Documentary Film: A Very Short Introduction

In this concise, crisply written guide, Center Director Patricia Aufderheide takes readers along the diverse paths of documentaryDocumentary Film- A Very Short Introduction (Resources - Books) history and charts the lively, often fierce debates among filmmakers and scholars about the best ways to represent reality and to tell the truths worth telling.

Beginning with an overview of the central issues of documentary filmmaking–its definitions and purposes, its forms and founders–Aufderheide focuses on several of its key subgenres, including public affairs films, government propaganda (particularly the works produced during World War II), historical documentaries, and nature films.

Her thematic approach allows readers to enter the subject matter through the kinds of films that first attracted them to documentaries, and it permits her to make connections between eras, as well as revealing the ongoing nature of documentary’s core controversies involving objectivity, advocacy, and bias.
Interwoven throughout are discussions of the ethical and practical considerations that arise with every aspect of documentary production. A particularly useful feature of the book is an appended list of “100 great documentaries” that anyone with a serious interest in the genre should see.

Drawing on the author’s four decades of experience as a film scholar and critic, this book is the perfect introduction not just for teachers and students but also for all thoughtful filmgoers and for those who aspire to make documentaries themselves.


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What others are saying:

“This is the first book about documentary I’ve encountered that tackles its identity, history, evolution, and major controversies enjoyably and in brief. I marvel at how much ground Pat Aufderheide covers and the clarity she brings to documentary’s many functions, paradoxes, and contradictions. Maybe religion alone has more.”

Directing the Documentary

“A vivid survey, Aufderheide’s book reminds us how crucial content and purpose are to the power and appeal of documentaries. When other films help us escape the world, these films return us to it with clarity and passion. This book lets us see how that is so.”

— Bill Nichols, author of Introduction to Documentary, Professor of Cinema and Director of the Graduate Program, San Francisco State University