We on history channel!' : the representation of history in documentary film

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Arts & Architecture


The representation of history in documentary film is problematic. Documentary's creative treatment of actuality and assumed fidelity to perceived truth is at conflict with the historian's pursuit of veracity. Ever since the dawn of photography, artists have manipulated images and compromised facticity in service to aesthetics and drama. This trend continued into the early days of cinema, as newsreel producers adopted a more liberal than literal ethos that persists in documentary to this day. Reality can never be shown just as it is even in the most simplistic treatments of the most banal subjects. The representation of history is not always as absolute as it may seem. Instead of ignoring or denying the authorship inherent in the representation of history in documentary film, filmmakers should embrace it and reflexively provide glimpses of the cinematic process that forms their particular construction of reality. I will argue that the best way to accomplish this goal is to employ the performative mode of documentary representation, which gives the viewer a context to think about the film as a version of history, not necessarily the version of it.


The Great Delta Bear Affair is a film that is part of the student's thesis project.



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