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Introduction to Documentaries

The purpose of a documentary is to
document an aspect of life.

A documentary has to:
Inform
Educate
Investigate
Entertain

They are subject specific with an
argument/clear point including
facts presented in different styles.

A documentary film is a nonfictional
motion picture intended to
document some aspect of reality,
primarily for the purposes of
instruction or maintaining a
historical record.
Early film (pre-1900) was dominated by the novelty of showing
an event. They were single-shot moments captured on film: a
train entering a station, a boat docking, or factory workers
leaving work. These short films were called "actuality" films;
the term "documentary" was not coined until 1926. Many of
the first films, such as those made by Auguste and Louis
Lumière, were a minute or less in length, due to technological
limitations.
Frame from one of
Marinescu's science films
(1899).
Direct Cinema was a large movement in the late 1950’s to early 1960’s in North America. It
was characterized initially by filmmakers' desire to directly capture reality and represent it
truthfully. It began to question the relationship of reality with cinema. It aimed to present
social and political issues in the era as a piece of recorded history for future generations.
Cinema Verite was a similar movement created in France by Jean Rouch. It was a
minimalistic style of film making that convoyed real life events happening in France, as the
same in USA to record as history for other generations. In these films the viewers are shown
a front account analysis of what is happening in the country perhaps.
Features of a Documentary
Observation

Observation is when the
creator of the documentary
monitors someone or
something closely showing a
clear focused aspect to the
viewer. This is more than likely
done with the use of a camera.
Mise-En-Scene

An expression used to describe
the designs/aspects of a film
or theatre production. This
means visual theme or telling
a story from on the use of the
background presented
Exposition

The exposition is the part of a
story/film that introduces an
important background
information to the
documentary for the viewers
purpose. Eg, characters back
stories, information on settings
and events occurring before
the main plot.
Interview

An interview is a conversation
between two individuals with
questions about the focus of
the documentary being asked.
This extracts facts and
information from the
interviewee for viewers.
Dramatisation

Dramatisation is a
reconstruction of events used
to create a story/idea to a
dramatic extent. This makes
the documentary more
fascinating for the audience to
watch.
Documentary Types
A fully narrated documentary has an
off screen voice playing throughout.
This type of narration is mostly seen in
documentaries that focus on nature.
The narration in these documentaries
is what some people call a “voice of
god” as it knows everything about the
subject and gives specific information
to the topic for the audience.

Human Planet produced by BBC Earth
is a clear example of a fully narrated
documentary as it has a voice of god.
A fly on the wall documentary uses cinema verite which captures a what seems like
natural setting to the audience. This type of documentary is usually observational only
and rarely almost never have a commentary or narration. These documentaries are
filmed on the spot when the situation is occurring and then edited to make it more
enticing for viewers. However, this makes the documentary full truthful as some
aspects of film may have been cut out.
Educating Essex is a prime example
of a fly on the wall documentary as
it uses cinema verite.
Fully Narrated


Fly On The Wall


Mixed
Self-reflective


Re-Enactment of Events


Docusoap
A mixed documentary is most common.
This documentary type uses a
combination of interviews, observation
and narration to entice the audience and
persuade the viewer to look at the topic
in a certain way. A strength of a mixed
documentary is that it is representative
of many different view points – looking
at all the aspects of the topic through
different codes and conventions.
Within a self-reflective
documentary the
documenter talks directly
into the camera usually
self filmed for a particular
topic they are dealing
with. Talking directly into
the camera is used to get
the viewers attention. An
example of this is “Cure
me I’m Gay” by Christian
Jessen
A Re-Enactment of Events
documentary, sometimes known
as a docudrama, is a re-enactment
of a real life event in order of how
they happened. In these
documentaries the actors and
crew work hard to try and involve
as much truth and facts as
possible.
Docusoaps documentaries, originated in the UK, involve
investigating in different types of characters by following
them in their day to day lives. These documentaries are
very popular as they require no cast, very little crew and
are cheap to make. An example is Storage Wars as it
follows normal regular people than a hired cast.
A clear example of a Re-
Enactment of Events
documentary is 127 hours
as it shows a true story