Documentary film can encompass anything from Robert Flaherty's pioneering ethnography Nanook of the North to Michael Moore's anti-Iraq War polemic Fahrenheit 9/11, from Dziga Vertov's artful Soviet propaganda piece Man with a Movie Camera to Luc Jacquet's heart-tugging wildlife epic March of the Penguins. In this concise, crisply written guide, Patricia Aufderheide takes listeners along the diverse paths of documentary history and charts the lively, often fierce debates among filmmakers and scholars about the best ways to represent reality and to tell the truths worth telling.
Beginning with an overview of the central issues of documentary filmmaking - its definitions and purposes, its forms and founders - Aufderheide focuses on several of its key subgenres, including public affairs films, government propaganda (particularly the works produced during World War II), historical documentaries, and nature films. Her thematic approach allows listeners to enter the subject matter through the kinds of films that first attracted them to documentaries, and it permits her to make connections between eras, as well as revealing the ongoing nature of documentary's core controversies involving objectivity, advocacy, and bias. Interwoven throughout are discussions of the ethical and practical considerations that arise with every aspect of documentary production.