What Is A Documentary And What Is Its Purpose?

2127 words - 9 pages

What is a documentary and what is its purpose"The word documentary suggests an interest in what is actual, what exists, rather than what one brings personally, if not irrationally to the table of present- day actuality."(Coles 5) This is Robert Coles overall definition of the word documentary, but in his book it becomes more obvious that documentary is much more than just a word. Robert Coles is a documentarian who nearly spent four decades searching for answers to questions, which have been bothering and wondering him.The purpose of documentary work is to educate, creating an awareness and therefore move us to social action.When I'm thinking of a documentary the first thing which comes to my mind is that I'm going to learn something about a specific topic. It might be a documentary about an endangered species or fast food or the American soldiers of World War 2. Whatever the topic is, it is going to say or show something about actual events. Coles describes the documentarian as a writer "who tries to discover for themselves and their potential readers what actually happened at particular times, in particular locations, and how (and why) what occurred did end up taking place."(Coles21)This is different but similar to a scientist who does research in his lab, figuring things out and then reporting them. A documentarian goes out and does field work on a subject, a living being, a situation and learns about, searches its meaning, its secrets and then reports it to us- the readers, the viewers and the audience. This seems similar to the work the scientist is doing in his lab, but there is something which the scientist can not do with his work, which is trying to change something. By changing something I don't mean changing the weather or something which is out of human control, but rather to change the beliefs and disbeliefs of humans. Documentary research aims to raise awareness of stories and lives otherwise untold. Coles concludes his book by saying that "those stories and pictures a chance for us (the documentarian) to wonder how we are doing as we try to affirm ourselves by reaching towards others, helping to make a difference in a neighborhood, a nation."(Coles 252), so documentary work aims to make a difference."Helping to make a difference" can be achieved by starting an awareness of something tragic, something immoral, and not ethical. But this means also that the documentarian brings in his own emotions and thoughts of what's right or wrong. Subjectivity is something which the average person wouldn't really put together with documentary, but the documentarian tells his story which he has discovered. It's his will what to show us and what not."A documentarian's report will be strengthened by what has been witnessed, but will be fueled, surely, by what those observations come to mean in his or her head: we absorb sights and sounds, and they become our experience, unique to us, in that we, their recipients are unique. What we offer others in...

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