Documentaries, often considered to be a genre unto themselves, have been around for decades and have become increasingly popular in recent years. They offer a unique glimpse into the lives of people, cultures, and events, allowing viewers to gain insight and perspective that they may not otherwise have. Documentary films can range in topics from culture and politics to sports and nature, providing an educational and entertaining experience. Whether you are looking to learn more about a specific topic or just want to be entertained, there is a documentary film genre for everyone. From biographies and exposés to profiles and nature documentaries, there is something for everyone to enjoy.
In this article, we will explore the different types of documentary film genres, as well as some of the best films within each genre.
Documentary filmscan be divided into several main genres: biographical, investigative, historical, observational, and participatory. Each genre has its own specific characteristics and techniques that make it unique.
Biographical documentariestell the story of a person's life or career. These films often focus on the individual's accomplishments, struggles, and relationships with other people.
Investigative documentaries explore complex topics in depth. They often uncover hidden truths and attempt to uncover the truth behind an event or situation.
Historical documentariesrecount past events from a particular perspective. They often provide insight into how events unfolded and how they shaped our world today.
Observational documentaries are an observational form of filmmaking that follows people or organizations over a long period of time. These documentaries often provide insight into how people live and work.
Participatory documentariesinvolve the filmmaker taking an active role in the subject's life or environment. This type of documentary allows viewers to gain first-hand experiences and insights into the lives of others. No matter what genre a documentary falls into, there are certain elements that make them successful.
Storytelling is one of the most important elements in any documentary film. It is important to choose a compelling story that will draw viewers in.
Visualsare also essential in a documentary film as they help to bring the story to life. Music can also be used to create emotion and mood throughout the film.
Finally, sound is crucial in creating atmosphere and adding depth to the story.
Investigative DocumentariesInvestigative documentaries are a type of documentary film that explore complex topics in depth. These documentaries often uncover hidden truths and attempt to reveal the truth behind an event or situation. They often focus on specific topics such as politics, criminal investigations, science, or history. Investigative documentaries are often lengthy, comprehensive films that contain interviews, archival footage, and dramatic reenactments.
Some well-known investigative documentaries include “Making a Murderer”, “The Thin Blue Line”, “The Jinx”, and “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room”. These films attempt to shed light on controversial events or cases and expose any wrongdoing. Investigative documentaries usually require extensive research and many hours of filming. They also require skilled editing to bring together all the evidence.
Investigative documentaries are becoming increasingly popular in the streaming era as viewers are drawn to the thrill of uncovering the truth behind a story. As more filmmakers turn to investigative documentaries, they will continue to explore more complex topics and challenge the status quo.
Observational DocumentariesObservational documentaries are an observational form of filmmaking that follows people or organizations over a long period of time. These documentaries provide an intimate look at the lives of their subjects and often reveal unexpected insights into how they live and work.
Observational documentaries are shot in real-time, with no script, interviews or voice-over narration. Instead, the filmmakers use the camera to capture events as they unfold, relying on the natural interactions between people for their story. The aim of these documentaries is to provide an honest and unbiased depiction of the subject, with minimal interference from the filmmaker. This approach is particularly valuable in showing how people interact with each other, their environment, and the wider world around them.
Observational documentaries can be used to tell stories about a variety of topics, from political events and social movements to everyday life in a particular culture or community. They can also be used to explore topics such as gender, race, religion, and politics, providing an invaluable lens into the world we live in.
Historical DocumentariesHistorical documentaries recount past events from a particular perspective. They are often used to provide insight into how events unfolded and how they shaped our world today. This type of documentary film is focused on presenting an accurate and factual account of a certain event or time period.
Historical documentaries are often used to shed light on overlooked stories, provide context for current events, or draw attention to forgotten moments in history. These documentaries generally focus on topics such as wars, political movements, or social movements. They often feature interviews with historians, experts, and individuals who experienced the events first-hand. Historical documentaries may also include archival footage and photos, as well as voice-over narration by an actor or narrator to provide a better understanding of the events being discussed. In addition to providing knowledge and context to viewers, historical documentaries can also be used to examine our own biases and beliefs. By exploring the past, we can better understand the present and make more informed decisions about the future.
Biographical DocumentariesBiographical documentaries tell the story of a person's life or career.
They provide an in-depth look into the person's life, including their relationships with friends and family, their professional successes and failures, and their impact on the world around them. Through interviews and archival footage, biographical documentaries can provide an emotional journey for viewers. One of the most famous examples of a biographical documentary is the Academy Award-winning film “Amy” about singer Amy Winehouse. The documentary follows Winehouse from her teenage years to her sudden death in 2011. The film includes archival footage as well as interviews with her friends and family members, providing a comprehensive look at her life.
Another example is “Searching for Sugar Man” about musician Rodriguez. The film follows two South African fans who set out to find out what happened to the reclusive singer. Through interviews and archival footage, the film documents his rise to fame and his mysterious disappearance. Biographical documentaries can be both entertaining and informative.
They can provide an insight into the life of a person that might otherwise be unknown. They also allow viewers to connect emotionally with a person on a deeper level than just reading about them in a book or seeing them in a movie.
Participatory DocumentariesParticipatory documentaries involve the filmmaker taking an active role in the subject's life or environment. This type of documentary allows viewers to gain firsthand experiences and insights into the lives of others.
By engaging in the activities of the documentary's subject, the filmmaker is able to provide an intimate look at the culture, history, and customs of the people they are filming. Participatory documentaries often take an observational approach, allowing viewers to observe the environment and get to know the people being filmed. The filmmaker's involvement in the documentary also allows them to gain access to situations that would otherwise be off-limits. The purpose of a participatory documentary is not only to allow viewers to gain insight into a particular topic, but also to let viewers experience what it is like to be immersed in the environment and culture being portrayed. The filmmaker's active participation gives viewers a unique perspective on the situation, allowing them to have a more intimate understanding of the subject matter.
Participatory documentaries often focus on social and political issues, allowing viewers to better understand topics such as poverty, inequality, and social injustice. Due to the immersive nature of participatory documentaries, they can be difficult for filmmakers to produce. In addition to having to actively participate in the subject's environment, filmmakers must also be able to capture the nuances and details of their environment in order to effectively convey their story. Participatory documentaries often take longer to complete than other types of documentaries due to the amount of time required for the filmmaker to immerse themselves in the environment. Documentary films are a powerful way to tell stories about real life events, people, and places. They can be educational, entertaining, or a mix of both.
From biographical films that provide an insight into the lives of famous people to historical documentaries that bring the past to life, documentaries are a great tool for exploring different cultures and lifestyles. Investigative films can also be used to uncover hidden truths and bring attention to important social issues. Observational films provide an intimate look at the lives of everyday people, while participatory documentaries allow the audience to get involved in the filmmaking process. By understanding the different genres of documentary films and the techniques used in each one, you can create compelling stories that captivate audiences.