What is the Purpose of a Documentary?

I always wondered what is the purpose of a documentary before making one. Many questions thronged my head about its research, investigative style, audience, and distribution, etc. There have to be concrete answers to it or else how does a non- fiction medium thrive so successfully among the never-ending supply of fiction movies.

So what exactly is the purpose of a documentary film? In a few words, Documentaries are non-fiction movies that strive towards the betterment the world. Its purpose is to make you aware and actively participate in a society that can make shape the future of this world. Other purposes of a documentary film are to inform, attack a perspective, to persuade, educate, entertain, defend a perspective, to critique, and to observe real life.

All in all, they have more than one uses. While all are educational in some way, in this piece, you will know the various purposes that documentaries serve. But before delving in tow what documentary films are, and their meaning, most people, always don’t know how to distinguish one from the features story.

Documentaries are different from feature stories in a couple of ways. A documentary film is a short or a long video whose main objective is to give the viewer a realistic as well as an accurate picture of aspects of life or highlight works of technical nature. 

According to this study, the objective of a documentary is to record actualities, so that they can inform people about it. There is an extent to which they can be used to educate people, including affecting their understanding, to increase or change or even reinforce it to lead them indecision or action making.

To help you better understand this, we will take a close look at the purpose of a documentary.

1. They serve as learning tools

Documentaries serve as an extra learning tool even when other excellent learning machinery are available. Documentaries, along with these materials, bring many enhancements such as flexibility to the learnings. You can watch at any time or a specific excerpt.

Documentaries have a somewhat lower cognitive load for the audience. It means that viewing them is easier than reading through texts or clicking through the material. It enables the learner to follow along with the story with little or no distractions. They are also easy to tell and are highly engaging. Media content, primarily visual content leads to greater engagement and high retention. One is capable of recalling best movie scenes from many movies than they could textbook passages. In the end, we can see that one of the main objectives of documentaries is to serve as a learning tool.

2. To engage the audience

There can never be one purpose of documentaries; however, all of their objectives is to engage or entertain the audience. While documentary filmmakers try to change and improve the society through their film; they also try to shed light on various causes or justice hoping that their film will move the masses to demand change in an entertaining way.

Some documentaries, on the other hand, are simply for inspiring and motivating the audience. Such documentaries are referred to as human interest stories. Such could be an observational film, but not a judgmental one. You only want to show your audience and allow them to make their judgment. Such documentaries, in the end, serve as highly engaging documentaries.

3. Expose evil in society

Documentaries also expose evil doing in society. When a filmmaker or makers join hands to highlight the plight of people in the community within no time, the information is viewed by the greater audience. It may cause a mixed reaction or even uproar on the social media platform in this day and age.

The concerned authorities or even governments can then swiftly move in conduct investigations and have the situation arrested.  Some form of evil in the community can only be highlighted and brought to the limelight better using documentaries than in another way. Documentaries have helped to bring a myriad of nuisances into the light and in turn, appropriate actions being taken.

What Are Some of the Types OF Documentary Films?

Expository Documentaries

Expository documentaries are the closest to what people think is a documentary film. These have a sharp contrast to fictional storytelling. Their main objective is to inform or persuade people. They can achieve this by the fact that they are omnipresent. They have their narration over the footage, which is without ambiguous or poetic rhetoric. Example of such documentaries includes the styles like Ken Burns, A&E, and history channels.

Observational Documentaries

As their name suggests, so they are. Observation documentaries focus on observing the world. Their history dates back to the 1960s when portable film equipment started to be introduced. The expository documentary films are much more pointed than the cinema verite style. The style in which these documentaries are made to give voice to each form of an issue. Here, since the audience has first-hand access to the subjects most important moments. These moments can, most of the time, be private. The best example of such a documentary is the In The Room With JFK and RFK.

Participatory Documentaries

Participatory documentaries combine some of the elements of both observational and expository documentaries. They include the voice of the filmmaker in the narrative. The filmmaker from time to time, or at some point of the film could be heard behind the camera, cues, questions, or even prodding subjects. It could go all the way to as far as the filmmaker being listened to directly influencing the significant actions of the said narrative. The best example of a participatory documentary film would be Sherman’s March: This is Pat

Reflexive Documentaries

They have some similarities with the Participatory documentaries because; they also include the filmmaker in the movie. The only difference, however, is that these documentaries do not make any attempts to explore subjects that are outside like the Participatory does. Instead, they concentrate on themselves as well as the art of making the film.

Poetic Documentaries

These first appear in the 1920s. Just as the name suggests, these are poetic documentary films. They primarily focus on images, experiences, and shows the audience the world through a different set of the eye. This genre is very unconventional. Also, it is experimental in its form and content. These documentaries are abstract and loose in the narrative. In the end, this sub-genre of documentary creates a feeling rather than truth.

Performative Documentaries

These, are an experimental combination of those styles that stresses the subject experience while sharing an emotional response to the audience. Performative documentaries achieve to connect personal accounts or experiences juxtaposed with broader historical or political issues. Most of the time, the Performative documentaries are referred to as the Michael Moore style. Michael Moore is known for using his personal experiences in constructing universal truth without arguing the validity of their experiences.

Comparison between a Documentary and a Feature Film

Documentaries and feature films alike have been in existence since time immemorial. Filmmakers have long been using them to tell a story or for advocacy purposes in the community. They have over time grown, matured as well as changed. Therefore, the way they were produced a few decades ago might not be the same as how they are currently produced in term of the style, the content, or even the audience.

Documentary Films Feature Stories
They are an actual representation of the fact, people and situations These are films that tell fictional stories, events and narratives are also fictional
Their primary aim is to educate, inform and instruct. In the end, they leave the audience inspired Their sole objective is to entertain the audience
Documentaries deal in reality These deal with fiction
They use the low budget in many cases Compared to documentaries, these usually have a higher budget
Some have recorded real-life events They comprise of scripted dialogues as well as actions
They in most cases use real people and real actions These may in most cases use actors and sets

Additional Questions

Q1. Do documentary films have benefits to the family unit and enhance family bonding?

Answer: Families also greatly benefit from watching documentaries together. Family members get a different perspective about life and thus have different opinions which are helpful to the family. Along with that, documentaries are known to strengthen the family bond by providing a platform for learning each and everyone’s views on important subjects, e.g., incest, power, homosexuality, politics and much more.

Q 2. Do documentary films have an inspirational aspect?

Answer: Yes, they have an inspirational value in which they inspire people on various steps which are, in most cases considered difficult. Documentary films change people lives whenever people watch them. For instance, their lives can be changed when they watch the generous serving of humanity. When they watch brave deeds by others, they would be inspired and strive to emulate them. Therefore, documentaries give the audience new and positively influenced life.

The benefits of documentaries on society are far and wide and cannot be understated. Documentaries have been known to play a large role in shaping the lives of individuals as well as the situations of their current society in several ways. Therefore, documentaries, unlike feature stories, have much more influence in society, which they have managed to play well. If you are yet to embrace the culture of watching documentaries, it is time you started as these films might end up impacting your life for the better, which is their primary purpose.

Final Words

If you have to make a documentary, it would be wise to know its purpose and strive towards achieving it. That way, you will be in a position to come up with one that satisfies its purpose in the best way possible. Unfortunately, only a few people consider the same before embarking on this journey. As a result, they end up spending rather too much only to end up either earning too little or incurring loss. That has happened to a lot of people, no doubt.

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