What is Documentary?

What is documentary?

Documentary uses pictures or interviews with people involved in real events to provide a factual report on a particular subject. For example there could be a documentary on a football team like Manchester United or the story of a pop star like David Bowie.

Documentaries can last over an hour and can be seen as a film, television or listened too on the radio. They usually provide a factual report on the particular subject while making entertaining content.

Planet Earth II

Documentaries will have narration with specialist opinions. A well known one is Sir David Attenborough that has narrated many spectacular nature programmes. His newest being ‘Planet earth 2’. Whereas some TV shows are finished in a matter of months, Planet Earth II was shot in 40 different countries, with crews making 117 filming trips. Shooting days totted up to 2,089, or just over 5.7 years non-stop.


The specialist narrator reads the script given to them after the editing has been complete, usually following news and academic convention. This means that documentaries can be biased. Another convention of academic writing is the use of evidence to support the arguments being presented: arguments cannot be presented without supporting evidence or they may sound as if they are just the writer’s opinion. 


Verité is a genre of film, television, and radio programmes emphasizing realism and naturalism.

Are documentaries biased?

Unfortunately for those looking for a straight depiction of the facts, it’s rare you see a documentary made without having some form of bias behind it. The maker’s personal politics will often play a huge part in dictating the course of the film and, in the worst cases, they will actively misrepresent the information they have gathered to better suit their own argument. Here are 10 examples of documentaries that have been accused of skewing their facts.


This famous documentary is credited as being one of the most influential early examples of the genre and was certainly a predecessor to the more in-depth explorations of life and culture that would come later. It stands as one of the most fascinating silent films ever made and was lauded at the time for showing an unflinching record of the struggles of the Inuit tribe in the Arctic Circle.


Though marketed as being a true depiction of the life of an Inuit family, it was later revealed that much of the film was staged in an effort to better represent the makers’ preconceived notions of what life was like for the tribe.

In particular, the famed walrus hunt scene was almost entirely staged, with the Inuits being asked to use the traditional harpoons the tribe was apparently known for rather than the rifles they had taken to using at the time.

The misrepresentation became even more egregious when it was revealed that the women represented as Nanook’s wives in the film were actually not related to him at all. They were the common law wives of director Robert J. Flaherty.

Robert J. Flaherty.


Robert Joseph Flaherty was an American filmmaker who directed and produced the first commercially successful feature-length documentary film, Nanook of the North.

Born: February 16, 1884, Iron Mountain, Michigan, United States
Died: July 23, 1951, Dummerston, Vermont, United States

Frozen Planet

The BBC documentary ‘Frozen Planet’ narrated by David Attenborough was accused of misleading the public in regard to the location of the birth of polar bear cubs, which actually took place at a zoo in Germany. To make matters worse, the film was also cut with film of polar bears that had legitimately been shot in the wild, again giving the viewer the impression they were witnessing a wild birth.

polar bear.gif

Once the news got out, the BBC was quick to point out that the filming procedure was “standard practice” for the industry, and that it would have been impossible to capture the birth in the wild. Though the company also revealed that only 50 of 12 million viewers had complained about the scene, the revelation still cast a question on just how many other scenes that Attenborough had narrated had been staged.

In my own opinion I have no problem with the BBC doing this and can understand why it would be so dangerous to film polar bear cubs being born in the wild. It’s too far to dangerous.

I personally understand documentary to be a form of entertainment about a specific subject with factual content. I wouldn’t mind if the producers changed something or twisted the story to represent a certain event in a different way if it meant if was more entertaining.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s