What is a documentary

Documentary is a film genre that info the view on a specific topic with is based on a official document, like sciences reports or historical events. documentary does follows the three act structure however unlike other films the progression of the film is not primary pushed by a story but the information you receive as you learn more about the topic. In documentaries you can have multiple small story, an example would be BBC’s Planet earth 2 were each episode focuses on the hardships of multiple animal groups in one episode, multiple story are used to teach a common lesson about a subject like a war film showing the view accounts of three WWII families were they lose family, this reinforces the anti war message of the film and as documentary are used to inform rather then purely entertain.

Documentary is some times treated as if it was a completely different genre however they still have conventional elements that all movies have like them having heroes, an example is planet earth II, in the show we follow a group of animal in the environment trying to survive, the documentary make you feel their struggles by following them throughout their lives, we also have a narrator giving use humanising descriptions to help use associate with the animal.

A documentary can be divided into a number of sub genres:

Mockumentary: this are a type of fiction that uses the convention of a documentary however its completely fictional and are often parodies or satires it in one way or another, some documentary do have elements of a mockumentary if they have manipulated the footage in any way.

Micro documentary: a mircomentary is a shorter documentary, a documentary is classed as this if its under 20 minutes.

Historical: a historical documentary focuses on a event that has happened in the past like the romans of world war 2.

Personal: A personal documentary is one where the film maker documents a subject that their interested in, this often to tell a personal story to the viewer and is often emotional.

Campaigning documentarty: this types of documentaries focuses on a issue in the socity the film was filmed in like rights, global warming and politics.

John Gregson was a Scottish film director known to coin the term documentary in a review of Robert Flaherty’s Moana, he came up with the principle of documentaries, the main idea presented in the publishing was that fact he thinks acting out past events will never be as powerful as recording the real event, this now effects most modern documentaries now a days and may of had an effect on other genres like news and reality tv. In my option I mostly agree with Gregson’s option, however sometime you aren’t able to get the footage you need like if the event happened in the past or was too dangerous to film, then you can use actors as long as the audience is aware of the fact.

A documentary not unlike a based on a true story film, isn’t always what happens, their are two example of this Nanooks of the north and BBC’s frozen planet, in Nanook of the north the director Robert J Flaherty, in the film many elements are altered like Nanook the main character using a spear instead of guns to hunt, the wives of Nanook, Nyla and Cunayou being the directors wives and even Nanook’s name isn’t his real names as its actually Allakariallak (pronounced: [al.la.ka.ɢi.al.lak]). 


One of the most interesting cases is the igloo, in order to get the camera into an igloo they had to make one bigger then normal however this bigger igloos often collapsed so in the end Allakariallak made a three walled igloo so Flaherty could film in, this was done as their wasn’t another way, a similar situation happened in frozen planet as were a scene of a polar bear giving birth was filmed in a zoo rather then they antarctica, this was done for the safety of the crew and the polar bears themselves, these produces a grey area as they film maker is laying they have changed the  facts however if they didn’t then we would of not know any thing about this events if the film makers haven’t of lied however their is the issue is that what they filmed had no correlation with the real thing.

Code and conventions:

In documentaries their are various conventions that it conforms to, this are voiceovers, montages, interview setup and exposition.


Voiceovers are a commonly used feature in the genre, this are used to explain the scenes that are happening on the screen, this is useful if the footage is unclear and/or has very little information to provide. The voice of the narrator has to engage the audience, with this in mind they can use their voice to manipulate the audience’s emotion by what he tells the audience, like making you sad by saying fact about the scene that relate to that emotion.


A montage is a useful technique as your most likely going to be filming over the choice of months and years, so you have hours of footage to edit into a limited amount of space, with montages you can edit multiple scenes into one scene, their are two main purpose to convey a message by showing footage with a connecting theme to them or to show a movement of time by showing scene that would logically take a long time after one another, this is most commonly used in train sequences in action/sports movie.

Interview setup:

The interview is a cliche of the documentary, it involves the subject being place into a lighting room where their are asked question by the interviewer, they are also asked before had to explain their questions fully rather then being a response to the asked question, during the interview there are multiple lights used to Illuminati their faces whever yellow, white or a combination of this lights, the set up involves multiple cameras, this is useful as editiers have more footage to work with when when editing and having muliple cameras prevent all the footage being ruined like if one of the lights messed witht the footage of one of the cameras.

the job of the interview is to add an element of realism to the film as they are talking to people the audience are lead to believe by the film maker to be real people who then deliver they option to the camera, this is meant to give the audience a unbiased option, this is however not always the case as they would likely have ten or more times the  amount of footage then what you had sore.


Expoistion is when a film tells the viewer what has happened rather then showing the audiences, often in films these is used to help devolp your characters, for example in a doumentary, if your disscusing a ancient tribe, by telling us the background story your using expostion to help make the people and character be more devolped and make your audience more ingauged with them as characters, however it would be not that a terrible example of expoistion is to explain ether info the audience already knows or to tell the audience an event that they could of witness like an important character death.

Now I look at the documenary five star on vimeo to see how it compare to the four points above



Interview setup



https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/documentary 3/1/17

Link:http://www.desktop-documentaries.com/what-is-a-documentary.html 3/1/17

Pictures 3/1/17

Link:https://img.rt.com/files/2015.12/article/5661d7dac3618841498b45d4.png 3/1/17

Link:https://s3.amazonaws.com/criterion-production/release_boxshots/290-f49202c994ac4beb629930bfab916b22/33_box_348x490_original.jpg 3/1/17

http://www.indiewire.com/2014/09/michael-moores-13-rules-for-making-documentary-films-22384/ 10/1/17

http://www.flycreative.co.uk/what-is-a-micro-documentary/ 10/1/17

ps://lifestoryvideo.wordpress.com/2011/02/26/personal-documentaries-explained-simplified/ 10/1/17

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mockumentary 10/1/17

http://readingfilm.qwriting.qc.cuny.edu/2010/09/28/first-principles-of-documentary-2/ 10/1/17

https://www.voices.com/category/documentaries 16/1/17

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montage_(filmmaking) 16/1/17

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interview_(journalism) 22/1/17

http://www.elementsofcinema.com/screenwriting/exposition.html 22/1/17

https://vimeo.com/173772669 29/1/17



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