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History Of Documentary Filmmaking

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Jake Young

on 5 May 2014

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Transcript of History Of Documentary Filmmaking

History Of Documentary Film making
"Actuality" Films
The term "Documentary" was not coined until 1926. Before this, films of this genre, were labeled as "actuality" films. "Actuality" films originated from filmmakers such as the Lumiere brothers, two of the most iconic figures in the history of Cinema. Yet the films that the Lumiere's made tended to be a minute or less due to technological implications.
Perhaps, the most iconic of documentary filmmakers prior to the 20th Century was Gheorghe Marinescu. Marinescu created several films in his neurology clinic and called his works "studies with the help of the cinematograph". His work had great influence on one of the founding fathers of cinema, Auguste Lumiere. Lumiere commentated on Marinescu's films (presented in La Semaine Médicale, a Parisian Magazine) stating hiowI've seen your scientific reports about the usage of the cinematograph in studies of nervous illnesses, when I was still receiving "La Semaine Médicale," but back then I had other concerns, which left me no spare time to begin biological studies. I must say I forgot those works and I am thankful to you that you reminded them to me. Unfortunately, not many scientists have followed your way."
Travelogue Films
Travelogue films started to gain popularity by the beginning of the 20th Century. These films, often called "scenics", usually provided information to audiences as a virtual form of tourism thus laying the foundations of documentary filmmaking as "scenics" provided audiences with information of the unknown.
In The Land of The Headhunters (1914)
paved the way the development from the concept of "scenic" films onto a more modernized Documentary route.
Pathé
led the distribution of such films, a vivid example is
Moscow clad in snow (1909).
"La Semaine Médicale"
The magazine featured some of Marinescu's films, all of which, have been preserved. Films such as; The walking troubles of organic hemiplegy (1898), The walking troubles of organic paraplegies (1899), A case of hysteric hemiplegy healed through hypnosis (1899), The walking troubles of progressive locomotion ataxy (1900) and Illnesses of the muscles (1901).
Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat is widely regarded as the first Documentary film by many. As well as being regarded as the Lumiere Brothers, most famous film due to it's sensational impact on audiences at the time.
Many others followed the footsteps of the Lumiere Brothers in the form of "actuality" such as Enoch J. Rector in his presentation of the The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight (in it's entirety) in 1897.
Eugène-Louis Doyen documented his surgical work in 1898, using 60 short films that all captured his work as surgeon in aims to not only improve and better himself as a Surgeon, but for Scientific purposes also. Some of his films that have survived are the six-film series Extirpation des tumeurs encapsulées (1906), and the four-film Les Opérations sur la cavité crânienne (1911).
Gheorghe Marinescu
The Birth Of "
Documentaries"
The birth of the term "Documentary" came from John Grierson in his desciption and analysis of the film "Nanook of the North" (1922) by Robert J. Flaharty. Grierson also stated how Flaharty's film was "the creative interpretation of reality". His film was considered as the first feature length documentary romantacism film. Yet it's important to consider how Flaharty staged many of his scenes to accomdate for the technology at the time and to creat an exciting and more dramatic feel to his film.

Documentary filmmaking was really shaped by Grierson and a group of other filmmakers such as Alberto Cavalcanti, Harry Watt, Basil Wright, and Humphrey Jennings, who, in turn, formed the Documentary Film Movement in the 1930's/40's. The filmmakers combined and created films that succeeded in blending propaganda, information, and education with a more poetic aesthetic approach.
Cinema Vérité/ Direct Cinema
Cinema vérité was a french film movement in the 1950/60's and it coincided with the Direct Cinema movement in the U.S. Its a minimalist style of filmmaking that gives the viewer a direct sense of whats happening in front of the camera. This type of filmmaking was dependent on some technical advances in order to exist: light, quiet and reliable cameras, and portable sync sound.

Cinéma vérité and similar documentary traditions can thus be seen, in a broader perspective, as a reaction against studio-based film production constraints. Shooting on location, with smaller crews, would also happen in the French New Wave, the filmmakers taking advantage of advances in technology allowing smaller, handheld cameras and synchronized sound to film events on location as they unfolded.

The style of filmmaking primarily revolved around handheld moving camera following a person during a crisis in order to cpature and recognise personal reactions. Editors had a vital role within the film, they scuplted the work into an actual film.

Famous cinéma vérité/direct cinema films include Les Raquetteurs, Showman, Salesman, Near Death, The Children Were Watching, and Grey Gardens.
Modern Documentaries
Box office analysts have noted that this film genre has become increasingly successful in theatrical release with films such as Fahrenheit 9/11, Super Size Me, Food, Inc., Earth, March of the Penguins, Religulous, and An Inconvenient Truth among the most prominent examples. Compared to dramatic narrative films, documentaries typically have far lower budgets which makes them attractive to film companies because even a limited theatrical release can be highly profitable.

Documentary film styles have developed in the past 20 years from the Cinema Vérité style which displayed intimate relationships between the filmmaker and the subject to modernistic popula expository documentaries. ome films such as The Thin Blue Line by Errol Morris incorporated stylized re-enactments, and Michael Moore's Roger & Me placed far more interpretive control with the director. The commercial success of these documentaries may derive from this narrative shift in the documentary form, leading some critics to question whether such films can truly be called documentaries; critics sometimes refer to these works as "mondo films" or "docu-ganda." However, directorial manipulation of documentary subjects has been noted since the work of Flaherty, and may be endemic to the form due to problematic ontological foundations.

Moder day documentaries have become financially more viable due to the popularity of the genre, however funding documentaries remains a hardship for the filmmakers, making filmmakers more reliant on the tastes and influences of the audience and broadcasters.

"Reality Television" is another form of documentary filmmaking that has overlapped with television forms, although essentially a documentary it is known to verge to the fictional/staged form of filmmaking.

Advances within Technology have allowed filmmakers to take advantage of professional industry standard equipment for cheap prices and this aiding their documentary projects. One of the first films to take advantage of this was Martin Kunert & Eric Manes' Voices of Iraq.
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