-1877: Eadweard Muybridge develops sequential photographs of horses in motion. -> This was more along the lines of film development.Image1

-Films/documentaries developed from Lumier brothers dating back in 1895. They would film every day life, people going to work, trains passing by and so on…

-1926: – John Grierson (1898-1972), a young Scottish academic pursuing an interest in mass communications in the US, writes a review of Robert Flaherty’s ethnographic film Moana for the New York Sun (February 8, 1926). In the review he coins the term “documentary.”

-1935: German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl is commissioned by Adolph Hitler to film the annual Nazi Party rally of 1934. The resulting film, Triumph of the Will, is a landmark both in documentary technique and in the use of film as an astonishingly powerful propaganda medium.

Videos by/about Leni Riefenstahl in the Media Resources Center:

Triumph of the Will (1934) MRC call Call number: DVD 711
Olympiad (1936-38) MRC call number: Video/C 5432-5433
The Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl. MRC call number: DVD 176

-In 1960 Robert Drew Associates produces Primary, the first film in which the sync-sound motion picture camera is able to move freely with characters throughout a breaking story (John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey in the 1960 Wisconsin Democratic presidential primary). Primary is widely regarded as the earliest example of American “Direct Cinéma .”

Selected Videos by Robert Drew and Associates in the Media Resources Center:

Primary (1960) MRC call number VIDEO/C 4839
Letters from Vietnam (1965) MRC call number VIDEO/C 8989Image17

-1965: Sony introduces the first consumer 1/2-inch video tape recorder. Philips introduces the compact cassette for consumer audio recording and playback on small portable machines. -> This allows everyone to be able to construct a doco of their own.

Chronological History


The French used the term documentary to refer to any nonfiction film medium, including travelogues and instructional films. The earliest “moving pictures” were, by definition, documentaries.

Present Times

Modern documentaries have some overlap with television forms, with the development of “reality television” that occasionally verges on the documentary but more often veers to the fictional or staged, a mockumentary.

What are the different types of Documentaries:

  • Poetic documentaries
  • Expository documentaries
  • Observational documentaries
  • Participatory documentaries
  • Reflexive documentaries
  • Performative documentaries
By trentwhitworth

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