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History of Documentary Filmmaking - Essay Example

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History of Documentary Filmmaking

Documentary film initially referred to movies shot on film stock1. Eventually, however, it has expanded to include video and digital productions that can be either direct-to-video2 or made for television series.
John Grierson, a film maker, used the term 'documentary' to refer to any non-fiction film medium, including travelogues3 and instructional films. By definition, the earliest moving pictures were documentaries. They were single-shot moments captured on film. Due to technological limitations such as small amounts of film contained in movie cameras, very little information could be recorded and stored. Thus many of the first films are a minute or less in length. Auguste and Louis Lumire made this type of films. They staged the first public film screening on 28th December 1985 in the basement lounge of the Grand Cafe on the Boulevard des Capucines in Paris ("Chronology", 2007).
In the early part of the twentieth century travelogue films were very popular. The film In the Land of the Head Hunters (1914) filmed by photographer Edward Curtis embraced primitivism and exoticism in a staged story presented as truthful reenactments of the life of Native Americans. In 1919, Russian film maker Dziga Vertov issues a manifesto (Kinoks-Revolution Manifesto) calling for a new styles of cinma tic reportage that documents real life. He insists that reporting the truth will affect the future of cinema. Also during this period Frank Hurley's documentary film about the Imperial Trans-Atlantic Expedition, South was released. It documented the failed Antarctic expedition led by Earnest Shackleton in 1914.
In 1922, Vertov begins to produce Kino Pravda (literally "Film Truth"), a series of news reportage films that foreshadows both later newsreels and later documentary styles, including cinma vrit ("Chronology", 2007). The newsreel tradition is important in documentary film; newsreels were sometimes staged but were usually re-enactment of events that had already happened, not attempts to steer events as they were in the process of happening. For example, much of the battle footage from the early 20th century was staged, the cameramen would usually arrive on the site after a major battle and re-enact scenes to film them.
With Robert J. Flaherty's Nanook of the North (1922), documentary film embraced romanticism. The film "employs many of the conventions of later documentary and ethnographic filmmaking, including use of third-person narration and subjective tone, and a focus on an indigenous person as the film's hero" ("Chronology", 2007).
Six years after Dziga Vertov started to produce Kino Pravda, he films The Man with the Movie Camera (Chelovek s kinoapparatom). The film uses experimental editing techniques and cinma tic innovations to portray a typical day in Moscow from dawn to dusk. Rather than simply recording reality Vertov attempts to transform and enlighten the film through the power of the camera's "kino-glaz" (cinma eye).
During the period between 1950s through 1970s, the term Cinma vrit is coined by Jean Rouch for his own work and as homage to Vertov. Just as "Kino-Pravda" means literally "cinema-truth" in Russian, so do cinma vrit mean "cinema truth" in French. Famous cinma vrit/direct cinema films include Les Raquetteurs, Showman, Salesman, The Children Were Watching, Primary, Behind a Presidential Crisis, and ...Show more

Summary

Documentary is an extensive category of visual expression that attempts to portray actual people, places, activities, and events ("Documentary", 2005). It endeavors to present reality and facts, not fiction. Documentary film displays life as it is. It is a "reality-driven representation" (Renov, 1993)…
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History of Documentary Filmmaking essay example
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