Documentaries: Genre Theory
John Grierson (1898-1972) 'The Father of Documentary Movement'
John Grierson came up with the term 'documentary' in 1926; he believed that the purpose of documentaries is to document an event that has actually happened using literal footage or reconstruction.
Grierson's principles of documentary were that cinema's potential for observing life could be exploited in a new art form; that the "original" actor and "original" scene are better guides than their fiction counterparts to interpreting the modern world; and that materials "thus taken from the raw" can be more real than the acted article. He created documentaries such as Coal Face and Housing Problems.
'What distinguishes a documentary is the portrayal of sound and images of actuality' - John Corner 1995.
Most documentaries will include observations. Usually they pretend that the camera is unseen which places the audience as an eye witness. Observations are also used as evidence for interviews. However, they have been criticised for portraying participants as objects instead of subjects.
This is done through the observational element. It is used to create a sense of conflict and build up the arguments. The audience is placed as an eye witness and they portray people in the events based on fact
This element of the documentary reveals what argument is being explored. This is done through description and commentary. Exposition can be obvious, direct or indirect, or it can be hidden. Documentaries also tend to leave it up to the audience to interpret the issues in their own way.