What Is A Documentary?
Exploring the world of non-fiction film




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What is a documentary? 

The documentary genre has radically evolved in recent years and so it's not a surprise that there may be some confusion about "what exactly is a documentary!".  

A documentary is a broad term to describe a non-fiction movie that in some way "documents" or captures reality.  

Documentaries are often used to reveal an unusual, interesting or unknown angle. Topics are limited only by one's imagination as you can see by this huge list of documentary ideas submitted by visitors to this site. 

Documentary filmmakers are often motivated to make their films because they feel a particular story or viewpoint is not being (adequately) covered by mainstream media.

To get started, take our FREE Documentary Starter Kit 3 Part Mini-Course.

Learn the three key features of a documentary




Defining Documentary


"Documentaries bring viewers into new worlds and experiences through the presentation of factual information about real people, places, and events, generally -- but not always -- portrayed through the use of actual images and artifacts. But factuality alone does not define documentary films; it's what the filmmaker does with those factual elements, weaving them into an overall narrative that strives to be as compelling as it is truthful and is often greater than the sum of its parts."

--Sheila Curran Bernard, Author of Documentary Storytelling




What Is A Documentary?

Documentaries can be funny, poignant, disturbing, ironic, absurd, inspirational, amusing, shocking or any combination.

It is a genre of movie making that uses video & film scenes, photographs and/or sound of real people and real events which when edited together creates a particular story, viewpoint, message or experience.

Traditionally, documentaries are 30-minutes to 2 hours in length (to fit within a television schedule or for theatrical release). However, documentaries are often shorter in length, especially with the growing popularity of documentary series on streaming sites such as Netflix. Learn how to get your documentary on Netflix.



Watch Documentary Trailers

A great way to understand and learn about documentaries is to watch documentaries!

Below are a few documentary trailers to watch for inspiration.




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