The documentary is the expression of an aspect of reality, shown in audiovisual form. The organization and structure of images and sounds (texts and interviews), according to the author's point of view, determines the type of documentary.
The chronological sequence of the materials, the treatment of the figure of the narrator, the nature of the materials —completely real, recreations, infographic images, etc.— give rise to such a wide variety of formats today, ranging from documentary pure up to creation documentaries, passing through models of very varied reports , the docudrama (format in which the real characters interpret themselves), reaching the mockumentary .
Frequently, fiction programs adopt a structure and narrative mode very close to documentary, and in turn, some documentaries reproduce resources typical of the creation of works of fiction.
Origins: Louis Lumière and the cinematographer (before 1900)
By 1899 , various inventors were in the race to develop new devices to capture motion from photographs, including the American Thomas Alva Edison and the French Lumière brothers . The latter would achieve the triumph in 1895 with their apparatus: the "cinématographe" or cinematograph . This notebook was and weighed only five kilograms, against gigantic "Kinetoscope" or Kinetoscope Edison, which required several men to move it from one place to another and was usually anchored to the ground in a sort of study.
These different techniques offered the possibility of easily transporting the cinematograph anywhere, being able to portray the reality of the outside world. In addition, this device offered other very attractive features: with just a few small adjustments it could be transformed into a projector and also into a printing machine. What could or can be called cinema (cinematography) is a kind of document.
Louis Lumière himself would embody the figure of the documentary messiah, not only with his great invention, but also with the first documentary film, the sequence shot La Sortie des usines Lumière à Lyon . Then came the public presentation of the invention where Lumière publicly screened said film at the Salon Indien du Grand Café in Paris on December 28 , 1895 . [ 1 ]After that presentation, others followed in different parts of France, creating great uncertainty. Lumière not only limited himself to presenting this film, but would also make others, including important personalities who came to see his invention and who had unknowingly been captured by Lumière's lens, and later, with great surprise, be portrayed in the films to those who attended and attended.
However, Lumière's plans were not limited to these demonstrations. With great vision and cunning he dedicated himself to hiring and training a small army of travelers who would be in charge of taking his invention to all corners of the planet; people who at the same time went to document these places and show some films already made by Lumière.
His staff were in charge of capturing one-shot films, called "current affairs", where moments such as the arrival of boats at a port, the approach of a train, people at work, etc. were portrayed. In this way, this early stage of the birth of cinema was marked by the fashion of showing an event in short periods, mainly due to the fact that the cameras could only contain small amounts of film, many of them lasting a minute or less.
However, this cinema was later called document cinema because if it was true that it showed images of reality, it did not show a clear point of view of it nor did it try to form an opinion of its own; they were only shots that were consistent with the evolution of cinematographic language at that time, these films are not documentaries. The term documentary was later attributed to John Grierson who, in addition to doing various works, theorized on the subject.
Vértov and Flaherty: fathers of the documentary
If the Lumière brothers were in charge of laying the foundations of cinema's relationship with the world: looking at what was closer to them, Dziga Vértov and Robert Flaherty were among the first to adopt the nascent format, and already threatened by objectivity, and defend its cinematographic essence. Each one from very different positions, but always away from what years later would be identified as documentary: the television newscast or reports .
He was above all an artist and an experimenter. Long before returning to the cinema, he worked on sound, and radio, experimenting with sound collages, in search of a montage that was not necessarily objective or realistic. His most famous film, The Man with the Camera , starts from the idea of collecting "life suddenly", and is one of the summits of world cinematography due to its formal experimentation, its accelerated editing and its movement of the shot and not within. of the plane , as usual. The film, shot in different cities, recreates a day in the life of a cameraman who travels the city in search of images. Besides being one of the first films without intertitles, is the first to reveal the process of creating the film itself, by showing the editor choosing, cutting and assembling plans, highlighting that, as Vértov defended, objectivity does not exist, at least in the cinema. He promulgated the theory of the "eye cinema", in which the camera shows what the eye does not see, for which he experimented on several occasions with the speed of the tape and the positions of the camera, chasing what the eye could not see .
Considered one of the fathers of documentary cinema. His first film, Nanuk, the Eskimo ( 1921 ), had to be shot twice, after losing all the footage shot for years in a laboratory fire. This accident opened his eyes, and he decided not to limit himself to registering reality, to intervene in it more actively, creating, from real materials, a complex narrative. Flaherty thus laid the foundations for a documentary film far removed from what has subsequently come to be considered documentary: the television report. His later films delved into this way of working and conceiving documentary cinema, more as a personal vision of the author than as an objective portrait of reality.
Types of documentary
- Focused on an event. The event is the backbone of the film. It could be the launch of a ship, a dairy fair, or the capture of a famous criminal. The event has phases, and during its course interviews, opportune bits of the past or even fragments of the future may appear (the criminal's tale).
- Definitory of a process. They present chain events that make up an interesting process. Each fact is a complement to another; it is about reducing the essentials of each one of them, resulting in irony and comparison between the different fragments.
- Travel. The lure of the trip, with all its metaphorical nuances and built-in rhythms of movement, is applied to the documentary.
- Walled city. It is the one that uses a microcosm to hint at a critique on a larger scale.
- Historical. Since every film reproduces everything that has already happened, all films are historical. Cinema is a means to resurrect the past. The cinematographic medium itself, due to its realism and movement, is unavoidable through time; there is no way to illustrate; the screen looks like an extremely poor vehicle because the sense of the story is pure abstraction. The historical documentary is not primarily intended to convey to the audience the full scope of a subject: its objective may be a character or a specific subject.
This family of documentaries underlies another characteristic group mainly of the contemporary period, and they are the following:
- The absurd documentary: Use surreal humor to explore what would be a sad situation.
- Thesis film: It uses testimonies to argue the cases.
- The eccentric comedy: It portrays absurd characters and situations.
- Biographical film: It narrates the life of a character.
- The black documentary: It unites, through its fatalistic and dark style, the world and its participants with that of film noir.
- Chronicler Documentary: Focuses on an objective point of view.
- Lawyer Documentary: Shows the drama of everyday life.
- Explorer documentary: Moving images are the basis of life.
There is also the so-called montage film , which corresponds to a film made by assembling already existing audiovisual material, joined to produce a different discourse. The creator of this type of documentary was the Soviet film director and documentary maker Esfir Shub . His first works of this type were The fall of the Romanovs (1927), The great route or The great way (1927) and The Russia of Nicholas II and Tolstoy (1928). Shub did not record any scenes for any of these three films. [ 2 ]
The documentary today: the possibilities of the network
The multiple options offered by new technologies to produce and make this type of work available to the public have meant that the short film genre has experienced enormous growth in recent years. Through platforms like YouTube , the defunct MSN Soapbox from Microsoft , Yahoo! Video or Joost , Internet users can upload their documentary videos and enjoy the works of other users.
Regarding the viewing of documentaries on the Internet, many of these are subject to copyright , so they are not freely accessible, although there are many options to watch these types of films respecting intellectual property laws . For example, in Spain, Internet users have the option of viewing documentaries for free by accessing specialized film pages that offer some films (classic and current titles) to their users.
Documentary film festivals
Despite the fact that the documentary film was born, the box office supremacy of fiction , the confusion regarding the genre, and the appropriation of the term by television reports , have relegated documentary cinema to an almost marginal position.
Festivals have been, and increasingly are, the way to keep the genre alive. In addition, they constitute the main meeting point between directors, fans and the public, if not the only one. Festivals are partly responsible (and also a reflection) of the boom or documentary fashion that the mass media have been trying to announce for a few years, and which is nothing more than a greater visibility of a genre that has always existed.
- North America :
- AMBULANTE DOCUMENTARY TOUR : An itinerant documentary film festival that visits several cities of the Mexican Republic (www.ambulante.com.mx)
- DOCSDF: Mexico City International Documentary Film Festival
- DOCSforum: Mexico City International Documentary Film Forum
- FICCO International Contemporary Film Festival of Mexico City
- Film Festival of the indigenous peoples of Oaxaca
- Hispano-American Meeting of Independent Documentary Film and Video Against Silence All Voices
- South America :
- DOCBsAS: DOC Buenos Aires (Argentina)
- FeLCO: Latin American Festival of the Working Class (Argentina)
- Lima Film Festival , Peru
- International Documentary Exhibition of Bogotá, Colombia
- Bafici , Buenos Aires International Independent Film Festival.
- Doc. Bol, La Paz, Bolivia
- Doc Meeting Argentina, Buenos Aires, Argentina Official Site
- Caracas Film Festival
- Valparaíso Film Festival
- Valdivia Film Festival
- Documentary Festival "Chile Reality", Chillán, Chile.
- Guadalajara Festival
- Mar de Plata Festival
- International Festival of New Latin American Cinema of Havana
- Cartagena International Film Festival , Colombia
- ICARO Festival
- Caracas International Documentary Festival
- EDOC Festival "Encounters of the other cinema", Quito, Ecuador
- "Poor Cinema" Festival, Gibara, Holguín, Cuba (there is a Documentary section)
- Walking. Documentary tour
- Viña del Mar International Film Festival
- FIDOCS International Documentary Festival of Santiago, Chile
- ANTOFADOCS International Documentary Festival of Antofagasta, Chile
- Europe :
- Spain :
- Documenta Madrid ( Madrid International Documentary Festival)
- Docupolis in Barcelona.
- MiradasDoc , formerly known as Docusur , in Guía de Isora ( Tenerife )
- Point of View Festival in Pamplona
- Zinebi in Bilbao
- Play-Doc en Tui (Pontevedra)
- Cinestrat in Finestrat (Alicante)
- Extreama´doc in Cáceres (Extremadura)
- Inedit (Music Documentary Festival in Barcelona)
- Japan's national festival (women and children often wear yukata) (kimono)
- Documentaries-Online.com - Blog with more than 9000 documentaries in Spanish
- History Documentaries - Virtual Library of Public Documentaries in Spanish
- DocumaniaTV - More than 14000 documentaries in Spanish
- MiraDocumentales.com - Online Documentaries in Spanish
- Culture Ministry. Areas. Intellectual property
- documentary.net - Documentaries online, legal and free (English)
- The Dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy has a definition for documentary .