Test Your Documentary Film Knowledge with Our Quiz!



9 Questions

What is the responsibility of documentary filmmakers?

Who coined the term 'documentary'?

What is the propagandist tradition in documentary filmmaking?

What is the city-symphony sub-film genre?

What is the difference between cinéma vérité and direct cinema?

What is the purpose of social impact campaigns in relation to documentaries?

What is the most common type of documentary?

What is the difference between reflexive and performative documentaries?

Who are some notable documentary filmmakers?


The Nonfictional Motion Picture: A Summary

  • A documentary film is a non-fictional motion-picture intended to document reality primarily for the purposes of instruction, education or maintaining a historical record.

  • Documentary films have evolved to become longer in length, and to include more categories such as educational, observational, and docufiction.

  • Documentary filmmakers have a responsibility to be truthful to their vision of the world without intentionally misrepresenting a topic.

  • Social-media platforms have provided an avenue for the growth of the documentary-film genre, increasing the distribution area and ease-of-accessibility.

  • The word "documentary" was coined by Scottish documentary filmmaker John Grierson in his review of Robert Flaherty's film Moana in 1926.

  • Grierson's definition of documentary as "creative treatment of actuality" has gained some acceptance.

  • Documentary practice is the complex process of creating documentary projects, addressing the creative, ethical, and conceptual problems and choices that arise in making documentaries.

  • Documentary filmmaking can be used as a form of journalism, advocacy, or personal expression.

  • Early film (pre-1900) was dominated by the novelty of showing an event, and many of the first films were a minute or less in length.

  • Robert J. Flaherty's Nanook of the North in 1922 embraced romanticism, often showing how his subjects would have lived 100 years earlier and not how they lived right then.

  • The city-symphony sub-film genre consisted of avant-garde films during the 1920s and 1930s, based around a major metropolitan city area and seeking to capture the life, events, and activities of the city.

  • The propagandist tradition consists of films made with the explicit purpose of persuading an audience of a point.A Brief History of Documentary Films

  • Documentary films have been around since the late 1800s, but the genre truly emerged in the 1920s, with the arrival of sound and the development of new technologies. Early documentaries were often travelogues or newsreels.

  • During the 1930s, the British Documentary Film Movement emerged, with films that explored social and political issues. Notable films from this period include Night Mail and Coal Face.

  • In the 1960s and 1970s, documentary films were often political in nature, with films that were critical of neocolonialism and capitalism. The Hour of the Furnaces (1968) was a landmark film in this period.

  • Modern documentaries have expanded in style and subject matter, with films that often blur the line between documentary and narrative. They are often successful in theatrical release and have become more popular due to the advent of DVD and digital technologies.

  • Cinéma vérité and direct cinema are two important documentary traditions that have emerged in the past century. They are characterized by their use of handheld cameras and a focus on capturing events as they happen.

  • Social impact campaigns are increasingly being used with documentaries to leverage public awareness of social issues and convert it into engagement and action.

  • Documentary films can be narrated in several ways, including through a dedicated narrator, title screens, or a host who appears on camera.

  • There are several subgenres of documentary films, including poetic documentaries, expository documentaries, and observational documentaries.

  • Participatory documentaries aim to involve the subjects of the film in the filmmaking process.

  • Hybrid documentary films, such as The Act of Killing (2012), mix elements of fiction and documentary to challenge traditional fact production.

  • Docufiction is a hybrid genre that combines elements of fiction and documentary filmmaking, while fake-fiction deliberately presents unscripted events as staged.Overview of Documentary Films

  • Documentary films are non-fictional movies that depict reality and are meant to inform, educate, and entertain the audience.

  • Documentaries are produced in various modes or sub-genres, which include expository, observational, participatory, reflexive, and performative.

  • Expository documentaries are the most common and straightforward type of documentaries that provide information and arguments about a particular topic or issue.

  • Observational documentaries, also known as fly-on-the-wall documentaries, aim to capture events as they happen without the filmmaker’s intervention or interference.

  • Participatory documentaries involve the filmmaker being part of the film, with the encounter between the filmmaker and subject becoming a critical element of the film.

  • Reflexive documentaries draw attention to their own constructedness and representation and are highly skeptical of realism.

  • Performative documentaries stress subjective experience and emotional response to the world and may include hypothetical enactments of events designed to make the audience experience a specific perspective.

  • Documentary films are used as educational tools in schools around the world to introduce various topics to children and reinforce ideas.

  • The translation of documentaries poses several challenges, including working conditions and problems with terminology.

  • Documentary translators often have to meet tight deadlines and work with poor quality or no transcription.

  • The process of translation of a documentary program requires working with very specific, often scientific terminology, and documentary translators are not usually specialists in a given field.

  • Documentary films have several awards, which include the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, the Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize for Documentary, and the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam Award for Best Feature-Length Documentary.

  • Some notable documentary filmmakers include Michael Moore, Werner Herzog, Ken Burns, and Errol Morris.

  • Ethnographic film is a subgenre of documentary film that focuses on the study of human cultures and societies.


Think you know everything there is to know about documentary films? Test your knowledge with our quiz on the history, sub-genres, and techniques of documentary filmmaking. From the early days of travelogues to the modern-day social impact campaigns, this quiz will challenge your understanding of this diverse and ever-evolving genre. Get ready to learn something new and prove your expertise in the world of non-fictional motion pictures.

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