A documentary film is one of several creative modes, including narrative fiction and experimental avant-garde. Documentaries have a purpose, viewpoint and approach, and evolves from the formative process – as either scripted or spontaneous. Documentaries are limited to reality or actuality.
Most of the production requirements for documentaries refer to the fact that there are no sets, actors are not used, and real people, not actors, play themselves.
Documentaries have been credited thrpoughout history for having a huge impact on cultural meanings. Many film schools worldwide teach the art of documentary filmmaking. The schools and classes teach understanding the fundamental aesthetic tools of documentary filmmaking such as camera operation, sound, structure, and also the interview.
Classes will often include exercises leading to the production of a documentary film project, so that the students can learn directing and producing skills as well as learn the various types of documentary.
There are always issues that students as well as the teachers deal with in documentary filmmaking having to do with the development of ideas, preproduction and the actual production.
the students in documentary film classes view segments of videos that represent major trends in the history of documentary film making. Usually there are guest film makers who lecture in the courses to mentor and provide supplementary education.
Documentaries are a very challenging form of filmmaking, that often stir up controversies. Historically, the genre begins with the earliest films of the Lumière brothers known as ‘actuality films” – ending with the latest postmodern explorations. Classics include Flaherty, Grierson, Riefenstahl, Rouch, Vertov, and Wiseman, along with contemporary works. The documentary film course examines how shifts in social and political realities, changing technology, as well as the personalities and talents of individuals continually re-define what the term documentary means. Ethical as well as aesthetic issues are also of consideration.
Documentaries often present challenges for cinematographers who usually must work alone or in small crews. They must learn how to capture beautifully-framed, meaningful footage during low budgeta and often chaotic circumstances that usually surround the film shoot. There’s typically an emphasis on shooting cinema verité and lighting with a very small crew. Some aspects of the digital camera are shared with students as they work.
Documentary films are also a very popular art form. Awards shows have a place for documentaries and many are covered often by movie critics, as evidenced in as early as 1942, when there were four winners including: The Battle of Midway; Kokoda Front Line; Moscow Strikes Back; and Prelude to War. In 2009 a recent documentary film on military medicine – Fighting for Life is expected to win awards.