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n. ~ A narrative work, usually an audiovisual format, about contemporary or historical facts in a manner that purports to be objective.


Most commonly associated with moving image works, documentaries can be in any format, including still photography, sound recordings, and texts. Often used as an adjective with a specific format; for example, documentary photograph, documentary film.

Popularized in the 1930s by filmmaker John Grierson, sometimes called the father of the documentary. Images and sound used in the documentary may be original to the period or may be recreations contrived for the camera and audio recorder. Because the narrative, which strings together different pieces of the story, is ultimately the creation of the documentarist, documentaries are often considered to be more an interpretation of the past than history. This lack of objectivity distinguishes it from journalism.

(Goerler 1999, p. 317) According to Boorstein [in The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America], the documentary is a 'pseudo-event,' and not simply a facsimile of the event itself. A pseudo-event is planned rather than spontaneous; functions primarily for the purpose of being reported or reproduced; has an ambiguous relationship to reality in that the image rather than the event becomes the object of study; and is usually intended to be a self-fulfilling prophecy; i.e., constructed to provide a consistent interpretation.