a brief history of documentary film practice
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An introduction to the history of practice.
Reality or Realities? Truth or Truthfulness?
The creative treatment of actualityJohn Grierson, Founding father of UK Documentary Film.
What constitutes a documentary Film?
A History of Documentary Film Practice.A (very) brief overview
Origins of documentary film making are the origins of cinema: 1890s. France. Lumiere Brothers filmed short actualities. 1900s. Anthropologists and scientists start using cameras to film research.
1919 Russian Dziga Vertov publishes his manifesto calling for a cinema that documents life at it is
1920s-1940s: Formalising the practice.
1922. Nanook of the North, USA. Robert Flaherty - Considered to be the first feature length documentary. Filmed in Canada by Flaherty but largely a romantic recreation of events in practice.
1929. The Drifters. John Grierson. UK. Created within the british empire marketing board, highly planned.
1930s-1940s: Documentary as a propaganda tool is realised. Used extensively in Nazi Germany and in the US and UK during the war.
- Documentary practice in the 1920s and 30s was characterised by the lack of sound recording, large immobile cameras requiring highly planned and often staged scenes.
- Inter-titles and eventually voice over narration were common place to help structure the films
1940s - 1960sNew technology frees
Major technical leaps which permit synchronised sound recording, mobile cameras see a more liberated filmmaker. Contrasting national approaches start to develop.
Emergence of Direct Cinema (US), Cinma Vrit (France) Free Cinema (UK).
1970s - 1990sColour films and TV money
Period characterised by:- Introduction of colour films. - Large expensive productions.- Highly specialised crews. - TV funding and TV audiences, - Documentary filmmakers using film as as a powerful politically engaged tool. - Emergence of interview, as well as archive based films.
1990s - TodayA digital revolution?
- Digital camera technology permits a large democratisation of documentary film practice, with a big decrease in costs of production. - Smaller budgets, smaller crews, more independent productions. - Increasingly very personal, subjective and highly narrativised films. - Start of mass participation films and collaborative filmmaking. - Distribution of documentary films not reliant on TV or cinema, self distribution and the internet as a viewing medium develops.
Traditional, large budget crew
Small independent crew
One man filmmaker crew...