The purpose of a documentary is to document i.e report with evidence something that has
It can show this by using actuality footage or reconstructions. Documentaries typically use
a narrators voiceover to anchor the meaning or rely on the participants themselves with
the occasional interjection by the narrator.
The term documentary was coined by filmmaker John Grierson in 1926 to describe a film
made about life on a south sea island.
He defined documentary as the creative treatment of actuality. (on reality)
Documentaries are not just about facts. Instead facts are used to create socially critical
arguments, thereby inviting the audience to draw conclusions.
Types of Documentaries
Fully Narrated; Voiceover is used top make sense of the visuals and dominates their
meaning e.g natural history documentaries
Fly On The Wall; The cameras films the subjects without interference e.g 24 Hours in
The Mixed Documentary; Uses a combination of interview, observation and narration
Self Reflective; The subjects of the documentary acknowledges the presence of the
camera and often speak directly to the filmmaker. They draw attention to the film-
makers role on construction a view of reality.
DocuDrama; Reconstructions’ a rein-actment of events as they are supposed to have
DocuSoaps; These programmes follow the daily lives of particular individuals wthin an
organisation e.g Airline/ The Cruise
Features of a Documentary
John Corner stated that their are 5 different elements to a documentary:
1. Observation- The programme makers pretend that the camera is unseen or
ignored by the people taking part in the events. It places the audience as an ‘eye
witness’ to the events.
2. The Interview- TV documentaries rely on interviews. The interviewee addresses
the unseen interviewer rather than the audience, Interviews are intercut with
images of observation to what they are talking about.
3. Dramatisation- All documentaries use a sense of drama throughout the
4. Mise-en-scene- Documentary makers carefully compose shots so that they
contain images they want the audience to see.
5. Exposition- the line of argument. The way the argument ‘unfolds’.
Gatekeeping is about he selection and rejection of information .