Play the Facts and the Truth: Disability in Documentary Film


  • Nicole Markotic University of Windsor



Documentary film, 2005 Vancouver mayoral election, partisan politics, wheelchair candidate, mobility, the body as truth, voyeuristic able-bodied gaze, Giambattista Vico, Descartes, Mary Poovey, Lady Gaga, Ludwik Fleck


This paper explores how film viewers, especially documentary film viewers, attribute a kind of “truth” to a subject’s body. Sam Sullivan’s body, throughout the film Citizen Sam, reinforces a certain cultural assumption about what a disabled body means. Sam Sullivan is not only the subject of the documentary, but is the fact of it. When one examines the very notion of a fact (scientific, poetic, artistic, etc.), the act of fact-making begs the question of what, in fact, is a fact? And how do “facts” inform a viewer’s acceptance of filmic authenticity and veracity? At times, the facticity of this documentary film lies in the depiction of a disabled man struggling through various political and personal minefields and conquests. The film projects an underlying conventional view that corporeality does, still, verify. Much of the film concentrates on personal and intimate details of Sullivan’s daily operations, often focussing on how a mayoral candidate campaigning from a wheelchair involves added exertions. Diary techniques intimate that Sam is alone, that no one around him will view these “private” confessions: not his wife, not his opponents, not the voters, not the camera operator, not even the director; only the viewers. The fiction of such access creates intimacy and extends a titillating aura of illicit revelation. These personal “entries”—interjected into a fairly straightforward documentary film narrative— convince viewers they are getting the “inside scoop.” Citizen Sam’s filmic construction is that Sam’s body (and any private moments deemed particular to that body) inherently belongs in the public eye.

Author Biography

Nicole Markotic, University of Windsor

Nicole Markotić: M.A. (Manitoba), Ph.D. (Calgary), specializes in Canadian Literature, Creative Writing (fiction and poetry), Disability Studies, and Children’s Literature. She is author of three poetry books, Connect the Dots, Minotaurs & Other Alphabets, and Bent at the Spine (out this May with BookThug). As well, she has published the novella Yellow Pages, the novel Scrapbook of My Years as a Zealot, has edited a collection of poetry by Dennis Cooley, By Word of Mouth, and has co-edited a collection of essays on film and disability, The Problem Body: Projecting Disability on Film (with Sally Chivers). Her interests include theorizing what she terms the “problem body” (as distinct from the “normal body”), representations of disability in film and literature, and twentieth-century Canadian literature. Recent articles include: “To All the Girls I’ve Loved (Before)…” (Open Letter), “Widows and Orphans” (in the anthology Biting the Error: Writers Explore Narrative), and “Leading with Your Head: Bordering Disability, Sexuality, and Nation,” (in the anthology Sex & Disability). She has worked as a freelance editor, and has edited special issues for such literary journals as Canadian Journal of Film Studies / revue canadienne d’études cinématographiques, Open Letter, and Tessera. She was poetry editor for Red Deer Press for six years and currently is a member of the NeWest literary board as one of its fiction editors. She is currently working on a critical book on the representations of disability in Canadian film and literature.

How to Cite

Markotic, N. (2012). Play the Facts and the Truth: Disability in Documentary Film. Canadian Journal of Disability Studies, 1(2), 1–18.