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An introduction to documentary

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An introduction to documentary

  1. 1. AN INTRODUCTION TO DOCUMENTARY DEFINITION – ‘A FILM OR TELEVISION OR RADIO PROGRAMME THAT PROVIDES A FACTUAL REPORT ON A PARTICULAR SUBJECT.’
  2. 2. WHAT IS A DOCUMENTARY AND WHAT ARE THE AIMS OF A DOCUMENTARY? A documentary is a film, television or radio programme that provides a factual report on a particular subject or event. Due to this, the aim of a documentary is to report something with real evidence. Documentaries can contain actuality footage or reconstructions of events/situations. This is commonly done to contrast with what the interviewee is saying. A convention of documentary is to feature a unseen voice or narrator. This is done to anchor meaning to what is being shown. Documentaries can be based on any social, cultural, political, historical or historical issues. Documentaries must be based up real facts and events. However as real evidence is often unavailable to filmmakers, they often use reconstructions of events to demonstrate to audiences what happened. ‘What distinguishes a documentary is portrayal of sound and images of actuality.’ – John Corner (1995)
  3. 3. HISTORY OF DOCUMENTARY – JOHN GRIERSON • The genre ‘documentary’ was defined in the 1930’s by Scottish filmmaker, John Grierson and his team, who created some of the first documentaries, such as ‘Coal Face’ and ‘Housing Problems’. • In 1926, Grierson invented the term ‘documentary’, defining it as ‘the creativity of actuality’. Grierson’s idea was to capture real people, in real situations and in real environments, allowing people a glimpse into the lives of others. This contrasts with our modern day society; it had not been a concept available to the 1930’s audience – real life had not been exposed before and this was an entirely new concept. • Old style documentaries would contain a sense of persuasion in them, which was usually bias to one party or side, in comparison to Grierson’s documentaries which were more about the facts.
  4. 4. CURRENT AFFAIRS Current affairs – ‘events of political or social interest and importance happening in the world at the present time.’ Current affairs in documentaries are mid-way between documentaries and the news. Some great examples of this include BBC’s ‘Panorama’, ‘BBC Scotland Investigates’ and ‘Real Stories’. Current affairs are offer more in depth information about what is currently happening on the news. Current affairs are important for exploring important, consequential issues and social development. Nevertheless, there is constantly a growing concern that they are edging towards being ‘rating driven’.
  5. 5. THE 5 ELEMENTS OF DOCUMENTARY John Corner, a professor at the University of Liverpool, believed that there are 5 central elements to documentaries: 1. Observation 2. Interview 3. Dramatisation 4. Mise-en-scene 5. Exposition
  6. 6. FEATURES OF DOCUMENTARY ACCORDING TO JOHN CORNER • ‘Observation: Most documentaries have a sense of observation which can be used as evidence, and can turn participants as objects instead of subjects.’ Most documentaries include this as an ‘unseen’ camera to make the audience feel like they are an eye witness of the events which are unfolding. • Interview: Documentaries rely on interviews to create a balanced argument and give a wider view on the subject being discussed. They can be used to support of contrast with what is being observed. The interviewer may be seen or unseen. Pictures can be placed over the top of the interview to help anchor meaning. • Mise-en-scene: Important for constructing reality. It is vital that it is relevant to the topic of the documentary. • Exposition: What is the point of the documentary? This is the section of the documentary which reveals what argument is being explored. This can be done direct or indirect and is usually achieved through commentary/a voice over. BRIEF OVERVIEW
  7. 7. TRUTH & REALITY ‘It is critical that film makers be rid of the fantasy that the documentary can be unproblematic representation of reality and that the ‘truth’ can be conveniently dispensed and revealed like valium.’ – Dennis O’Rourke. • Documentary filmmakers have often struggled with the portrayal of truth and reality, leading to the result of many counterfeit claims. This reinforces John Corner’s argument of how documentaries need to show evidence. • Documentary's are based upon real events, however they do contain elements of fiction, such as scripted voice overs. • Many documentaries cover stories of people who can’t help themselves and are society’s victims. They can shine light on subjects that audiences may not be aware of. A good example of this is the documentary, ‘Cathy Come Home’, by Ken Loach; this documentary opened many people’s eyes to homeless people, causing the law to be changed. • Some of the most popular documentaries are those which focus on controversial issues, such as sex, violence, drugs, gangs, law and order. MAKING PEOPLE AWARE
  8. 8. SELECTION & CONSTRUCTION Before creating a documentary, film makers must consider the type of the documentary they are going to produce, who, where, what and why and how. Documentary filmmakers would also have to carefully consider their genre – Would it be suitable to air on television? Is the subject too controversial? They would also have to plan their scheduling carefully to ensure that it fit in with their target audience. When editing the documentary, it is extremely important that footage, music, interviews etc. they are going to use to create the documentary are carefully selected; the producers must avoid misrepresentation. The producer must have a good knowledge of their chosen subject. They must also be realistic, by considering the time they have to produce the documentary, the costs and if they are going to be able to obtain/film suitable footage.

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