Essay on Documentary films

One of popular categories of films are documentary films. The concept of a documentary includes a variety of motion pictures which are non-fictional, and are aimed to document certain aspects of reality, for example, deepen the audience’s knowledge on a particular subject, provide instructions, or maintain historical records. The concept of documentary is broad, and it is formulated in different ways by different authors. More precise definition of a documentary film is provided by Nichols:

“Documentary film speaks about situations and events involving real people (social actors) who present themselves to us as themselves in stories that convey a plausible proposal about, or perspective on, the lives, situations and events portrayed. The distinct point of view of the filmmaker shapes this story into a way of seeing the historical world directly rather than into a fictional allegory”ť (Nichols, 2010: 14).

Documentary films play an important role in modern society: they educate the audience, improve thinking and understanding of various phenomena and concepts, help reveal different aspects of the reality and adopt a critical approach to events and information. The purpose of this essay is to analyze practical and theoretical issues raised in the production of a documentary on the selected topic.

1. Theoretical and practical issues in creating documentaries

In creating documentaries, one of the main problems for the filmmaker is to get the right balance between the bare depiction of reality, and between artistic representation of the topic (Rosenthal, 2007: 243). The filmmaker should adhere to the factual progress of the story, and maintain historical and factual authenticity. At the same time, the filmmaker should keep in mind the form and structure of the film, and use appropriate film modes to create an integral piece of art. This can be reached by preparing and formulating on paper film proposal, writing out the main points and episodes of the film, as well as techniques and methods which should be used at specific moments of the film (Rosenthal, 2007: 270).

The particular problem of filming documentaries is the comparison of this type of films with bare casting. The filmmaker should avoid simple depiction of life events and scenes, if it is not integrated into the film’s scenario and does not serve the purpose of the film. There also exist ethical issues: if unobtrusive filming techniques are being used, the subjects of the film might be not aware that their lives and actions are being filmed (Rosenthal, 2007: 272). The questions of privacy are also raised, and in such situations the filmmaker should act cautiously, in order not to violate the right of others for privacy, and at the same time, to maintain the originality of the film.

Among technical issues during creation of documentaries, there are time of shooting, the availability of lighting (and possibilities of pre-lighting), the possibility to film in all required places, and the right to record everything (there might be certain episodes or interviews which might not be reviewed to the public as a whole) (Rosenthal, 2007: 267). Editing of documentaries is also complex, because the filmmaker should choose successfully filmed moments, and match them into a sequence which would serve the original purpose of the film.

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