History of documentary cinema
The cinema was born in the form of a documentary which is presented as short sequences, showing scenes from everyday life. The invention of cinema is in line with a positive idea of how the world is.
Today, the image can still be likened to a mark of clear proof. To the fetishism of the evidence by the image opposes the idea of a pre-eminence of the writing, only guarantor of a necessary distance to any enterprise of knowledge.
The history of the documentary reflects these concerns, and the renewed interest in the “real” that we are witnessing today, in the cinema or on television, testifies to the acuteness of these questions.
The cinema is born in the form of documentary. In just two decades, the cinematography of the origins becomes the cinema, at once art, industry and mass media. The documentary genre remains the “poor relation” of this industry, relegated to a didactic information function.
It is from the fifties that film documentaries took on new growth. The lightening of the material facilitates shooting outside the studio, and the development of television gradually transformed the modes of production and diffusion.
Renamed “cinéma vérité” or “cinéma directe,” in France the documentary directly inspires fiction filmmakers and young authors of the Nouvelle Vague. For a brief period, movements such as the “free cinema” in Britain or the “cinéma vérité” in France, it was a driving force behind the idea that the cinema is becoming the place of expression of free speech.
It would be too long to claim here an exhaustive vision of all the forms borrowed by documentary cinema, from the time of the dumb to the present day, through the “revolution” of the “direct.” Direct cinema represents a major turning point in the history of cinema and the media: technical innovations, notably the contemporary sound that enabled the documentary film to emerge from its “classical” form, long dominated by the presence of a voiceover.
Documentaries are still a very lively film genre: various festivals dedicated to it and many training programs propose to offer professionalisation in this sector.
However, the gap widens between the number of television productions, which take the “real” as an object (reports, “reality show,” reality show, docu-fiction …), and the place reserved for the documentary says of creation in the whole the audiovisual landscape.
Cinema which certainly, presents itself as a “cinema of the real” but which includes precisely in its definition the necessity to question this “real” by the means which are specific to the cinema.