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

    the filmmaker

    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...


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