Filmmakers who make documentaries are generally trained in how to edit, film, storyboard and script the story they want to tell. Documentaries are inherently a political act. The filmmaker has an opinion or perspective of the World that they want to share. In this way, documentaries cannot ever be objective or unbiased. Waugh divides documentaries into two categories – commitment and documentary. Commitment is created from a specific ideology and documentary is created from a political agenda (Waugh, pg. 6). Documentaries are often seen to be very political but they can also be a work of art.
An Inconvenient Truth by Davis Guggenheim is obviously fully supportive of climate change. He uses Al Gore’s lectures to explain the science and inevitability behind climate change. This documentary is extremely political, tackling a huge global topic head on. It is a good example of a film that is acting with someone and for them, not necessarily just speaking about them but also giving them their own voice. This is one of the biggest claims that Bill Nichols speaks about, not victimising the subject of the film.
The realistic-ness of documentary is important to the genre in some extent. People often reach for documentaries to be given some form of truth rather than fiction. Dziga Vertov wanted to display truth in his documentaries, however, he got the people involved to re-enact the scenes. This may be considered staged to some, but it did work for him as by getting those involved to put themselves back in that situation it generated the same feelings they had at the time. Vertov’s described his style as ‘kino-eye’, he believed “all true cinema fell under the banner of kino-eye” (Nichols, B. pg. 144). Vertov thought that this style embodied all truth, however his style of creativity was very formal. Joris Ivens collaborated with Vertov also shared the view that it is important to collaborate with the subjects of the film. He also used re-enactment to create the qualities that he wanted to capture. Ivens believed “activism to engage aesthetically and transform politically” (Nichols, pg. 150).
Documentaries can also be seen as an art form and be presented poetically. Leni Rifenstahl is a famous example of someone who has argued that her films were entirely art based, despite the fact that they were covering political events. Her film Triumph of the Will, was filmed at the Nuremburg rallies, however, her style is less strict in comparison to something created as a ‘documentary’ that “combines ideas of nonfiction and education with social seriousness” (Waugh, pg. 9). Rifenstahl created very political films but with an artistic and poetic style, particularly through the use of camera angles and techniques such as panning. Despite the fact that these films were works of art they are still considered propaganda films and have a strong political backbone. Her camera angles work to create a certain perspective. She has a lot of shots looking up at Hitler, presenting him as some sort of ‘God’, which is how Hitler wanted to be seen and what made it such a successful piece of propaganda. Riefenstahl’s films are a good example of documentaries that can be both political and poetic. A documentary is not necessarily one or the other, but a combination of both.