Given the effectiveness of the documentary genre to persuade its viewers through the presentation of “reality,” documentaries were heavily exploited for propagandist means around the dawn of World War II (and have been used for propaganda in many wars since then). Some of the more notorious propaganda documentaries of the time included Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will (1935) and Frank Capra’s Why We Fight series (1942-45). However, with the 1950s and 1960s, documentaries began to embrace the styles of “cinema truth” and direct cinema, which were movements that aimed to present social and political issues in a direct, unmediated way. In essence, these movements came about as a reaction against studio-based film production constraints, and preferred to shot on location with smaller crews and handheld cameras (“Documentary Film History”). Moreover, both styles opted for longer camera takes on people to capture more personal reactions, and shied away from any form of sit-down interview. Basically, the belief was that through the capturing of an enormous amount of undirected and natural footage, editors could sculpt the material into a truly authentic story. Nevertheless, as the previous sentence indicates, films that sought to embrace this movement typically gave off a false notion of reality, since the filmmaker was still in full control during the editing process.
Since the heyday of “cinema truth” and direct cinema, the documentary has continued to evolve and experience tremendous success. With landmark films like The Thin Blue Line (Morris, 1988), which incorporated highly stylized re-enactments of key moments in the story, and Roger and Me (Moore, 1989), which placed far more interpretive control in the hands of the director, the documentary genre demonstrated its potential for flexibility and innovation. In addition, since documentaries typically have far lower budgets than dramatic narrative films, they tend to be rather attractive to film companies who know that documentaries can be highly profitable even as a limited theatrical release due to the genre’s relative popularity. Moreover, since documentaries tend to have lower budgets and digital cameras have become more affordable, the genre offers a very feasible route for new filmmakers to pursue. In summation, while the documentary genre has been around since the dawn of film, its continued evolution and potential for growth makes it a very exciting genre for the future of filmmaking.
"Documentary Film History." Documentary Archive. <http://documentaryarchive.com/documentary_history.html>.