FLM225: Each Mode of Documentary has its own relationship to truth


In an observational mode of documentary, there is a subset classified as “Direct Cinema” (DC) which implies that the authors are non-existent to the viewer. However, DC has its problems where as an author you are forced to edit the footage down, to keep your audience interested — no one wants to spends years watching a plant grow, might as well edit it down to a 10 second time lapse. But, what exactly is the purpose of watching a plant grow? There needs to be a narrative for the filmmaker, and for them to be able to do this, they need to be involved with what they present (can be in pre-production, production, or even post-production). As a result we end up with a percentage of truth/artistic choice to drive a narrative.

Hence, when it comes too observational, you do get the truth for a majority of the documentary, but — changes will be made to best suit the viewing experience for the audience, and most importantly to help with the filmmakers story.


The basis of the poetic documentary is either made 100% obvious as to the issue its tackling (by a visual quotes, or a killer soundtrack), or its beautifully subtle in what it tries to do. A lot of research goes into creating a poetic documentary, the only difference being that there is a lot more staged shots. However, being staged doesn’t alter the ‘truth’ it presents in anyway. Ultimately, the filmmakers overarching idea they try to present through a poetic documentary has a good chance of coming across to the audience (if its done well). This is achieved through the juxtaposition in the visuals and audio that’s presented, and/or the rhythm they carry. The topics in poetic documentaries are some what relatable to people as well, ranging from cultural based/environmental etc…, making it easier for the ‘truth’ to come across.


When it comes to participatory, the line is much clearer. As the audience, you trust the interviewer/creators to present the truth. The story is outlined, as the viewer follows the interviewer’s journey to find answers to their topic. Figures such as Louis Theroux, excels at this form of documentary because of the trust that he has managed to build with multiple demographics through time. The line with truth blurs a lot more when it becomes a political piece of documentary, then the truth is skewed towards the beliefs of the side making the documentary. Therefore, when it comes to the relationship with truth, it comes down to the level of trust you can place on your guide. After all, networks and their figureheads will skew any piece of politically driven information to their side of the spectrum.

However, to every positive reaction an equal negative reaction. An example would be the political landscape around the world. Each story you see will be presented in a way that benefits the views of the party presenting them. Do their followers believe that its the truth? Most likely. Do you get the full story of events? Less likely. So is it the full truth? Nope.

So although the line is much clearer, truth is something that is hard to fully grasp. The audience that biased sides cater to believe what they see (most of the time), so its a version of the truth.


Much like writing an essay, the expository form of documentary relies on research and evidence and even more evidence. A lot work and research is put in pre-production that falling away from truth sometimes becomes a bit challenging (always a good thing), unless the piece is done to be hyper-political. Using a variety of sources, expository documentaries place events that occurred in a timeline and present them with the research and knowledge that the creators have of the topic. Usually, expository documentaries have a ‘voice-of-god’ style narration, going hand-in-hand with the visuals — making it easier for viewers to better trust the facts that the creators are presenting.

Whenever there are recreations involved, they would only show the events relevant to the argument of the filmmaker. Once again, falling into not being 100% — but, presenting a 100% of the events would generally bore your audience and derive from the main argument of the documentary. Ultimately falling back into selection and omission criteria.

In conclusion, ‘truth’ is complicated. Its based on time, cultural background, and multiple different things. To depict an event without any bias is almost impossible, because by the process of editing — the creators are selecting and omitting information based on what drives their story. And the lens we view each topic through will ultimately alter the truth we see. And in its bare bone structure each documentary has a positive relationship with truth, ultimately that relationship either falls apart or is stronger depending on the amount of work and integrity put into it by the filmmakers.

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