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Documentary Filmmaking

Documentary filmmakers tell stories that inform, instruct or engage with viewers about aspects of the ‘real’ world. The pioneering British documentary filmmaker John Grierson defined this form as the ‘creative treatment of actuality’. Some commentators struggle with the perceived mismatch between the constructed nature of the documentary and its status as a factual form. However, it could be argued that the tension between a documentary subject and the form in which it is communicated becomes a creative strength.

In striving to find the most authentic and engaging way of presenting their material, documentary filmmakers have developed a number of distinctive strategies and subgenres. A key moment of innovation in documentary filmmaking was the development of cinéma-vérité, or observational documentary, in the 1950s, marking a dramatic break from the established ‘voice of authority’ style of documentary. In the early 1970s, portable black and white video cameras gave community and minority groups the opportunity and autonomy to document subjects, events and issues from their own perspective.

Independent documentary filmmakers are motivated by a determination to represent matters and concerns that are not covered in the mainstream media as well as the points of view of people who do not have equal access to traditional media outlets. Often filmmakers establish a bond with the people whose lives they are documenting, while another crucial relationship of trust is the one established between the documentary filmmaker and audience.

Rachel Perkins on telling stories about the past

Rachel Perkins has a collaborative approach to filmmaking and enjoys developing ideas with other people. For her, the most important part of making a film is communicating ideas effectively, and when informing audiences about Indigenous Australian history it is particularly important to engage people on an emotional level.

Rachel Perkins on the power of filmmaking

Rachel Perkins finds filmmaking rewarding because it engages the filmmaker on so many different levels and requires a diverse range of skills and knowledge.

Rachel Perkins on First Australians

Rachel Perkins often draws inspiration for her films from Indigenous history. As an Indigenous filmmaker, she considers her depiction of the past to be an ‘intervention’ in the dominant white construction of Australia’s history.

Beck Cole on motivation and influence

Beck Cole’s interest in documentary filmmaking was inspired by her fascination with people and their lives. She enjoys the intimacy that develops as her documentary subjects learn to trust her.

Beck Cole on Indigenous stories

Beck Cole uses an observational style of filmmaking in her dramas as well as her documentaries. This style creates an interesting and intimate connection with the lives being depicted.

Beck Cole on contemporary Indigenous filmmaking

Beck Cole observes that Indigenous filmmakers contribute a particular freshness and reality to the Australian filmmaking landscape.

Darlene Johnson on telling stories through documentary

Darlene Johnson is interested in making documentaries about real people who have something important to say. In her first documentary, Stolen Generations (2000), she presented the point of view of Aboriginal people who were removed from their families.

Darlene Johnson on a politics of filmmaking

Darlene Johnson was initially motivated to make films as a political response to the exclusion of Indigenous people from the media.

Darlene Johnson on many Aboriginal voices

The diversity and individuality of Indigenous films challenge our stereotypical understandings of Aboriginal people.