The History of the Documentary Genre

Documentary films have become a staple in the world of cinema, offering audiences a glimpse into real-life events, social issues, and historical moments. The documentary genre has come a long way since its inception in the early 1900s.

The first documentaries were simple, short films that captured everyday life, such as workers leaving a factory or a train arriving at a station. These films were seen as a way to capture reality and provide visual evidence of events. It wasn’t until the 1920s that the documentary genre began to evolve, with filmmakers using the medium to tell stories and highlight social issues.

One of the most influential documentaries of this time was ‘Nanook of the North’ (1922), which followed the life of an Inuit family in Canada. The film was groundbreaking in its use of storytelling and provided a glimpse into a culture that was unfamiliar to most viewers.

In the 1930s, documentary filmmakers began to use the medium to raise awareness about social issues. Films such as ‘The Plow That Broke the Plains’ (1936) and ‘The River’ (1937) highlighted the devastating effects of the Dust Bowl and the importance of conservation.

The 1960s and 70s saw a rise in social issue documentaries, with filmmakers using the medium to shed light on topics such as civil rights, war, and environmentalism. Films such as ‘Harlan County U.S.A.’ (1976) and ‘The War Room’ (1993) were critically acclaimed and helped to bring attention to important issues.

Today, the documentary genre continues to evolve, with filmmakers using new technologies and storytelling techniques to capture real-life events and social issues. Some of the most critically acclaimed documentaries in recent years include ’13th’ (2016), which examines the history of racial inequality in the United States, and ‘Icarus’ (2017), which explores the Russian doping scandal.

Scroll to top