Documentary films constitute a broad category of nonfictional motion pictures intended to document some aspect of reality, primarily for the purposes of instruction or maintaining a historical record. A ‘documentary film’ was originally shot on film stock — the only medium available — but now includes video and digital productions that can be either direct-to-video, made as a television program or released for screening in cinemas. “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.
In popular myth, the word ‘documentary’ was coined by Scottish documentarian John Grierson in his review of Robert Flaherty’s film Moana (1926), published in the New York Sun on 8 February 1926, written by “The Moviegoer” (a pen name for Grierson).
Grierson’s principles of documentary were that cinema’s potential for observing life could be exploited in a new art form; that the …