The documentary feature has a considerably long history of a, most likely, mis-distinction in terms of what it actually is. To many, a documentary picture is something to be believed as veritable truth; or, if not wholly truthful then certainly not a depiction of blatant falsities. It’s the capturing of life, edited to entertain or to inform (if done well then it should be both). The capturing of life portion of the formula may be the most important element in terms of relaying to the audience that they are seeing some semblance of truth. It may have been cut to highlight the area the filmmaker felt most pertinent to their, or cut to remove the section most damaging, but the moment captured and shown was spontaneous and real.
When things can begin to gt interesting is when the spontaneity, or believability in the events onscreen come into question. It’s almost as if a perceived trust has been attacked. Even if that trust was jeopardized for the betterment of the experience; like telling your significant other their hair is breathtaking so you can both enjoy the party and you just hope that good/honest friend of yours doesn’t show up to tell her the truth and burst the bubble of fun.
What’s even more interesting is how the film credited as the first documentary feature was created on just such a lie. With that we present this week’s Criterion Files entry Nanook of the North.