IT IS ALWAYS dangerous to claim, as Peter Steven seems to be doing in Brink of Reality: New Canadian Documentary Film and Video (Between the Lines, 294 pages, $19.95 paper), that you have uncovered a new genre - "new" documentary or anything else. In fact, what Steven is presenting is a collection of 14 documentarists who are linked by the fact that they are all in some way politically 11 committed 11 but in few other ways. Certainly there is no sign of a shared aesthetic, despite Steven's insistence indeed, there is not much serious discussion of the aesthetics of film or video anywhere in the interviews that make up the bulk of the book.
Not that Brink of Reality is without interest, even if it does not live up to some of the claims it makes for itself. The interviews do bring out some insightful observations and questions about the role of the politically involved documentarist: issues of accountability, audience, and subject-object relationships in film-making.
Among the interviews, the highlight is probably Zach Kunuk, the Inuit filmmaker whose work incorporates the selfconscious use of contemporary people to re-enact historical scenes, thus producing a layered and paradoxical story that is set neither "now" nor "then." Kunuk also admits, quite freely, that among the models for his sophisticated films are the soap operas "Guiding Light" and "All My Children" -"They never leave the house and it's never boring."
Anyone interested in the political implications of documentary will find useful material here; those looking for more examination of documentary aesthetic - or even the politics of documentary aesthetic -may be a hit disappointed.