What Is Documentary Film

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Matthew Foster
Intro to Documentary Film
Midterm Paper

What Is Documentary Film?

I once heard a quote from an unknown man who said, "Words are only words until you invest some meaning into them." I didn't fully comprehend what he meant by this statement. Surely every word has its own definition, giving it some type of meaning. So why would they being meaningless without me? Not until I entered this class and focused on documentary film did I re evaluate this statement. What the man meant was we can all see the same sentence and read it for its literal translation. But when you apply your unique perspective to the words, they take on a greater meaning, resulting in a unique significance and new perspective on the sentence. Thats what I think documentary film is. An unique outlook of a common ground.

Documentary film is the creative manipulation of real historical events to present a certain perspective or point of view. It is a representation of our real world through the eyes of a particular person or party.

Many theorists have stated that the true essence of documentary is the actuality, recording life as is with real social actors on real world locations. Actualities, predecessor to documentary, dealt with footage from real events, places, and things without any structure or arrangement into a argument or coherent whole. This gave an stance of objectivity, being free of point of view, relating it more to newspapers in its approach. Without this element of arrangement, recorded content would be just that, a record of historical events. For if we define documentary as "objective" or as a "record," we set an unreachable standard for the genre, and limit our understanding of the ways in which actual documentary films function. (Plantinga, 41)

Neither a fictional invention nor a factual reproduction, documentary draws on and refers to historical reality while representing it from a distinct perspective. Documentary films speak about actual...
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