The word "documentary" was first applied to films of this nature in a review of Robert Flaherty's film Moana (1926), published in the New York Sun on 8 February 1926 and written by "The Moviegoer", a pen name for documentarian John Grierson.
In general, the main reason feature films get made is to entertain the audience; to give people ‘an escape’. Documentaries are meant to inform; to confront people with ‘reality’.
Although "documentary film" originally referred to movies shot on film stock, it has subsequently expanded to include video and digital productions that can be either direct-to-video or made for a television series. Documentary, as it applies here, works to identify a "filmmaking practice, a cinematic tradition, and mode of audience reception" that is continually evolving and is without clear boundaries.
“Documentary concerns itself with representing the observable world, and to this end works with what [John] Grierson called the raw material of reality. The documentarian draws on past and present actuality — the world of social and historical experience — to construct an account of lives and events. Embedded within the account of physical reality is a claim or assertion at the centre of all non-fictional representation, namely, that a documentary depiction of the socio-historical world is factual and truthful.”
Documentary texts are supposedly those which aim to document reality, attempting veracity in their depiction of people, places and events. However, the process of mediation means that this is something of a oxymoron, it being impossible to re-present reality without constructing a narrative that may be fictional in places. Certainly, any images that are edited cannot claim to be wholly factual, they are the result of choices made by the photographer on the other end of the lens. Nonetheless, it is widely accepted that categories of media texts can be classed as non-fiction, that their aim is to reveal a version of reality that is less filtered and reconstructed than in a fiction text.
November 02, 2010 (VNA) -- Germany's Geothe Institute in Hanoi launched a contest on greendocumentary film, "Climate Change-Changing My Life" in Hanoi on Nov.1. The VietDocs 2011 aims to create a playground for youngfilm makers to produce short films on the environment in Vietnam
U.S. president Woodrow Wilson famously described the racist classic Birth of a Nation (1914) as "history writ with lightening." However, it is the work of African-American documentary filmmakers that truly deserve this description for bringing America's complex racial and cultural heritage to cinematic life. For more than a century, the creative activists of documentary film have merged art, history, and politics, and they continue to march for freedom with cameras in their hands.
Changes in society and technology from the 1980s to the present have been reflected in documentaries. Video has made documentary filmmaking more affordable. In the last several decades successes in Black independent film, combined with increased access to university film training, have inspired hundreds of African-American documentaries.
Joe Richman, producer of the "Radio Diaries" series on National Public Radio, describes how his documentary "reporters," who are untrained in journalism, capture moments that journalists never could. Two of these reporters write about their work as radio diarists. At 360degrees.org, documentary photographer Sue Johnson uses Web technology to merge voices and images to create an interactive opportunity for people to explore the day-to-day experiences of prison and to gain understanding about topics of criminal justice...
So the salient question might not be, “What is a documentary?” — an abstract, theoretical approach to a form that is grounded in the concrete facts of life. Instead it might make sense to ask what (or whom) a given documentary is for? Is it a goad to awareness, an incitement to action, a spur to further thought? A window? A mirror? The more you think about it, the less obvious the truth appears to be.
Documentary seems, more than ever, like a catchall rubric, a label that can be affixed to heterogeneous, even contradictory products, ranging from the pranks of the elusive street artist Banksy (recorded in “Exit Through the Gift Shop”) to “Baseball: The Tenth Inning,” Ken Burns’s meditation on the recent history of baseball. Errol Morris’s “Tabloid” is obviously a documentary, but the term seems small and tidy next to the film itself, which may be visually restrained (Mr. Morris’s usual face-to-camera interviews, spiked by music and counterpointed with old still photographs and bits of stock footage), but is as wild as anything you can imagine. Cloned dogs! Mormons! How can such things exist at all, much less coexist in a single movie?
Documentaries are able to cover a wide range of stories and provide an in depth look at topics that may have other wise been overlooked. It's interesting that there are so many different films covering such a range of subjects. Within documentaries there are types of films; poetic, expository, reflexive, performative, and several others.
At a time when so much of journalism is quicker, shorter and hyped to grab the public's presumed short-attention span, the documentary--with its slower pace and meandering moments--is finding receptive audiences in many old places and some new ones as well. In radio, documentary producers tackle society's most pressing issues, and on the Internet, there are homes for documentary exploration. Photographers linger in communities to document the lives and places they encounter...