The Evolution and Impact of Documentary Films

  • Marfo A
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Long considered either high art or the bane of every students existence when a substitute teacher came to class, documentary film has developed into a popular and visible form of entertainment. As a result, they are starting to have a bigger effect on society, as they begin to address issues with the goal of informing the public and pushing for social change. This project will first address historical documentaries, the reasons that they were made, and what techniques were established that have carried through to documentary film today. My paper will then examine todays documentary films, what techniques they use to obtain viewer trust and to be considered credible, and be assessed for their impact on the public using the following model, from University of South Carolina political science professor David Whiteman: I argue that an adequate model (a) must conceptualize films as part of a larger process that incorporates both production and distribution; (b) must consider the full range of potential impacts on producers, participants, activist organizations, and decision makers; and (c) must consider the role of films in the efforts of social movements to create and sustain alternative spheres of public discourse. Another issue central to this investigation is the evolution of documentary films from reporting fact or recording history, to opinion pieces designed to further personal political agendas. By the same token, the concept of viewership for these films will also be looked at- who goes to see these films? Do they cater to the viewers who already agree with their agendas? Can a documentary have an impact if consumers dont see it? To answer this question, I will investigate documentaries that have had impact through laws or regulations that have resulted from their views. This project will also address two more unconventional forms of documentary. One is documentary television, in the form of the recent reality television craze. The translation of techniques used in film will be looked at through several popular reality series, and their credibility will also be discussed. The second more unconventional form is the established genre of mock documentary, or mockumentary film. Here, the techniques used to create the illusion of documentary film will be identified, the defining characteristics that separate this genre from its real life- based counterpart, and specific examples of popular and controversial mockumentary films will ask the question, Can mockumentary film hurt the credibility of the documentary film genre? All of these questions will be answered using a knowledge foundation from close to forty documentary films that Ive watched, then developing case studies on the most significant in each category (historical, recent, television and mockumentary).

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