly reduced. Only a few individuals attend the rally. This aspect reveals that the performative mode of directing can succeed in diminishing the power inherent in the actual subject.  The film further shows, Terreblanche experiencing difficulty in controlling his horse and extensive anger when his wife Anita points a gun at him. Moreover, the film, The Leader, shows Terreblanche’s anger when the driver leaves the party (Bruzzi 2006).

In spite of the fact that the performative mode is critical in drawing the audience’s attention to other parties rather than the actual subject, this mode of performance can be used to misrepresent the subject as illustrated in the film ‘The Leader, His Driver and the Driver’s Wife’ (Jong, Knudsen & Rothwell 2014). This arises from the fact that Nick’s lateness was a calculated move to influence Terreblanche’s actions, which he succeeded. The ultimate effect is that he was able to represent Terreblanche as an ineffective leader of AWB.

In reference to this aspect, the film raises significant ethical questions. One of the fundamental issues relate to whether film directors should purposively provoke other people with the purpose of portraying them negatively. The tactics used in the film underline that the fact that directors can use their power in making film in a manner that culminates in negative portrayal of some of the subjects. By their power, to control the documentary-making process, directors can use their power to either draw attention to themselves or to create another character. This performative approach is extensively used by comedians, who in some instances direct attention to some individuals’ in the audience. In doing so, the targeted party becomes the centre of attraction by the audience.


Analysis of the film ‘The Leader, His Driver and the Driver’s Wife’ indicates that it is possible for film directors to shift the audience’s attention from the subject matter to another issue that might not be the fundamental issue by employing the performative mode. In many instances, the rationale of employing the performative form of making film or documentaries is to develop actual understanding of the subject matter that would have been substantially difficult in ideal situations.  This aspect is illustrated by Nick Broomfield’s ploy to be late for an interview with Terreblanche. Through this tactic, Nick Broomfield succeeds in employing performance mode to depict Terreblanche as a buffoon who cannot be trusted to lead his liberation movement, AWB. In addition to the above issue, the analysis shows that the performative mode of making field can succeed in drawing the audience’s attention to another character in the film or documentary other than the subject matter. Therefore, the performative mode can lead to shift of power from the subject matter to another aspect. In the film, the Director succeeds in creating an active role for himself as Nick Broomfield rather than only being a director behind the cameras. In spite of the strengths associated with the performative mode in filmmaking, one of the fundamental issues that arises relate to whether the use of power by directors to influence the outcome of a film or documentary is ethical.



Reference List

Aitken, I 2013, Encyclopaedia of the documentary film 3, volume set, Routledge, New York. Bruzzi, S 2006, New documentary, Routledge, London.

Campbell, V 2016, Science, entertainment and television documentary, Palgrave Macmillan, New York.

Jong, Knudsen, E & Rothwell, J 2014, Creative documentary; theory and practice, Routledge, New York.

Lin, S & Sang, D 2012, Documenting Taiwan on film; issues and methods in new documentaries, Routledge, New York.

Nash, K, Hight, C & Summerhayes, C 2014, New documentaries ecologies; emerging platforms, practices and discourses, Palgrave MacMillan, Basingstoke.

Nichols, B 2010,  Introduction to documentary, Indiana University Press, Indiana.

Quinn, J 2013, This much is true; 14 directors on film making, Bloomsbury, London.



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