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A glossary of terms used in the making and analyzing of documentary films.

Anthropomorphism, unusual in documentary films, attributes human traits and characteristics to nonhuman animals.

The belief that the world represented on screen is as the filmmaker discovered it and has not been modified.

Ethnographically informed work made by members of communities that are the subjects of Western ethnography.

Cinema Vérité
French for "film truth," applied to documentaries in which there is a truthful live encounter between the filmmaker and the film's subject.

A narrative voice in the documentary that articulates an explicit argument.

Compilation Films
Documentary films comprised entirely of archival footage.

Crowdfunding - A Definition of Crowdfunding
Crowdfunding refers to funding documentaries or other independent film projects by appealing to the public for donations.

Demonstrative Proof
Emphasis on making evidence persuasive, albeit not necessarily accurate.

The juxtaposition of two or more shots to create a meaningful relationship between them. Editing is extremely important in documentary films, establishing both the film’s credibility and aesthetic.

Ethnographic Films
Actuality films featuring indigenous peoples.

Expository Documentary
A nonfiction film that covers a subject by emphasizing verbal commentary and argumentative logic.

Film Noir - Definition of Film Noir
Film Noir is a term used to describe a particular genre of cinema.

The organization of the shot’s contents with respect to its outer borders.


A device that functions simultanously as a camera and TelePrompTer-like projector, to capture an interview subject's close up responses to questions posed during interviews.

Text that appears periodically on screen to provide information such as the date, time and location of an event or identify the person on screen.

Long Take
A continuous single shot of unusually long duration which eliminates the need to edit the scene.

Masked Interview
An interview in which the filmmaker is both off-camera and unheard.

Observational Mode
Emphasizing the filmmaker's engagement in observing and documenting a subject’s daily life and circumstances with an unobtrusive camera.

Participatory Mode
Documentary film in which the emphasis on the interaction between the filmmaker and the film's subject.

Performative Mode
In documentary filmmaking, where the emphasis is on the filmmaker’s subjective attitude or personal engagement with a subject, shown to evoke audience reaction.

In documentary filmmaking, the selection and arrangement of sounds and images to tacitly convey or imply the filmmaker’s point of view about a subject.

Poetic Mode
The formal structural organization that emphasizes visual associations and impressionistic descriptive passages, tonal and rhythmic qualities in a documentary film, and de-emphasizes strictly linear or logical sequencing.

Where the documentary film's emphasis is on the subject's state of mind and psychological outlook.

A single uninterrupted moving image that is recorded with a static or mobile camera.

Voice of Authority
Someone whom we hear whose narrative voice represents the film.

Voice Over
An off-camera narrative voice that comments about the images on screen.

Shortlist or Shortlisted
With regard to the Oscars, this term is used to indicate that a documentary has been selected to be among the titles that will be considered for nomination for the Academy Award for Best Documentary.

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