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Analysing a Documentary Film

Morag Larsen | Sunday November 25, 2018

Categories: A Level, OCR A Level, Eduqas (WJEC) A Level, IB, IB FIlm, Analysis, Film Analysis, Genres & Case Studies, Documentary

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The Context of a Documentary Film

Cinema is always evolving and it’s an exciting process to explore and to understand the different genres within it. Increasingly, many documentary films are transcending their original moment of release to become landmarks in contemporary cinema. All the films specified by your exam boards reinforce the value and interest of the documentary form as a globally popular and highly regarded form of cinema.

A documentary film can provoke a range of considerations around the filmic treatment of a subject and the role of the ‘author’ of a film and their ‘role’ in that film.

It’s worth referring to a very useful book that typically finds its way into undergraduate reading lists but which would be well-placed in libraries for A Level Film Studies students is Michael Rabiger’s book Directing the Documentary Film. In that volume, Rabiger says of documentary that:

“The more intricate the issues, the more difficult it will become to strike a balance between clarity and simplicity on the one hand and fidelity to the murkiness and complexities of actual life on the other.” [1]

Every film reflects (some of) the concerns of its time and the particular ways of looking at the world within the culture, the society, and the moment in time from which it is produced.

Films are shaped by the contexts in which they are produced. They can therefore be understood in more depth by placing them within two important contextual frames:

  • The first involves considering the broader contexts of a film at the time when it was produced: its social, cultural and political contexts, either current or historical.
  • The second involves a consideration of a film’s...

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