Documentary Film Rhetoric: Saving Face and the Public Sphere

Author: Vincent Piturro, Metropolitan State University of Denver, United States of America
Published: July 2014

Citation: Piturro, V. (2014). Documentary Film Rhetoric: Saving Face and the Public Sphere. IAFOR Journal of Media, Communication & Film, 2(1).


This paper will discuss the 2012 Academy Award-winning short documentary Saving Face and the social action campaign surrounding the film. In the absence of true investigative journalism, documentary film has become a new discourse community that circumvents institutions and uses the Convergence Culture as a mechanism for education and social action. Documentaries such as Saving Face highlight Gerard Hauser’s definition of rhetoric – “the use of symbols to induce social action” – and Hauser’s re-formation of the public sphere as described by Jürgen Habermas. Hauser views the public sphere as one formulated by ideas – or discourse – rather than the identity of the population engaging in the discussion. In other words, the film, and many other documentaries, form new public spheres that break down social, economic, class, and geographic boundaries. These films encourage global discourse and lead to global action. As Christina Tangora Schlacter notes, the critical component of the public sphere “is the concept of a deliberative democracy: one in which there is critical analysis of democratic decisions and where social issues are based on the collective interest of the public…” (36). Where investigative journalism and democratic processes have failed, documentary film has filled in the gaps. Documentary film has the power to both inform and induce social action in a globalized society, using the very tools of globalization to formulate public spheres among disconnected publics. This paper will examine the current trend of documentary film as both investigative journalism and social action through a specific example.


social action, activism, documentary, acid attacks, Pakistani women, public sphere, Habermas