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Film Genres: Documentary films

This guide highlights library resources for some of the more popular film genres.

A short definition for documentary film

A practice of filmmaking that deals with actual and factual (and usually contemporary) issues, institutions, and people; whose purpose is to educate, inform, communicate, persuade, raise consciousness, or satisfy curiosity; in which the viewer is commonly addressed as a citizen of a public sphere; whose materials are selected and arranged from what already exists (rather than being made up); and whose methods involve filming ‘real people’ as themselves in actual locations, using natural light and ambient sound. Although filmmaking of this type dates to the earliest years of cinema (see actualities; travel film), the term documentary was not coined until the 1920s, when the founder of the British Documentary Movement, John Grierson, defined it as ‘the creative treatment of actuality’.

Kuhn, A. & Westwell, G. (2012). "Documentary." In A Dictionary of Film Studies. : Oxford University Press. Retrieved 17 Nov. 2016.

Getting started

To find books and other resources about documentaries, use the subject heading documentary films. Use this same search to find actual documentary films located in the Jones Media Center. Other related subject headings are listed below.

Introductory readings

Selected book titles

Finding articles & journals

Articles and other writings about movies can be found in many publications. Our collection includes a couple of titles which look exclusively at Documentary films.  You can use Film & Television Literature Index to find articles.

The March of Time Documentary series

A selected list of documentary films

Click here to see more documentaries. Almost all documentary films are located in the Jones Media Center on the second level of Berry Library.