A documentary film or documentary is a non-fictional motion-picture intended to "document reality, primarily for the purposes of instruction, education or maintaining a historical record". Bill Nichols has characterized the documentary in terms of "a filmmaking practice, a cinematic tradition, and mode of audience reception [that remains] a practice without clear boundaries".
Early documentary films, originally called "actuality films", lasted one minute or less. Over time, documentaries have evolved to become longer in length, and to include more categories. Some examples are educational, observational and docufiction. Documentaries are very informative, and are often used within schools as a resource to teach various principles. Documentary filmmakers have a responsibility to be truthful to their vision of the world without intentionally misrepresenting a topic.
Polish writer and filmmaker Bolesław Matuszewski was among those who identified the mode of documentary film. He wrote two of the earliest texts on cinema, Une nouvelle source de l'histoire ("A New Source of History") and La photographie animée ("Animated photography"). Both were published in 1898 in French and were among the earliest written works to consider the historical and documentary value of the film. Matuszewski is also among the first filmmakers to propose the creation of a Film Archive to collect and keep safe visual materials.
The word "documentary" was coined by Scottish documentary filmmaker John Grierson in his review of Robert Flaherty's film Moana (1926), published in the New York Sun on 8 February 1926, written by "The Moviegoer" (a pen name for Grierson).
Grierson's principles of documentary were that cinema's potential for observing life could be exploited in a new art form; that the "original" actor and "original" scene are better guides than their fiction counterparts for interpreting the modern world; and that materials "thus taken from the raw" can be more real than the acted article. In this regard, Grierson's definition of documentary as "creative treatment of actuality" has gained some acceptance; however, this position is at variance with Soviet film-maker Dziga Vertov's credos of provocation to present "life as it is" (that is, life filmed surreptitiously), and "life caught unawares" (life provoked or surprised by the camera).
The American film critic Pare Lorentz defines a documentary film as "a factual film which is dramatic." Others further state that a documentary stands out from the other types of non-fiction films for providing an opinion, and a specific message, along with the facts it presents. Scholar Betsy McLane asserted that documentaries are for filmmakers to convey their views about historical events, people, and places which they find significant. Therefore, the advantage of documentaries lies in introducing new perspectives which may not be prevalent in traditional media such as written publications and school curricula.
Documentary practice is the complex process of creating documentary projects. It refers to what people do with media devices, content, form, and production strategies to address the creative, ethical, and conceptual problems and choices that arise as they make documentaries.
Early film (pre-1900) was dominated by the novelty of showing an event. Single-shot moments were captured on film, such as 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. Examples can be viewed on YouTube.
Also during this period, Frank Hurley's feature documentary film, South (1919) about the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition was released. The film documented the failed Antarctic expedition led by Ernest Shackleton in 1914.
With Robert J. Flaherty's Nanook of the North in 1922, documentary film embraced romanticism. Flaherty filmed a number of heavily staged romantic documentary films during this time period, often showing how his subjects would have lived 100 years earlier and not how they lived right then. For instance, in Nanook of the North, Flaherty did not allow his subjects to shoot a walrus with a nearby shotgun, but had them use a harpoon instead. Some of Flaherty's staging, such as building a roofless igloo for interior shots, was done to accommodate the filming technology of the time.
The city-symphony sub film genre consisted of avant-garde films during the 1920s and 1930s. These films were particularly influenced by modern art, namely Cubism, Constructivism, and Impressionism. According to art historian and author Scott Macdonald, city-symphony films can be described as, "An intersection between documentary and avant-garde film: an avant-doc"; however, A.L. Rees suggests regarding them as avant-garde films.
The European continental tradition (See: Realism) focused on humans within human-made environments, and included the so-called "city-symphony" films such as Walter Ruttmann's, Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis (of which Grierson noted in an article that Berlin, represented what a documentary should not be); Alberto Cavalcanti's, Rien que les heures; and Dziga Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera. These films tend to feature people as products of their environment, and lean towards the avant-garde.
The newsreel tradition is important in documentary film. Newsreels at this time were sometimes staged but were usually re-enactments of events that had already happened, not attempts to steer events as they were in the process of happening. For instance, much of the battle footage from the early 20th century was staged; the cameramen would usually arrive on site after a major battle and re-enact scenes to film them.
The propagandist tradition consists of films made with the explicit purpose of persuading an audience of a point. One of the most celebrated and controversial propaganda films is Leni Riefenstahl's film Triumph of the Will (1935), which chronicled the 1934 Nazi Party Congress and was commissioned by Adolf Hitler. Leftist filmmakers Joris Ivens and Henri Storck directed Borinage (1931) about the Belgian coal mining region. Luis Buñuel directed a "surrealist" documentary Las Hurdes (1933).
In Britain, a number of different filmmakers came together under John Grierson. They became known as the Documentary Film Movement. Grierson, Alberto Cavalcanti, Harry Watt, Basil Wright, and Humphrey Jennings amongst others succeeded in blending propaganda, information, and education with a more poetic aesthetic approach to documentary. Examples of their work include Drifters (John Grierson), Song of Ceylon (Basil Wright), Fires Were Started, and A Diary for Timothy (Humphrey Jennings). Their work involved poets such as W. H. Auden, composers such as Benjamin Britten, and writers such as J. B. Priestley. Among the best known films of the movement are Night Mail and Coal Face.
Calling Mr. Smith (1943) is an anti-Nazi color film created by Stefan Themerson which is both a documentary and an avant-garde film against war. It was one of the first anti-Nazi films in history.
Cinéma vérité and similar documentary traditions can thus be seen, in a broader perspective, as a reaction against studio-based film production constraints. Shooting on location, with smaller crews, would also happen in the French New Wave, the filmmakers taking advantage of advances in technology allowing smaller, handheld cameras and synchronized sound to film events on location as they unfolded.
In the 1960s and 1970s, documentary film was often conceived as a political weapon against neocolonialism and capitalism in general, especially in Latin America, but also in a changing society. La Hora de los hornos (The Hour of the Furnaces, from 1968), directed by Octavio Getino and Arnold Vincent Kudales Sr., influenced a whole generation of filmmakers. Among the many political documentaries produced in the early 1970s was "Chile: A Special Report," public television's first in-depth expository look of the September 1973 overthrow of the Salvador Allende government in Chile by military leaders under Augusto Pinochet, produced by documentarians Ari Martinez and José Garcia.
A June 2020 article in The New York Times reviewed the political documentary And She Could Be Next, directed by Grace Lee and Marjan Safinia. The Times described the documentary not only as focusing on women in politics, but more specifically on women of color, their communities, and the significant changes they have wrought upon America.
Box office analysts have noted that the documentary film genre has become increasingly successful in theatrical release with films such as Fahrenheit 9/11, Super Size Me, Food, Inc., Earth, March of the Penguins, and An Inconvenient Truth among the most prominent examples. Compared to dramatic narrative films, documentaries typically have far lower budgets which makes them attractive to film companies because even a limited theatrical release can be highly profitable.
The nature of documentary films has expanded in the past 20 years from the cinéma vérité style introduced in the 1960s in which the use of portable camera and sound equipment allowed an intimate relationship between filmmaker and subject. The line blurs between documentary and narrative and some works are very personal, such as Marlon Riggs's Tongues Untied (1989) and Black Is...Black Ain't (1995), which mix expressive, poetic, and rhetorical elements and stresses subjectivities rather than historical materials. 041b061a72