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DFP: Purpose of Documentary Films

This unit talks about the purpose of Documentaries stating why its important.It also talks about Developing Ideas for Documentary Films .

A documentary filmmaker sets forth “not simply to register events and circumstances, but to find the most moving examples of them” (Bluem, 1972:10). It is so because every documentary is dramatic. It adds an artistic dimension to journalistic and societal aims.

It aims at one or more of the following objectives or purposes:

  • To provide socially useful information or basically to inform the audience. The essence may be to arouse human interest to take a remedial action, on the observed lapses in the human environment. The documentary provides relevant information through compelling pictures and images. It deals with the focused subject so that the issue raised would be appreciated and understood. For instance, the weekly news presentation on the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) network service on Saturdays titled “week-end file” mirrors an aspect of the Nigerian society that requires public attention and consideration.

One of the editions as captured by Owuamalam (2007) dealt with the fate of the textile industry in Nigeria. It showed how the industry has virtually collapsed with the decline in the number of textile factories, from more than 200 in the 1990s to less than 40 in 2006, how the workforce has reduced from more than 300,000 workers to less than 20,000 within the same period. It also showed how the cotton farms have been neglected and the yarn machines abandoned. It explains why the scarcity of finished Nigeria prints has led to the smuggling of textiles and fabrics, even now that the materials are currently banned for importation into the country. It brings the travails of the industry to the fore and advocates socio-economic actions that can return the industry to its prerions glorions moments of boom.

Other purposes of documentaries include

  • To persuade the audience to take remedial action and to inspire or lift.
  • To convince people to accept a new idea or to develop a new opinion or attitude. · To persuade the audience to carry out a specific course of action. A given documentary can accomplish one or more of the above objectives. If however it is well organized, it will be primarily aimed at accomplishing one of them, (Willis, 1967)

Importance of Documentaries

The documentary film is important and very crucial to broadcasters and media professionals for many reasons.

Firstly, it gives them a chance to use the broadcast media to explore the significant issues in their immediate environments, rather than expanding their resources on what may be frivolous and ephemeral.

Secondly, it provides opportunities for experimentation and the exercise of one’s ingenuity not often possible in such formula obsessed fields as drama and comedy.

Thirdly, it allows broadcasters the opportunity to re-experience creativity, outside the realm of typologies often associated with specific production formats. It allows the freedom to explore the various attributes of performance, as a communication strategy, designed specifically for the audiovisual medium.

Developing Ideas for Documentary Films

Ideas for the documentary film according to Nworgu (2010) can be generated through any of the following:

  • Personal experience.

We experience sad, happy, bitter, sweet and memorable moments everyday both in our offices, homes, street or anywhere we find ourselves. These experiences can form the basis for a documentary programme.

  • Historical events or figures

A documentary idea could emanate from historical accounts about celebrities or celebrations. Most historical documentary is made up of partly fiction and factual things.

  • Strong feelings for or against the society or events.

Bad or good feelings can form basis for a documentary idea.

  • A change in the societal values, norms, and social order can form material for

a documentary script. Also, the political, economic and social standard can be used for a documentary programme

  • The inspiration to produce a documentary programme could also emanate from newspapers, magazines, novels, short stories, drama series etc which one has read.

Research for the Documentary

The place of research in the documentary film, just like in any other aspect of mass communication cannot be over emphasized. Research provides the basic information needed to produce the documentary. Research for a documentary programme can be divided into three.

Pre-documentary project research, on – the – documentary project research and post – documentary research. Pre-documentary research is the first research carried out to ascertain basic information concerning the documentary. This is the general phase in which the subject is explored to establish the dimensions of the programme and define areas that need further investigation.

General reading is the main tool in this exploratory phase of the research. The second phase of the research is carried out when the documentary project has been embarked on. This is the stage in which the research seeks answer to specific questions that arise during the period of the general research. This may go on throughout the preparation of the programme. This is because the writer often discovers after he has started his/her script that he/she needs further information before he/she can continue writing the script. Interview is often carried out in this stage. The last phase of research is the post-documentary project research. It is done to ascertain how far the documentary project writer has farred in his/her work. Question on how far the purpose of the documentary has been achieved is also ascertained at this stage. What is the attitude of the viewers towards the documentary? Are there areas that need to be improved on in future productions and are there areas where the documentary derived its strengths form? These questions are very necessary if the person(s) behind the documentary would excel in this trade.

Research is therefore important in documentary programme production because of the following reasons:

  • It helps in developing the point of view for the documentary
  • It helps the script writer to be conversant with the subject matter
  • It helps in ascertaining the budget for the documentary
  • It helps in finding who is to be interviewed, and how the interview is to be carried out.
  • It is through research that the actual resources – both human and material – that will be used in the production are ascertained.

Source:National Open University of Nigeria