Think of the word 'documentary film';
What image do you see immediately?
Interviews with the subjects;
Making of a product or a movie perhaps;
Or the life of penguins in Antarctica?
Well, it’s all of these and much more than one can comprehend, because documentary films vary from being subject focused to being poetic to observing the filmmaker’s surroundings to also being a propaganda.
What's the one common essential thread you ask?
The reality, the nakedness, or as the famous filmmaker Grierson rightly said,” The creative treatment of actuality.”
Making an 8-hour documentary film on “A day in a factory” is challenging as the viewer might lose interest and it is particularly tough to keep the narrative or the story gripping while using actual proceedings in a factory. The beauty of documentary films lies in the filmmaker’s vision and the story he/she manages to pull together while putting reality on the screen. Documentary filmmaking is more than a smart presentation of real-life events.
A documentary film, sometimes known as a non-fictional motion picture, is one that attempts to reflect reality and be truthful to its vision of the world without intentionally misrepresenting a topic. Documentary filmmaking is a complicated process that involves using media devices, content, form, and production strategies to deal with the creative, ethical, and conceptual problems and choices that arise in the process. Through cinema's ability to observe life, documentary films enable the original actor to give a more accurate portrayal of the modern world than their fiction counterparts; as a result, real life is more authentic than a planned narrative.
The term documentary film was coined much later than it existed in its present form. Ever wondered how film and filmmaking originated? The very first motion pictures (pre-1900s) saw actual events captured in single shots, without editing, like a train entering a station, a boat moving or people walking out of a factory; or simply stock footage used today. So in essence, the first movies ever made were documentary films, also called newsreels or “actuality” films. It was then that a new medium was born that made a huge impact on people, who could now experience the world without having to travel, whereas previously they could only have a glimpse through photographs. There is an immense power of storytelling concealed in documentary films.
Documentary films originated largely for the sake of instruction, education or keeping a historical record, as they are extremely informative and were frequently used within educational institutions to teach various ideas; however, they are not confined to merely being informative. Due to limited video equipment, short screen time, and editing technology which was confined to linear editing in the early days of documentary filmmaking, creativity was limited to camera placement and framing. Involvement with subjects and recreation of certain scenes was directly proportional to these limitations.
Today, modern documentaries have gone full circle, from a video of flocks of sheep or people coming out of factories to instructional, showing how a product is manufactured, to subjective being people-centric and narrating numerous lost stories, to commercial or promotional goals, being more akin to an advertisement than a classic documentary. Documentary filmmaking is being utilised to express oneself through journalism, advocacy, or personal expression.
So, what makes documentary films so captivating? - The richness, complexity and ambiguity of life. The core of a documentary film is found in portraying life as it is, or in other words, life captured secretly, caught off guard, or life startled or surprised by the camera. What keeps a documentary film alive, interesting and fresh is the mystery, excitement, narrative, and curiosity about how a story evolves. This narrative prowess opened the door for documentary films, often known as non-fiction films. A documentary stands out from the other types of non-fiction films for providing an opinion, a viewpoint and a specific message in addition to the information it delivers, It is a dramatic factual film. The advantage of documentaries lies in introducing new perspectives which may not be prevalent in traditional media.
Modern documentaries are expressive, and poetic, and have rhetorical elements and stress subjectivities rather than historical materials. We're all documentarians these days, courtesy of that high-quality camera in our pockets. But making a great documentary film is much more than just filming actual life and uploading it to social media. A truly amazing documentary transforms our view of the world. It has the potential to alter our perceptions of reality and the people around us. In many circumstances, it provokes us to look within and perhaps perceive ourselves differently. It calls into question our view of the world and leaves us wanting to know more. It brings out the hidden stories that make an indelible impression. From a simple clip of a train pulling into a station to Andy Warhol gazing up at the Empire State Building for eight hours, from Bob Dylan accosting reporters to an animated navigation of the horrors of war; we’ve come a long way and there's much more to see how the authentic format of storytelling is adapting to the modern communication needs.