Motives: How Documentaries Have Changed Over Time

In the past, documentary films were simply tools of documentation using film as a medium, but today, documentaries have changed quite a bit. John Grierson, the Scottish documentarian of the 1920’s, defined documentaries as “the creative treatment of actuality”. This definition does not hold as true in present day documentary cinema. The majority of docs we see nowadays are biased in some way or another, even if the film does not blatantly express an opinion. For instance, Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine is not meant to endorse the NRA, but to abash it. FOOD, Inc is not trying to get more people in the seats of fast food restaurants, it’s trying to get them out of seats.

The accuracy of Grierson’s definition has lessened 

These films don’t need to explicitly say these things for us to catch on to them, yet we do. And after leaving those films, your opinions on their subjects will be changed. Over time, the accuracy of Grierson’s definition has lessened as the genre has evolved over time. Originally, documentaries served a straightforward purpose, the presentation of factual narratives in an artistic way. As time has passed, the intent of these films has taken a social and/or political direction, with documentaries frequently presenting information with an ulterior purpose: the furthering of various social and political causes.

Today’s documentaries still document the world just as much as they use to, but now filmmakers use the medium to share their opinions on the subject they’ve chosen to document.