Sep 8, 2014

Posted by in Documentary

What Makes A Great Documentary Film?

best documenatry filmsA documentary film is usually defined by people as a film based on real people and real world, showing things as they are or if they are about historical events, telling about it in an apparently objective or truthful way. Some other people also may add to this definition by saying that a documentary should convey a message useful to the society. Let’s face it, documentaries are boring for common people, who expect sheer entertainment from films. Such people expect non-real and fantastic things to be shown in a film. And still, some top documentaries have won hearts of majority of world’s population, such as “The Islamic State”, “21st Century Sex Slaves” and “The Woman Who Wasn’t There” to name a few. So, question arises – what makes a documentary great?

According to experts an essential component of a good documentary is a good story. The viewers should get tied to the film with an emotional and intellectual bond. They should have a “pull” to watch the film till its end and not an excuse to run away from it.

The story – the essential element of a documentary film is something that needs to be found out, which is not an easy task. Actually it is the sole thing upon which the film hinges. As soon as the story is found, the filmmaker needs to compose it correctly. And this too is not as easy as it seems.

Components of an excellent documentary film are:

  • First of all, you should ensure that the story or topic you have chosen for your documentary has not been touched by someone else before. And if it has been, you should find out something different in the story. Every year, in documentary film festivals there are a number of documentaries on the same story; moreover they sometimes even have the same interview subjects! If you want your documentary to be excellent, remember to make it unique. If you are working upon the same story, find out something unique in it – or else, leave the topic altogether!
  • The people who handle the influence, power and information should be identified and be involved in the film. The filmmaker should be open-minded and impartial enough to bring forth all facets of the story.
  • The film should be well-edited, which gives more space to a more unprejudiced approach. Each identified subject or person offers a unique focus to the film and needs a voice that is heard impartially.
  • A characteristic of a good documentary is it puts forth more questions than answers. It’s a misconception that a good documentary film acts as evidence or an ultimate clarification of something. Actually, if viewers are left thinking upon at the end of the film, it can be called an excellent result.
  • Film depicts the truth, although the people in it do not always do that. It is not required that they are publically summoned during the film. Good documentary films are able to contrast content from several sources. The audience acts as the judge. In excellently produced documentaries, a great truth-teller is the camera. The audience can easily figure out the truth. And while serving as a judge the audience remains enticed to the screen.

As soon as the story, interviews and structure factors are set, the next thing to be considered is filmmaking. The technical qualities are important to the extent that they can move the film from the great to the ordinary ranks.

A great filmmaking requires a number of things:

  • The filmmaker should use high quality technical equipment including video camera, microphones and editing devices. Professional technical staff is the best bet if a truly high quality film is the desired end product.
  • Live shots are crucial to a great documentary film. It shows incidents as they actually happen in real time. Such shots will act as a proof of truth or pretense for the audience.
  • Still shots act as fillers between scenes. They too are important for great documentary films because they do act as believable transitions between live action and interactions. They should never be thought of as “fluff” fillers but must be relevant places, people or information.
  • Another very important component of a great documentary is sound and music. The right music sets the tone of the film. The music should be chosen carefully and then should be edited by music editor. This definitely takes the documentary film one level closer to greatness.

Finding an effective story, assembling a good team and editing are all elements of the process of making a successful documentary film. God is in the detail; therefore, questions should be asked always along the way, like “Are we giving something to pull on the audience?”, “Are they still sitting stuck to their seats?” If such questions are getting an affirmative answer, the documentary film can be said to be excellent.