An ethnography is an academic documentary done by scholars to illuminate something of cultural interest. Where an ethnography is meant to provide an objective study, a documentary must provide something to sustain the interest of a non-academic audience. Sometimes this license can make one cringe and note that a documentary can also have propaganda value when the producers have an agenda as was the case of American and German films of WWII. – carlos
The Faux Reality Spectrum — Home Video: “Restrepo”
By A.O. SCOTT, Published: December 9, 2010
“Is it a documentary?” “Is it like a documentary?” I find myself hearing (and asking) these questions so often that I have started to wonder what they mean. It’s not just that the definition of “documentary” itself is mutable: unlike other journalistic and quasi-journalistic forms, no code of ethics has ever been agreed upon by practitioners of the art, and what rules of thumb there are tend to be temporary, controversial and broken as soon as they are made. To take examples only from this calendar year, a single generic rubric covers a muckraking, talking-head essay on Wall Street like Charles Ferguson’s “Inside Job,” a ruminative memoir on parenthood like “The Kids Grow Up,” by Doug Block, and an exercise in intensive fly-on-the-wall objectivity like Frederick Wiseman’s aptly titled “Boxing Gym.” And those are just the easy cases — the nonfiction films that the academy might agree to consider for its award in the always-crowded and controversial feature-documentary category.