Documentaries are visual texts that can serve a variety of purposes for the people who create them. For example, a documentarian might be aiming to entertain, inform or educate an audience. Often, a documentarian will have a clear perspective that they are trying to promote through their film and they design the film accordingly, aiming to persuade the audience about a particular issue, event or person. All documentaries present a version of the truth on an issue, not a completely objective, unbiased examination. They seek to convince the audience of the 'truth' of their interpretation of events and issues.



Documentary makers use different devices and techniques to convey their message.


Old footage that has already been filmed. It is used in the documentary to show historical events or to add detail without the need for additional filming.


Narrative voice-overs are used to guide the audience's viewing and will usually be authoritative in some way. The narration tells you the viewpoint that the filmmaker wants you to have.


Interviews are a key element of documentaries; they bring the story together, usually talking heads/interviews with eyewitnesses, experts and persons related.


Used to convince the audience to believe a certain opinion and adds validity to the argument being made.


Used to represent an emotion or topic.


The acting out of a past event.


For more information about the conventions have a look at this document.

Examples of documentaries


The Queen of basketball

Lusia Harris led her team to three national championships, scored the first basket in women's Olympic history and was officially by the New Orleans Jazz in 1977.

Almost Famous - The lost astronaut

This is the story of Ed Dwight Jr., who was invited by his country to train to be the first African-American astronaut. Back in 1963, it was hot news. But the United States never sent Dwight to space. For decades, he has maintained that he was discriminated against during his time at the Aerospace Research Pilot School, a prerequisite to NASA run by the legendary pilot Chuck Yeager.


Almost Famous - The silent pulse of the universe

Growing up in a Quaker household, Jocelyn Bell Burnell was raised to believe that she had as much right to an education as anyone else. But as a girl in the 1940s in Northern Ireland, her enthusiasm for the sciences was met with hostility from teachers and male students. Undeterred, she went on to study radio astronomy at Glasgow University, where she was the only woman in many of her classes. Despite going on make major discoveries in astronomy, the world wasn’t yet ready to accept that a breakthrough in astrophysics could have come from a young woman.


No guns for Christmas

Based on two police shootings in Ohio, this short documentary questions whether toy guns can really be innocent gifts.


Gnarly in pink

This short film celebrates the "Pink Helmet Posse," three 6-year-old girls who share an unusual passion: skateboarding.


Round and round

A group of seasoned roller derby players give a glimpse into life's incurable tendency to define one's individual identity through the pursuit of passion. By finding meaning and solace amongst a community of like-minded individuals, they learn the adverse consequences of pursuing their ambitions while "actively hitting each other.

The demon in the freezer

Errol Morris's "Demon in the Freezer" is a short 17-minute documentary about the stockpiles of the smallpox virus that remain stored for research purposes. But should those stores be allowed to remain or be destroyed to prevent their potential use as biological warfare? That's the question at the center of this documentary


Being Elmo

Whoopi Goldberg narrates Elmo  creator Kevin Clash's remarkable journey from a working-class Baltimore neighborhood to Jim Henson's "Sesame Street.".


Avatar days

Originally created for the Darklight Festival's '4 Day Movie' project, Avatar Days is a portrait of four online gamers in Dublin whose daily lives contrast with their virtual identities. Advanced 3D technologies and Motion Capture animation were used to insert the players' in-game characters in place of their real selves against the backdrop of the banal urban landscape which they inhabit.