The Power of a Documentary
A documentary is a film that tells a true story. It combines research, data and interviews. Its main purpose is to deliver a message.
Shirtless boys prod the wires of discarded computers in Agbogbloshie, the world’s largest e-waste dump. The film reveals their eye-opening work with striking images that would give any front-page exposé a run for its money.
Using stories to convey ideas is one of the most powerful ways to engage an audience. It makes information more relatable, and if done correctly, can compel people to take action.
The documentary filmmaker’s desire for spontaneity is often at odds with the needs of the editing process, which requires precision. Documentarians want to capture the effect of the actor’s feigned stumble or the director’s deliberate slip of the tongue, but they do not wish to reveal their clumsiness.
In this course, students will learn how to narrate an effective story through sound and visuals. They will also explore a range of storytelling techniques and methods that can be used in the classroom to help children improve their listening, literacy, creative and thinking skills. Students will be able to develop their understanding of how stories can be used to create an impact on audiences and drive business growth.
This research was conducted with documentary audiences who opted-in to participate in a national online survey and regional focus groups.
Participants in this research valued their viewing experiences as critically engaging, informative and entertaining. Their decisions to watch documentaries were influenced by recommendations from trusted sources, such as reviews in film listings (online, on radio, in print, television and curated media sites) and social media.
Our analysis has identified three distinct segments among documentary audiences: younger, tech-savvy Connected Super Users; busy, engaged Discerning Doc Lovers; and older Traditionals. These segments differ in their preferences for the discovery and viewing of documentary films, including their reasons for paying to access them through different platforms. They also express interest in greater availability of documentary films in cinemas and through subscription VOD services. They appreciate curated selections at festivals and in cinematheques, as well as access to documentaries on their favourite digital channels. They also value watching on the big screen for its social experience.
4. Social impact
In addition to making audiences aware, the documentary genre is now being viewed as an important tool for social change. A study conducted by the British organization Britdoc found that films can form beliefs and influence opinions and attitudes, including those towards topical social issues.
The study involved testing the effects of films on young people before and after watching them in order to get unbiased results. The findings show that people who watch documentaries are more likely to be concerned about social issues and more inclined to support the ideas and values presented in the film.
This month, the Center for Media & Social Impact at American University will host its 10th annual conference entitled “Media That Matters.” CMSI is a community partner of the event. Locsi Ferra, the director of education and community outreach at Working Films, reflects on the themes of the conference in this essay. For more information about the event, visit the CMSI website.