Observational Documentary – Homework Questions

21 Sep

Observational Documentary – Homework Questions


From reading the section about observational documentary on ‘shaping the real’ I have found key elements which are typically found in most documentaries of this kind. Unlike the older kinds of documentary such as expository where the voice of god narration tells us exactly what is going on, in observational there is no voice over allowing the viewer to interpret the documentary in their own way. When observational documentaries began to gain popularity in the 1950’s people wanted to see more than what they had seen before on older documentaries, the viewer wanted to get up close and personal with the topic being documented and displayed on film. One way of getting closer was the emphasised use of the close up which allowed viewers to gain an insight into what really goes on. Documentarists wanted to make these new observational documentaries more in your face and straight to the point to the extent where a voice over was not needed to understand exactly what was going on.

In terms of the technical side of observational documentary it became a challenge for filmmakers to get the ‘up close and personal’ shots that were needed. This meant that a new handheld camera which would be lightweight and easily mobile had to be created. When filming the observational documentaries a large quantity of filming was needed so that the editors could have plenty of raw material to work with. This in effect gave the editors a harder job and put them to the test in many ways such as endurance and also guaranteeing a good final product.


Direct cinema is a term used to describe the type of documentary which shows footage of certain things in its most honest form. In other word direct cinema shows the real world that we live in an unbiased way so that we the viewers can make our own assumptions about the topic. Direct cinema originated in theUnited Statesbetween 1958 and 1962, the filmmakers goal during this time was to create a final product which would show the real world in its true form. Direct cinema became popular because of the demand for a new kind of documentary which would seem more open to interpretation. It wasn’t long ago when both world wars influenced documentary, countless pieces of propaganda put other peoples views onto the screen. The new direct cinema intrigued the public as they could now see things in a new light.

The documentary named ‘Primary’ is a very good example of these new direct cinema documentaries, the documentary was created by Robert Drew who played a fairly important role during the early days of these documentaries.


Features of the Direct Cinema mode of documentary:

-Up close and personal shots.

-High use of mobile camera work.

-High amounts of raw footage filmed.

-An insight into everyday life. (fly on the wall).

-Truth is often shown.

-Direct and punchier than other kinds of documentary.



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