'Documentaries, like plays, novels and poems, are fictional forms'. What do you think Wiseman meant by this statement? Discuss with reference to a range of documentary material.

Essay by Tommmo February 2005

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Personally, I agree with Wiseman to a great extent in regarding the documentary as a fictional form. He is saying that documentaries, although purporting to be truthful, are in essence fictional in a similar way to plays and novels in that the producers have power over the bias and viewpoint of the documentary. A production on one sort of subject matter can reach completely different conclusions from the other, merely because of the views of its makers. First and foremost on any modern television network, the principle objective of broadcasting such a programme is to attract viewing audiences and ratings that will not be present if the subject matter is perceived to be dull. So, documentary makers are constantly looking at ways with which to make the content more exciting, and this often is achieved via a range of narrative techniques to convey the information in a more interesting format.

Whether it is of a serious or light-hearted topic, there are always methods used in production to emphasise or get across a point.

In lighter documentaries there are a multitude of narrative devices in play. The format is very smoothly presented, with a real sense of flow and direction. The depicted events are often ordered chronologically and told as a story. Amongst this there are many methods with which to tell the story, such as using sound bridges to establish links between scenes. In 'Night Mail', 1936, the story was told in such a chronological narrative style, depicting the story of a mail train's journey. It used a series of fabricated subplots in the quest for continuity. However, the plots were almost too well constructed and smooth, with the actors being somewhat wooden in their mannerisms. In modern day documentaries, great care is taken over every detail. Various...