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  • Documentary film

    A documentary film is a nonfictional motion picture intended to document some aspect of reality, primarily for the purposes of instruction, education, or maintaining a historical record. "Documentary" has been described as a "filmmaking practice, a cinematic tradition, and mode of audience reception" that is continually evolving and is without clear boundaries. Documentary films were originally called 'actuality' films and were only a minute or less in length. Over time documentaries have evolved to be longer in length and to include more categories, such as educational, observational, and even 'docufiction'. Documentaries are also educational and often used in schools to teach various principles. Social media platforms such as YouTube, have allowed documentary films to improve the ways the films are distributed and able to educate and broaden the reach of people who receive the information.

    Grierson's principles of documentary were that cinema's potential for observing life could be exploited in a new art form; that the "original" actor and "original" scene are better guides than their fiction counterparts to interpreting the modern world; and that materials "thus taken from the raw" can be more real than the acted article. In this regard, Grierson's definition of documentary as "creative treatment of actuality" has gained some acceptance, with this position at variance with Soviet film-maker Dziga Vertov's provocation to present "life as it is" (that is, life filmed surreptitiously) and "life caught unawares" (life provoked or surprised by the camera).

    In May 1896, Boleslaw Matuszewski recorded on film few surigical operations in Warsaw and Saint Petersburg hospitals. In 1898, French surgeon Eugène-Louis Doyen invited Boleslaw Matuszewski and Clément Maurice and proposed them to recorded his surigical operations. They started in Paris a series of surgical films sometime before July 1898. Until 1906, the year of his last film, Doyen recorded more than 60 operations. Doyen said that his first films taught him how to correct professional errors he had been unaware of. For scientific purposes, after 1906, Doyen combined 15 of his films into three compilations, two of which survive, the six-film series Extirpation des tumeurs encapsulées (1906), and the four-film Les Operations sur la cavité crânienne (1911). These and five other of Doyen's films survive.

    With Robert J. Flaherty's Nanook of the North in 1922, documentary film embraced romanticism; Flaherty filmed a number of heavily staged romantic films during this time period, often showing how his subjects would have lived 100 years earlier and not how they lived right then. For instance, in Nanook of the North, Flaherty did not allow his subjects to shoot a walrus with a nearby shotgun, but had them use a harpoon instead. Some of Flaherty's staging, such as building a roofless igloo for interior shots, was done to accommodate the filming technology of the time.

    The continental, or realist, tradition focused on humans within human-made environments, and included the so-called "city symphony" films such as Walter Ruttmann's Berlin, Symphony of a City (of which Grierson noted in an article that Berlin represented what a documentary should not be), Alberto Cavalcanti's Rien que les heures, and Dziga Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera. These films tend to feature people as products of their environment, and lean towards the avant-garde.

    Historical documentaries, such as the landmark 14-hour Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years (1986×Part 1 and 1989×Part 2) by Henry Hampton, 4 Little Girls (1997) by Spike Lee, and The Civil War by Ken Burns, UNESCO awarded independent film on slavery 500 Years Later, expressed not only a distinctive voice but also a perspective and point of views. Some films such as The Thin Blue Line by Errol Morris incorporated stylized re-enactments, and Michael Moore's Roger & Me placed far more interpretive control with the director. The commercial success of these documentaries may derive from this narrative shift in the documentary form, leading some critics to question whether such films can truly be called documentaries; critics sometimes refer to these works as "mondo films" or "docu-ganda." However, directorial manipulation of documentary subjects has been noted since the work of Flaherty, and may be endemic to the form due to problematic ontological foundations.

    This style of narration uses title screens to visually narrate the documentary. The screens are held for about 5–10 seconds to allow adequate time for the viewer to read them. They are similar to the ones shown at the end of movies based on true stories, but they are shown throughout, typically between scenes.

    Expository documentaries speak directly to the viewer, often in the form of an authoritative commentary employing voiceover or titles, proposing a strong argument and point of view. These films are rhetorical, and try to persuade the viewer. (They may use a rich and sonorous male voice.) The (voice-of-God) commentary often sounds 'objective' and omniscient. Images are often not paramount; they exist to advance the argument. The rhetoric insistently presses upon us to read the images in a certain fashion. Historical documentaries in this mode deliver an unproblematic and 'objective' account and interpretation of past events.

    This poses a real challenge for the translators because they have to render the meaning, i.e. find an equivalent, of a very specific, scientific term in the target language and frequently the narrator uses a more general name instead of a specific term and the translator has to rely on the image presented in the programme to understand which term is being discussed in order to transpose it in the target language accordingly. Additionally, translators of minorised languages often have to face another problem: some terms may not even exist in the target language. In such case, they have to create new terminology or consult specialists to find proper solutions. Also, sometimes the official nomenclature differs from the terminology used by actual specialists, which leaves the translator to decide between using the official vocabulary that can be found in the dictionary, or rather opting for spontaneous expressions used by real experts in real life situations.