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A Primer for Getting the Most Out of Documentary Films

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Welcome to the wonderful and fascinating world of documentary films! Nonfiction films provide you with unlimited access to the whole wide world around you. No subject is too obscure, no mountain too high to deter a determined documentary film director from exploring it and presenting it to you. Here, you'll discover the basics about the production elements, aesthetics and history of documentary film.
  1. Must-Know Basics
  2. Documentary Terminology
  3. Popular Subjects
  4. Filmmakers and Visionaries
  5. Where To Find The Films You Want To Watch

Must-Know Basics

Hundreds of documentaries made and released each year cover every imaginable subject, providing in-depth investigations of ubiquitous nightly news items and examining obscure factoids that they expand into engaging and enlightening full-length features. Having a basic knowledge of documentary styles and filmmakers will help you find and focus on the movies that will meet and satisfy your interests. Use this primer to enhance your understanding of the genre, and learn how to assess the artistry and accuracy of any documentary film.

Documentary Terminology

A glossary of the words and terminology used to define and describe the techniques and styles used in documentary filmmaking and documentary films.

Popular Subjects

No matter what most interests you, you're likely to be able to find at least one documentary film about it. Check here for popular documentary film subject categories.

Filmmakers and Visionaries

Modern technology has opened a floodgate for documentaries. Anyone with a digital camera and editing software can produce a nonfiction film about any subject large or small, of great importance or just for fun. So, the nonfiction repertoire expands regularly. However, finding a compelling and/or entertaining subject doesn't necessarily make a good documentary. Not all filmmakers are equally skilled in nonfiction essentials: research and storytelling, cinematography, editing image and sound. Here, you'll find profiles of and interviews with filmmakers whose signature styles set standards for all the others.

Where To Find The Films You Want To Watch

Not all interesting and worthwhile documentary films find their way into theaters, and those that do, often have limited releases in cities with special art house cinemas or museum screening series programs. You may have to do some sleuthing to find the documentaries you wish to see. These suggestions about how and where to search will help you locate elusive titles.

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