Basic Things To Learn About A Documentary Film


There are so many definitions to watch a documentary from different experts, professionals or scholars but to simplify everything these are the basic things to know about documentary.

Definition Of A Documentary Film 

Documentary can simply Be defined factual or non-fictional film that talks about reality and history. 

It deals with the documentation of real life events to give people information of what has happened or what is going on. It is believed that there is no particular definition or explanation to what a documentary is but an expert John Grierson, the man who first coined the word or name documentary, defines documentary as the creative treatment of actuality.

Filming a Documentary is a slow and long process. It takes time because a lot of information is required, so research  is being made in order to get facts.

General Facts On A Documentary Film

  • A documentary film only talks about actual situations, real life events, credible and  verified facts. Any factual film or documentary that supports lies, gives unverified information, fabricates evidence or alters reality jeopardizes its status and standards as a documentary.
  • Pictures are very essential in every documentary, be it a steel or motion pictures. The pictures tell us more of the story in a documentary so therefore a documentary must have more pictures and less words.
  • Unlike drama, documentary is not about film characters, actors or people assigned to play scripted roles, documentary is about real people who have passed through a particular or different experiences in life and have a lot to tell people.

The Elements Of A Documentary 

As we understand or have a brief idea on what a documentary is, There are some certain things that makes up a documentary, These are things that must be part of a documentary, they are what defines the documentary, such things are;

  • Story
  • People
  • Location
  • Time


This is the most important thing to do before embarking on a documentary production. To produced a documentary the first thing to do is to set an agenda which includes;

  • The main subject matter of the documentary
  • The problems and solutions to the problem in the documentary
  • Opinions and comments from people that are related to the story one way or the other.


There must be people involved in every documentary one way or the other,  Just like a drama a documentary also has its own characters. These are people that will give comments and opinions or views in order to add meaning to the story, the people or characters are what makes up the story.


To produce a documentary there must be a particular place where the production will take place, it can be anywhere depending on your story and the people involved in the story.

  • It can be in the village
  • In the city
  • The king’s palace
  • Primary School
  • The clinic or hospital
  • Church or mosque

All that matters is that a documentary must have a particular place of production.


Time is very important in production of a documentary, since it is a factual film that involves real life events or history it takes time to select the best pictures or clips that will best tell the story and explain it in such a way that people will understand. That is why they say it is a slow and long process, you can’t rush a documentary because you might make mistakes of disseminating on factual informations especially in the aspect of selecting the right pictures for the story

Types Of A Documentary Film 

Basic Things To Learn About A Documentary Film

There might be so many undiscovered types of documentary but below are the basic types of documentary you should know;

  • Profile documentary
  • Docudrama
  • How-film documentary
  • News production documentary
  • Propaganda or a sponsor documentary
  • Travelogues documentary

Profile Documentary 

Profile documentary simply refers to the type of documentary that talks about a particular person of interest. This type of documentary is mostly done to high profile personalities such as; celebrities, politicians, doctors, community leaders and many other people of interest. 

It revolves around the life stories or histories of such people, such as;  how they did, what they passed through to get to where they are.

Docu – Drama

This simply refers to the mixture of documentary and Drama, real life and factual historical events being acted by actors in order to portray the Clear meaning of the story. 

In This documentary actors are used in a dramatic form to represent parts of the stories that have not been captured or are not possible to record.

All the films we see “BASED ON A TRUE LIFE STORY” Are examples of Docu -Drama.

How Film Documentary 

This simply refers to the type of documentary that gives you ideas or information on how certain things are done. 

Films on how a Motorola phone was made, films on how African soups are being cooked and how African clothes are made. There are a lot of how films out there and the main aim and objective is to teach you or show you how things are made.

News Production Documentary 

Be the type of documentary that contains news (hard core news) and is in the form of a voice-over where the pictures display.

In this documentary the voiceover tells most of the stories.

Propaganda Or Sponsor Documentary

This is the type of documentary that is done to persuade or convince someone to believe in a particular story even if it’s not true. It is designed to educate and direct the thoughts of the audience towards a particular thing or person. 

These types of documentaries are mostly done to celebrities or politicians for their own personal benefits in order to win the hearts of the people.

Travelogues Documentary 

This is the type of document that involves traveling from one place to another. It will take you to so many places in the world, giving you ideas or information on different cultures and lifestyles of people living in different parts of the world.

A presenter is mostly involved in this type of documentary and this type of documentary is usually accompanied by music that relates to the environment or culture for a particular place. 

For example people that do this type of documentary mostly go to African countries to explore and in this factual film you listen to some African drums and other soundtracks.

Characteristics Of A Documentary Film 

  • A good documentary must be economical with words s and have more pictures that will best tell the story
  • It must present familiar things in an unfamiliar way to capture the attention of the viewers
  • A good documentary must have a storyline, people involved, problems and solutions to the problems.

These are the basic things you need to know about a television documentary film.

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