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The concept of Documentary or factual filmmaking has been an integral aspect of cinema history since its inception in 1895. Early cinema pioneers such as the Lumiere Brothers (Museum, 2009), Mitchell and Kenyon and Thomas Edison utilised the medium of film as a means of presenting the world. But with a stance on the, 'unknown': presenting short films featured around elements of illusion and trickery.
The Lumiere Brothers can both be regarded as documentary filmmakers alongside initiative pioneers. Both the Lumiere's and Thomas Edison worked on the development of projection technologies, the cinematograph, which in contrast to Thomas Edison's kinetoscope as noted as Edison wrote in 1888, "I am experimenting upon an instrument which does for the eye what the phonograph does for the ear, which is the recording and reproduction of things in motion," (Thomas Edison Signed Letter Phonograph | Raab Collection, no date), allowed for simultaneous viewing by multiple parties – I.e the first public cinema screening. The Lumiere's filmography consisting of short films such as Le Repas de Bébé in 1895 are part of the earliest films and presentation of documentary. Moreover, Thomas Edison under, 'Edison Studios' developed short films with both narrative and documentary styles (History of Edison Motion Pictures | Articles and Essays | Inventing Entertainment: The Early Motion Pictures and Sound Recordings of the Edison Companies | Digital Collections | Library of Congress, no date), with his earliest works depicting the execution of Mary Queen of Scots in 'The Execution of Mary Stuart' also in 1895 one of the first films to utilise special effects, especially noted as the 'stop trick' and a documentary film showing the real life electrocution of an elephant in 'Electrocuting an Elephant (1903)'.
In addition, Mitchell and Keynon: the film making duo producing work towards the end of the Victorian era and throughout the Edwardian era are classified by film historians as documented in publication from the British Film Institute as, 'often 2 minutes in length' and featuring real life activities such as, scenes of, 'factory workers', Sporting events, education and local processions. Research conducted by Dr Vanessa Tulmin shows, the discovery of the early filmmaker's short productions in the form of over eight hundred original negatives - produced approximately between 1900 and 1913 (Toulmin, Russell and Neal, 2003): left unseen for over seventy years and later acquired in the early 1990's through the historical findings of, Peter Worden in Blackburn. (Sheffield, no date).
However, the term, ' Documentary' as used to present the act of 'true cinema' in modern definition wasn't introduced until the late 1920s with British/Scottish Documentary filmmaker, John Grierson CBE known for his films such as Night Mail (1936): first coining the term documentary in 1926 defining it as "A creative treatment of actuality." Commenting on Robert Flaherty's early anthropological films (Nanook of the North 1922; Moana 1926),
Jean Rouch a primary figure in the development of the 'observational documentary' which was later described as 'cinema verite' - a term invented by the french filmmaker, Jean Rouch in publication of the film Chronicle Of A Summer (Chronique D'un Eté, 1959), (Bergan, 2004), with historical grounding within the Soviet documentary theories of Dziga Vertov (Denis Kaufman) and his notion relating to the theory of the Kino-Eye. Rouch Viewing cinema as a form of observing super power, stating: "The camera eye is more perspicacious and more accurate than the human eye," he said. "The camera eye has an infallible memory, and the filmmaker's eye is divided." (Bergan, 2004). Further explaining the importance of 'cinema verite' or sometimes referred to as the Direct Cinema Movement of the 1960's.
Dziga Vertov, born David Kaufman later changing his name to Dziga Vertov meaning (spinning top), (Staff, 2013) was a soviet documentary filmmaker, poet and cinema theorist working to produce a series of films including 'Kino Eye (1924)', 'Symphony of the Donbass (1931) and 'Man with a Movie Camera (1929); Furthermore, Vertov developed various moving image newspaper articles entitled 'Kino Pravda' (translating to film truth) to support the communist ideology as part of agitprop propaganda. The most famous of Vertov's work, 'Man with a Movie Camera (1929)' an example of Bill Nichol's reflexive documentary: showing both behind the scenes/making of (showing the filming and editing process to the viewer): presenting a prime example of his earlier accounts known as the theory of the, 'Kino-Eye' - representing the eye of the cinema camera 'witnessing life more accurately than the subjective human vision' (Havis, 2017) - a take on the Russian Kino-Pravda (cinematic truth).Moreover, the film demonstrates documentary as a construct of reality and therefore only showing selected moments. Diziga Vertov achieves this through the introduction of the filming process to the documentary, to ensure the audience understand the elements required for producing a feature documentary film. The feature length documentary taken over the course of six years showing a variety of situations, scenarios and events taking place in life, with Vertov showing the similarities of mankind with machines. 
Man With a Movie Camera (1929) 

Personally I think the Eureka Masters of Cinema transfer is better than the BFI's release - but that's beyond the point. 
As a Soviet cinema theorist and filmmaker, Vertov developed a council of 'three' involving himself, his brother, Mikhail Kaufman (a cinematographer shown holding the camera in Man with a Movie Camera) and his wife/editor, Elizaveta Svilova - initially involved in political manifesto writing for the avant-garde soviet journal, Left Front of the Arts in the early 1920's and later developing feature documentary films in support of the academic writings and viewpoints of Dziga Vertov. (Dziga Vertov - New World Encyclopedia, no date).
Alongside the cinematic works of Vertov, Soviet filmmaker, Esfir Shub a highly influential name within documentary cinema through supporting the development of the cinema verite movement, in addition to the 'Found Footage' genre. Starting her career within the film industry in 1922 at Goskino film studios - responsible for the re-editing of foreign/imported feature films in relation to soviet ideology and censorship laws which consisted of completely re-editing works including, Charlie Chaplin's A Burlesque on Carmen (1915) - the first Chaplin film to be seen in the Soviet Union, D. W. Griffith's Intolerance (1916), and Fritz Lang's Dr. Mabuse the Gambler (1922), (Dyshlyuk, 2016) - further re-editing over 200 feature films for soviet release. Shub's experience within editing led onto her development as a documentary filmmaker, in 1926 following a commission to produce a historical non-fiction film for the tenth anniversary of the February Revolution stating, "Discovering footage became a kind of sport for me. Neither the Leningrad studio nor the Moscow studio had film libraries. The valuable footage was stored uncatalogued". (Dyshlyuk, 2016), Shubb utilised the technique later to be known as, 'Found Footage' presenting newsreel footage and other archival materials to produce documentary cinema - 'The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty (1927), Shub's first production.
Other notable titles in the history of documentary include the cinematic works of factual film produced by Leni Riefenstahl through the production of Third Reich Nazi agit prop (propaganda) films in support of the political movement. Films such as the 1938, Olympia released following the events of the 1936 Berlin Olympics – the film written, directed and produced by Riefenstahl was released in two parts and used to articulate the strength of the Nazi regime and promote the concept of Aryan supremacy (Maunula, 2016). In addition to her 1938 documentary, Riefenstahl worked on the production for, Triumph of the Will (1935) a propaganda film documenting the Nuremberg Rallies.
Moreover, other research conducted into early documentary cinema consists of the works of amateur academics, Brothers John and William Barnes through the publication entitled, 'The Beginnings Of The Cinema In England,1894-1901: Volume 5: 1900' documenting the founder's vast collection of early cinema equipment and other forms of publications originating in St.Ives Cornwall in the 1930's (Barnes, 2015). Their publications have sparked interest in the field of early cinema among the general public and academics alike: showing the importance of research for early 1900's documentary cinema. Furthermore, the films produced by the Barnes brothers showing rural life taking place in areas of Kent and Cornwall have since become an integral artifact of documentary film. Below a link to an ametur documentary produced by the Barnes Brothers in the 1930's (Watch Filmic Review: no. 1, no date).
Following on from the influential works of Leni Riefenstahl for the Nazi Regime in 1930's Germany. The Second World War saw a range of world famous documentary films documenting the events on the front line and associated atrocities.
Desert Victory released in March 1943 and directed by both David MacDonald and Roy Boulting (both unaccredited) - documented as 'British cameramen brave the front lines to document the Eighth Army's defeat of Rommel's forces in Africa..' part of the Victory trilogy consisting of the films, Desert Victory, Tunisian Victory (1943) and Burma Victory (1945) - the most famous of which, Desert Victory an Academy Award winning documentary depicting the second battle of El Alamein (BFI Screenonline: Desert Victory (1943), no date) is an integral example of war time documentary making and forming inspiration for war time documentaries produced today. Another influential documentary representing wartime atrocities is The German Concentration Camp Factual Survey, the documentary film showing the tragedy/atrocities inflicted through the holocaust, 'The German Concentration Camps Factual Survey (2014)' - initially filmed following the liberation of camps across Europe in 1945 and documented by 43 cameramen (seven British, 28 American and eight Soviet), who filmed at the 14 locations (10 camps and four sites of atrocity). (Haggith, 2019). 
As discussed previously through the works of Jean Rouch, the Observational Movement began in the 1960s, made possible due to advancements in camera technology. The filmmakers of Observational cinema often have the camera rolling at all times to capture events and use low light or fast lenses. This has since become known as the, 'Fly on the Wall' documentary where the viewer is shown footage curated from hours of recordings. An early example of observational documentary or Cinema Verite is the 1969 film, Salesman by the Maysles brothers, that later went onto produce other observational films such as the obscure, 'Grey Gardens (1975)'. Scorsese describes Maysles's camera as "an inquisitive presence, but also a loving presence, an empathetic presence, tuned to the most sensitive emotional vibrations."(Gates, 2015) reflecting on the nature of 'fly on the wall' documentary creating narrative through everyday events. Furthermore, Other films following the new found, 'direct cinema' movement of the 1960's included D.A Pennebaker's Bob Dylan: Don't look back (1967), notably, Chronicle of a Summer (1961) directed by Jean Rouch and Gimme Shelter a documentary film documenting the Rolling Stones released in 1970.
The 1980's brought a different slant to the documentary movement. The American experimental and Avant-Garde documentary filmmaker, Godfrey Reggio (pictured left) is known for his poetic style of documentary filmmaking and use of time lapse footage to display a metaphoric meaning to his films. Reggio's debut feature documentary entitled 'Koyaanisqatsi: Life out of Balance (1982)' With 'qatsi' translating to life from the native American tribal language, Hopi. The film became the starting point for the 'Qatsi trilogy' of documentaries including: Koyaanisqatsi, Life out of balance in 1982, Powaqqatsi: Life in Transformation (1984) (the sequel, following on from the events filmed in the debut documentary) and later in 2002, Naqoyqatsi: Life as War.  Godfrey Reggio's, 'Koyanisquatsi' focuses on the lives of the human race and its relationship with nature and the world surrounding our everyday lives. The poetic documentary uses vibrant colour, fast footage/timelapse sequences and Ariel photography to capture the monotonous and repetitive nature of modernistic life. The filmmaker documents bustling roads, public transport (commotion) and close ups of business people in slow motion.
Bill Nichols cinema theorist most famous for his account and documentation of the 6 types of documentary form:
Expository Mode – Visuals on screen with voice over as the main too to drive a documentary to it's conclusion. Referred to as the 'voice of god', most often has a preferred reading. Used as television news, nature documentary (used as education, it is fact). March of the Penguins (2005) is a prime example of exposition.
Poetic Mode – Looked at as being artistic, instead of a preferred reading it is an active spectatorship. The visuals are given but you the viewer need to make a conclusion of it. There isn't any facts or voice over purely visuals. The films are hypnotic - examples include Koyannisqatsi (1982 ) and Baraka (1992).
The observational Mode – Locked off camera, seen in reality television shoes such as (Big Brother, I'm a Celebrity). Observation fails to capture the true reality because the attitude of participants changes when the camera is introduced into a scenario. This form is often regarded as the 'Fly on the wall' documentary, the film-maker is to be unseen and not involved in the scene and therefore the neutral observer. The product often looks amateurish, shaky footage, hand held. It is purely trying to capture a feeling and a story. Hospital (1970), Don't look back (1967) are all examples of The observational Mode.
The Participatory Mode – The filmmaker becomes involved in the story. It directly involves and interacts between the subject and filmmaker. The Journalist isn't on screen, but you hear the voices and understand a question has been asked. The filmmaker becomes a star of the documentary and well known because of their work. This type of documentary can be seen as antagonistic (to get a preferred reading from a subject). This version of documentary seems more personal, the viewer becomes emotionally connected with the story and the subjects. The Fog of War (2003), Living with Michael Jackson (2004) are two examples of documentaries in the participatory mode.
The Reflexive Mode - This is the rarest mode of documentary, it highlights to the audience that they are watching that the documentary is in fact a a version of the truth or a reconstruction of reality. A Man with a movie camera (1929) is an example of the reflexive Mode.
The Performative Mode – Makes the filmmaker the focus of the film, the journalist is always on screen and asks the questions to the subjects. For example, Louis Theroux and Ross Kemp are examples of The Performative Mode of documentary. Good Examples of this mode are 'Supersize Me (2004)', 'An Inconvenient Truth (2006)' are both prime examples of the Performative Mode.
Barnes, M. J. (2015) The Beginnings Of The Cinema In England,1894-1901: Volume 5: 1900. University of Exeter Press.
Bergan, R. (2004) 'Obituary: Jean Rouch', The Guardian, 20 February. Available at: (Accessed: 1 November 2019).
BFI Screenonline: Desert Victory (1943) (no date). Available at: (Accessed: 29 October 2019).
'DOCUMENTARY HISTORY: Dziga Vertov and the "Factory of Facts" · MTR' (no date) MTR. Available at: (Accessed: 1 November 2019).
Dyshlyuk, L. (2016) 'Esfir Shub: Selected Writings', Feminist Media Histories. Edited by A. Kostina, 2(3), pp. 11–28. doi: 10.1525/fmh.2016.2.3.11.
Dziga Vertov | Soviet director (no date) Encyclopedia Britannica. Available at: (Accessed: 1 November 2019).
Dziga Vertov - New World Encyclopedia (no date). Available at: (Accessed: 1 November 2019).
Editors, H. com (no date) February Revolution begins in Russia, HISTORY. Available at: (Accessed: 1 November 2019).
Gates, A. (2015) 'Albert Maysles, Pioneering Documentarian, Dies at 88', The New York Times, 6 March. Available at: (Accessed: 4 November 2019).
German Concentration Camps Factual Survey Film (no date) Imperial War Museums. Available at: (Accessed: 30 October 2019).
Haggith, T. (2019) The importance of German Concentration Camps Factual Survey, British Film Institute. Available at: (Accessed: 29 October 2019).
Havis, R. (2017) Flashback: Kino Eye (1924) – Dziga Vertov's cinematic precursor to Man with a Movie Camera | South China Morning Post. Available at: (Accessed: 21 October 2019).
History of Edison Motion Pictures | Articles and Essays | Inventing Entertainment: The Early Motion Pictures and Sound Recordings of the Edison Companies | Digital Collections | Library of Congress (no date) Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Available at: (Accessed: 29 October 2019).
Maunula, V. (2016) Film Club: Olympia (Riefenstahl, 1938) • Akira Kurosawa News. Available at: (Accessed: 21 October 2019).
Museum, N. S. and M. (2009) 'The Lumière Brothers: Pioneers of cinema and colour photography', National Science and Media Museum blog, 10 June. Available at: (Accessed: 29 October 2019).
Savirón, M. (2011) SPINNING TOP The Legacy of Dziga Vertov Keeps Moving, The Brooklyn Rail. Available at: (Accessed: 1 November 2019).
Sheffield, U. of (no date) Mitchell & Kenyon - Projects - National Fairground and Circus Archive - The University of Sheffield. Available at: (Accessed: 29 October 2019).
Staff, G. (2013) 'Top 10 documentaries', The Guardian, 12 November. Available at: (Accessed: 1 November 2019).
Thomas Edison Signed Letter Phonograph | Raab Collection (no date) The Raab Collection. Available at: (Accessed: 29 October 2019).
Toulmin, V., Russell, P. and Neal, T. (2003) 'The Mitchell and Kenyon Collection: Rewriting Film History', The Moving Image, 3(2), pp. x, 1–18. doi: 10.1353/mov.2003.0035.
Watch Filmic Review: no. 1 (no date) BFI Player. Available at: (Accessed: 29 October 2019).


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