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History of Documentaries

In the latter years of the 1800’s early film was

mainly covered with film being the showing of an
event. These were single shot moments captured on
film many of the early film was captured in America
where they were steps away from mass evolution.
The term documentary was not coined until 1926
many of the fist films were often a minute long or
even less due to the limitations with technology.
An example of someone who is seen to many as someone
who is of high of documentary making really changing the
game is John Grierson who was a Scottish documentary
maker born on the 26th April 1898 and died in 19th February
1972. He is often seen by people as the father of documentary
making by British and Canadian people. In 1926 John
Grierson coined the term 'documentary'. During his career he
became the General Post Office first public relations officer
and he was allowed to bring his film unit with him to help
him with his new role for the GPO. Him and his unit were
asked to demonstrate how the Post Office facilitated modern
communication and brought the nation together, a task aimed
as much at GPO workers as the general public.
In 1935, the General Post Office Film Unit decided to produce a
documentary to present the new 24-hour postal service between
England and Scotland. The resulting documentary, Night Mail, is
recognised today as a classic of its genre, having been produced with
a highly artistic treatment of its subject: a postal train which makes its
journey during the night while in one of its carriages staff sorts out
the mail for delivery the next day.
In 1938, Grierson was invited by the Canadian government to study the country's film
production. Grierson met with the Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King and also
spoke with many important figures across Canada, they were all in agreement of the
importance of film in reducing sectionalism and in promoting the relationship of Canada
between home and abroad.
Grierson received many tributes from across the globe, he was made an honorary member of
the Association of Cinematography, Television and Allied Technicians which he pressed for
the ceremony to be held in Glasgow. He also received the Golden Thistle Award for
Outstanding Achievement in the Art of Cinema at the Edinburgh Film Festival. Grierson
opened the new primary school at Cambusbarron on 10 October 1967, the BBC wanted to
produce a programme about Grierson in the year of his seventieth birthday which he turned
down three times in the year of his seventieth birthday.
Another iconic documentary filmmaker is Humphrey
Jennings, Humphrey Jennings was an English
documentary filmmaker and one of the founders of
Mass Observation organisation. Jennings was
described by film critic and director Lindsay
Anderson in 1954 as: "the only real poet that British
cinema has yet produced." After leaving his education
which was looked at to be a successful academic
career, Humphrey Jennings undertook a number of
jobs including photographer, painter and theatre

It took about 30 years after the invention of the movie camera before the first narrative
documentaries were produced. “Nanook” used a dramatic structure with a man versus
nature and resolution. “Man With a Movie Camera” eschewed the dramatic structure
and tried to present an objective account no narration, just raw footage edited according
to a set of rules of a day in the life of a new country. “Nanook” was popular around the
world. “Man With a Movie Camera” was not.

People want a story, something that arouses our emotions good versus evil, boy meets
girl, a stranger comes to town. We want our reality to come packaged this way, then we
know what it means, the moral of the story. We don’t want to look at a place where
everybody is equal and happy, and the problems have been solved.

The documentaries of the 30s, 40s, and 50s

followed a dramatic structure of some kind, not a
new documentary form, just one perfected along
the lines of propaganda. There were two reasons
for the move toward propaganda. One was
theoretical, when you make a documentary, you’re
basically trying to convince the audience that this
is the one “real” version of reality, the way things
really are. The other was practical it cost a lot of
money to make a movie, so the people who made
them were rich, or in power, in control of the
infrastructure necessary to pull off such a huge
Cinéma Vérité or the closely related direct cinema
was dependent on some technical advances in order
to exist light, quiet and reliable cameras, and portable
sync sound. The Drew Associates Bob Drew,
Richard Leacock, the Maysles brothers, and D. A.
Pennebaker completely changed the world of
documentary production. I doubt there’s a
documentary produced today, in any media, that
doesn’t derive something from the tools and
theory of Direct Cinema, also known as Cinéma
Vérité. Even in dramatic stories we now have the
hand-held shaky camera shot that is intended to
convey “truth.” There are lots of books and essays
about cinéma vérité, and you can read them if you

The summer of 1960, a critical period in the history

of film and it had to do with the 16mm camera.
"Just one thing held documentaries back from being
free-form, fluid slices of life until this point," says
Mandy Chang, director and producer of The
Camera That Changed the World, which airs on
BBC4 next month. "The fact that for decades, films
were mainly shot on unwieldy, 35mm cameras
requiring lots of paraphernalia." Between 1950’s
and 1970’s there was a lot of adaptation with
filmmaking technology and also style of
documentary, the fundamentals of the style include
following a person during a crisis with a moving, often handheld, camera to capture more
personal reactions and there are no sit-down interviews.
In the 21st century documentaries have come so far since the beginning with the structure of
they are made, and the technology has huge impacts on the way documentaries are made now
however is think the basic reasoning for documentaries and the definition of documentary
hasn’t changed all that much.
An example of the staple of the finest production of a worldwide recognised documentary is
David Attenborough’s Planet Earth. One of the reasons for why the documentary Planet Earth
is so successful is because of the man himself, the presenter David Attenborough who is a
known presenter across the globe. One of the most important things that David Attenborough
has is his soothing voice, his mix of knowledge of wonder has impressed the nation for many
years and there is nothing that you can’t not like about him and his presenting
skills. Something else that makes the documentary just so impressive is the fact that you will
always be learning something new and watching something you have never seen before.
Every time you watch it you will be surprised by something and it will create some sort of
emotion. In the documentary they manage to get footage of a type of dolphin that was only
discovered in 2014
Tom Hugh-Jones explains that making the show involved the

"relentless pursuit of originality", adding: "Every time we embark on one of these wildlife
blockbusters, we want to show something completely fresh, or at least reveal more familiar
stories in a new light. It's our mission to wow people with things they didn't know about the
natural world.
Born in 1954, Michael Moore is an American
documentary maker. In 2002 he was awarded an
Academy Award for the best documentary for his
production: Bowling for Columbine, portraying the
Columbine High School Massacre. He is known for
making a lot of hard hitting, controversial documentaries
about topics such as globalisation, large corporations,
assault weapon ownership and different American
Presidents like George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Donald
Trump. For his investigative work in documentaries he
was awarded a place in Time Magazine's 100 most
influential people of 2005. He has over 15 credits for his
own documentaries and was given an honorary degree in
2014 from the Michigan State University.

Born in 1948, Nick Broomfield is an

English documentary film maker. Nick
Broomfield became known for this self-
reflective film-making style: making films
that were also about the making itself as
well as the ostensible subject. His
influence on documentary could be seen
by the work of younger filmmakers in the
first decade of the 21st century: according
to The Guardian, Michael Moore, Louis
Theroux and Morgan Spurlock each
demonstrated similar styles in their recent
box-office hits.
Another professional in the documentary industry is Stacey Dooley. Stacey Dooley is a
journalist for BBC Three and travels the world investigating issues affecting young
people. She grew up in Luton, Bedfordshire and worked as a shop assistant at Luton
Airport. Stacey first appeared on television at the age of 21 when she took part in the BBC
documentary series Blood, Sweat and T-Shirts in 2008. She was chosen as a participant to
illustrate a typical fashion-obsessed young person.

Her unassuming demeanour enables her to ask the hard-hitting questions that provide the
most illuminating responses. The people she interviews – whether to condemn the brutality of
their actions or to provide a platform to elevate their voices – appear candid and at ease in her
presence. In her so-called innocence, she is able to make someone feel comfortable enough to
share a traumatic personal experience or let their guard down to the extent that they
illuminate their own hypocrisy, provoking the depth of response a more abrasive,
confrontational interviewer may fail to achieve.