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Is there an alternative to live action fictional films? And if there is an alternative is there a chance it could be entertaining? Who doesn’t enjoy a good fiction film? In Film: An Introduction by William H. Phillips, we learn that the alternative to such films can be both enlightening and entertaining (299).
What type of film could be both enlightening and entertaining? Documentaries are. There is potential in a documentary film, also referred to as non-fictional films, which fictional films cannot grasp. According to Jack C. Ellis, a known documentary film critic, documentaries “(1) communicate insights, achieve beauty, and offer understanding.” They also “(2) improve social, political, or economic conditions” (qtd. in Phillips 299).
In ways documentary films are similar to fictional films. Both types of films have infinite possibilities of topic choices to choose from and have a crew to influence and manipulate the film so that it can be accepted the way they want it represented. However, documentary films are created to be works of informative and factual art. Fictional films, although they may stem from the ground of truth, they branch into the realm of unrealistic entertainment (316).
But why is there a big market for documentaries? The answer is simple. Each person alive; whether they are young, old, intelligent, undereducated, black, white, Baptist, atheist, everyone has an interest in something and documentaries can inform an audience about that particular interest (316).
There are two types of documentaries, the narrative and the non-narrative. The majority of documentary films are made up of non-narrative films, meaning that there isn’t an actual story being portrayed in the film rather just a list of information that make an argument (301).
Narrative documentaries create and develop a story, normally following a person and their ambitions. This type of documentary is more comparable to fictional films versus non-narrative films because the information presented does not have to be sequential as long as it is factual (302,303).
Both types of documentaries use artifacts, such as photographs, that pertain to the subject in their film and are spliced from one frame to another in the editing process, to force the point of view that the director wishes to portray onto the viewer (301 & 306).
This is the reason that Phillips refers to documentaries as ‘Mediated Reality’. A documentary film is biased and cannot be objective. It may be perceived as truth by viewers, but there is a difference between the genuine footage that was recorded and the censored scenes that were developed in editing. The editing process is where more than a hundred hours of recordings are diminished into the two-hour movie we see. If two opposing sides were given the same footage and were told to make their argument, they could both do so and do it convincingly. One would be torn because the opposing arguments would be well researched, informative and would both seem correct (307).
While progress moves our world forward as a whole, it also advances our technology and the filmmaking process. Beginning in the ‘90’s, filmmakers switched to digital video as their most popular choice of filmmaking, preferable over the bulky reels. Digital filmmaking has enhanced both the fiction and non-fictional film world with its extended recording time. A longer ‘take’ in a documentary allows for an increased possibility of capturing a genuine moment versus having to stage a moment that is seemingly genuine. Continuing footage without ‘cuts’ also allows less frustration and angst felt by those on film or being interviewed and the film can be completed more quickly with more sincerity (311).
While each type of film has a similar filmmaking process, fictional films are nothing more than edited works of art, whereas documentaries are perceived as truth. As long as consumers are not given a reason to distrust the production company or are given inconsistent facts they will trust the information contained in a documentary (316, 317).