An Introduction to Documentary Films

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Published on September 26, 2014

Author: meganfulham



An Introduction to Documentary Films

1. Documentary A trailer by Megan Fulham

2. What is a documentary? • Documentaries do not present us with real life, instead they construct a particular version of the real world; • Documentaries use specific film techniques to inform, convince and persuade, as a means to position viewers to respond in specific ways; • Documentaries mediate meaning; they stand between the subject and the viewer, providing some version or interpretation of this subject (hence mediating meaning).

3. Documentary as a genre • A documentary is type of film which creates, through the use of certain conventions, the illusion that the events are not controlled by the filmmakers. • Social functions of documentary : – To record, reveal, or preserve; – To persuade or promote – To analyse or interrogate – To express • General aims of documentary (there are many more specific aims) – to entertain – to educate – to persuade – to inform

4. Audiences expectations • What we see and hear is grounded, in some way, in the real world; • The notion of objectivity, impartiality, fairness in representation; • That the audience wants to learn something

5. Modes of documentaries It is possible to divide documentary, itself a genre, into sub-genres or categories. It is argued that there are so many different types of documentary that we cannot classify them all clearly. Below is a broad list. See the following link for more details : • Expository documentary : uses a narrator (voice of authority) to address audience, explaining and interpreting "the reality" of what is being presented. • Interactive - the presence of the documentarist (documentary maker) is represented in the film; selection of material is foregrounded. • Observational - fly-on-wall; creates impression of events unfolding naturally in front of camera. (Eg : docu-soap like British TV show "Airport", following groups of airport workers through a 24 hour day.) • Reflexive - the process is as much about making a documentary as about the subject of the documentary. (Bowling for Columbine). Camera and crew are acknowledged, sometimes even part of the action (NB Columbine). • Docu-drama: Dramatic reconstruction of real-life events using actors or original participants.; fictionalised facts.

6. Forms and styles of documentaries • Travel / adventure • Diacritic form (like a diary) • Fly-on-the-wall (camera as observer) • Docu-soaps • Investigative • Docu-drama • Personal • Propaganda

7. Values of documentaries • Educative; • Illuminative (shedding light on a topic or issue); • Empathetic (engaging us emotionally with a subject); • Social and political functions (criticising, analysing, satirising).

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