Direct Cinema is not a film style but an approach to the way in which documentaries are made. It is also known as the “Fly on the wall Technique.”

Direct Cinema filmmakers often use lightweight portable cameras, and a lot of hand-held camera work.

Direct Cinema began in the 1950s when Robert Drew and Richard Leacock had a disagreement with John Grierson over where cinema was going.

They decided that they should try something different and came up with the idea of “Action Documentary.”

They were inspired by what they saw during World War II, when they filmed soldiers landing on beaches, fighting battles, and raising families.

What Is Direct Cinema

What Is Direct Cinema?

The term Direct Cinema was coined by filmmakers Richard Leacock and D.A. Pennebaker in the late 1950s while filming Robert Kennedy’s tour of African villages during his campaign for the United States Senate.

They were trying to come up with a name for their new style of filmmaking, which didn’t use voice-over narration or interviews to relay information about the people being filmed.

Direct Cinema has been used to make a wide range of films, including Fahrenheit 9/11, The War Room, Primary and Roger & Me.

Direct Cinema is also known as “fly on the wall” or “pure cinema.” Some filmmakers would argue that the term “direct cinema” doesn’t even apply to some documentaries made today since they use interviews and narration.



Direct Cinema is the simplest form of documentary filmmaking. It shows events as they happen without any manipulation.

The camera simply records what is happening around it and tells a story through its images and sound.

What Is Direct Cinema?

These filmmakers did not want to make traditional documentaries because they believed that these films were too detached from reality. Action Documentary was very popular in the 1950s and ’60s.

Many great works emerged from this time period including: Salesman (1968), Primary (1960) and Crisis: Behind A Presidential Commitment (1963). In these films, we see how the subjects feel about what is happening around them.

This documentary style uses subjective camera angles and sounds. Usually, only one person is filming, so there are no angles from other angles besides what the main cameraman sees or hears. These films often have lower budgets than typical Hollywood productions.

Direct Cinema And Cinéma Vérité

Direct Cinema and Cinéma Vérité are both documentary film techniques that have been used over the past 50 years. They are both observational approaches to filmmaking which means they focus on “capturing life as it happens”.

Direct Cinema is a more recent film technique than Cinéma Vérité but its roots date back to the 1940s when the French New Wave filmmakers began using lighter, hand-held cameras, allowing them to shoot more spontaneously.


Direct Cinema is also called “fly on the wall” because it tries to remain invisible in order to capture its subjects in their natural environment. It questions how documentaries should look and feel by aiming to be as real as possible.

Cinéma Vérité is a French phrase which translates into English as ‘truthful cinema’ and refers to an objective, factual or realistic style of filmmaking. The filmmaker does not manipulate or stage events and instead seeks out authentic moments through observation.

The term was coined by the French film critic and historian, André Bazin. He saw Cinéma Vérité as a documentary style which documented reality in a very real way – with the camera being unobtrusive, catching everything that goes on in front of it.

Examples Of Direct Cinema Documentaries

Direct Cinema is one of the most important documentary styles that has ever existed in the history of film. Direct Cinema are nonfiction films that attempt to capture reality with cameras that have minimal, if any, interference from a director or outside influence.

Trying to define something as broad as cinema documentary can be tough. You can’t pinpoint every documentary into a single category. It’s hard to say which subgenre or classification each documentary belongs in.

But there are several direct cinema documentaries that have stood out among the rest and this article will talk about them in detail. I’ll try to provide some background information about each film and give you more information on how they were made and why they are considered a part of the Direct Cinema genre.

There’s no specific set of rules for what can qualify as Direct Cinema. However, there are three main things to keep in mind when trying to define such a thing:

  1. The camera must be used as an observer and must be kept at a distance from the people being filmed 
  2. The camera must be handheld and not used on cranes or dollies 
  3. The camera must remain mobile during filming and not stop for any reason

“Direct Cinema” Fiction

“Direct Cinema” is a style of documentary filmmaking that has been used to capture some of the most important moments in modern history. 

The term was coined by French filmmaker Jean Rouch, who pioneered the approach during the 1950s and ’60s.

Direct Cinema uses a number of techniques to capture reality as it is occurring, so that audiences can experience the scene as if they were there themselves. 

This style of filming is used to make documentaries more cinematic, in an effort to appeal to audiences who are accustomed to Hollywood production values.

Direct Cinema films use a number of techniques, including camera movement, hand-held cameras and available light. The film crew must be able to travel quickly and easily, staying close to the subject at all times and capturing scenes as they occur.

Cameras are often placed on tripods for long takes or stationary shots that require less mobility. 

The Camera Movement Approach 

This technique relies on a steady hand and active camerawork to achieve cinematic effects while remaining true to the subject matter.

The camera is held by the director or another member of the crew, allowing for long takes that may vary in direction or distance from the subject. This approach is not possible when using a tripod or fixed-position cameras because it requires more mobility than most setups.

Observe With Direct Cinema

Direct Cinema is a documentary film style invented by Robert Drew. The style’s name refers to the fact that the camera, in no way, shape, or form, is an observational camera. It never sits back and simply observes the action.

It becomes involved in the scenes it films by cutting between shots of different characters, panning over objects that are in the foreground of a scene, and entering into scenes while they are happening (a technique called “breaking the fourth wall”).

This allows the audience to feel more engaged with the material than they would if they were just watching “fly on the wall” footage of a documentary. Direct Cinema uses three cameras at once, each of which is filming on its own reel of film.

One camera is focused on whoever is speaking at any given moment, one is focused on whoever isn’t speaking at the moment (or who was speaking but has now stopped) and one camera simply watches all that’s going on around them, without regard for who’s speaking or what anyone’s doing.

Using three cameras at once gives Robert Drew and his crew many different angles from which to film any given moment. This means that if someone in the scene does something interesting off-camera, Drew can cut away from what’s happening directly in front of him.

Create A Connection With Direct Cinema

Direct Cinema is one of the most powerful storytelling tools available to filmmakers today. Direct cinema is also known as ‘fly on the wall’ or observational filmmaking. Tackling a documentary film can be a daunting task but with the right equipment and some basic tips and techniques, you can create a truly heart-warming documentary that will showcase your brand in an amazing light – all for very little cost.

The first step to creating a great documentary is to plan out your entire video project. Write down everything you want to cover and stick to it! You should have a clear idea of exactly what you want your documentary to be about.

If you are not familiar with making documentaries, try reading up on how others have made some of their films, so you can see what they did right, or what they should have done differently.

The camera crew will play the biggest role in the success (or failure) of your documentary. There are two main ways in which a cameraman can approach a scene – either as an insider (part of the action) or as an outsider (observer). Either way, your cameraman must be comfortable with the technology he or she is using. 

How Is Direct Cinema Like Vlogging?

Direct Cinema is a style of documentary filmmaking that emerged in the mid- to late-1950s. The crew was small, and the equipment was cheap. The subject of the film often had no idea they were being filmed. And the best way to capture a moment was to just roll with it.

Direct cinema has become somewhat obsolete as filmmakers have adopted digital video technology, but it’s still useful to compare it with vlogging. 

First, you’re pretty much always shooting on a point-and-shoot camera with little control over focus or exposure.

Second, you need to be mobile and flexible so you can get the shots that are happening at that moment. Third, you want to capture a moment unaltered by your presence as much as possible. 

So how is direct cinema like vlogging?

Direct Cinema and Vlogging Are Personal 

The filmmaker is part of the story, since they are behind the camera

And while they often put themselves in front of the camera (or, in some cases, don’t show their face at all), they are not trying to conceal who they are and what their experience was like. Vlogs are meant to be personal. They show what your life is like behind the scenes.

Direct Cinema Revolutionary For Its Time

Direct Cinema is a filmmaking technique made popular in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It was a revolutionary form of documentary filmmaking for its time and still holds relevance today. 

The technique was developed by three filmmakers: Richard Leacock, Robert Drew, and Albert Maysles. The trio helped to create much of the footage we see on television today, including the Kennedy-Nixon debates, the civil rights movement in America, and many other important events that took place during their time.

Direct Cinema is known for its use of hand-held cameras and minimal editing. This allowed directors to capture real-life moments as they unfolded before them without having to interrupt or alter them with editing techniques.

By using a hand-held camera, directors are also able to edit in post-production. This allows them to tell a story from start to finish without forcing viewers to watch interviews prior to seeing the footage captured on location.

A lot of Direct Cinema is known for capturing events that made national news at the time they took place. One of the most famous examples of this would be Primary, which takes us behind-the-scenes of John F. Kennedy’s election campaign in 1960. The film’s content has been studied by countless scholars.

Elements Of Direct Cinema

Direct Cinema, also referred to as the British New Wave, is a nonfiction filmmaking movement that began in the late 1950s. 

A group of filmmakers, many educated at Oxford University, created films characterized by naturalistic visual style and often improvised dialogue.

They were also known for their use of portable synchronized sound equipment and shooting on location. The following are elements that defined Direct Cinema: 

Hand-held camera

The hand-held camera became an important tool for capturing events as they unfolded in real time. 

This hand-held approach is used in most documentaries today and is almost synonymous with documentary filmmaking.

Natural lighting

Natural lighting was used instead of studio lights or other artificial light sources. Shooting outdoors allowed for scenes to be lit naturally by the sun. Shooting indoors required the use of windows as sources of natural light and this technique is called “window light.”

Synch sound

Synch sound was recorded during filming using a portable recorder that required no electricity and could be easily carried by a cameraman or woman. The recordings were made onto film through a synchronization device attached to the camera’s shutter release cable.

During filming, a small microphone hidden on a person’s body would pick up sounds which would later be dubbed into the actual film during editing.

Where Cinema Verite And Direct Cinema Differ

If you are interested in cinema verite and you enjoy the look of reality in your films, then read on. If, however, you do not know what cinema verite is, or if you are unfamiliar with direct cinema, then it would be best to read a more general article on the topic of cinema verite.

Cinema verite can be a pretty confusing term, especially because it is often used incorrectly. To avoid this problem, let’s first discuss cinema verite’s polar opposite: direct cinema.

Direct cinema is known for its style of mostly static shots that were often shot from a tripod or dolly. The camera was either handheld or mounted to a tripod. There was no editing at all during the filming process, and afterwards there was very little editing done to the footage.

The crew tended to be small and usually included only one person with a camera and someone else operating a sound recorder. Direct Cinema was introduced by filmmakers such as Robert Drew and Richard Leacock in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

They were interested in capturing real life as it happened in front of their cameras through the use of lightweight equipment and stationary cameras which were placed in strategic locations around an event they were filming (Kolker).

History Of Direct Cinema

Direct cinema is a documentary film movement that developed in the United States in the mid-1950s. 

The term as coined by French film critics and historians in the 1950s and 1960s to describe an emerging American form that was characterized by the absence of voice-over commentary, reenactments, archival footage, and other devices typically found in conventional documentaries of the time.

The term “direct cinema” was embraced by filmmakers, and also came to be used as a descriptor for the work of their peers. By the late 1960s, direct cinema had largely come to be associated with nonfiction filmmaking.

Direct cinema arose in reaction to two dominant modes of documentary filmmaking that were flourishing at the time: narrated documentary, which relied on voice-over commentary and interviews with onscreen participants; and fictionalized documentary or docufiction, which incorporated dramatic reconstructions into its narratives.

The realist approach of direct cinema aimed to capture events as they happened, using only sound recorded at the moment of filming.

Top Direct Cinema Filmmakers

Direct Cinema is a style of documentary filmmaking that became popular from the late 1950s to the mid-1960s. 

Many filmmakers and film historians consider Direct Cinema to be one of the most important and influential documentary filmmaking styles of all time, although it was looked down upon by many in the documentary film community at the time.

Direct Cinema was a reaction against earlier styles of documentary filmmaking, like the verite technique and cinema vérité. These earlier styles were characterized by hand-held cameras, natural lighting, and improvised shots.

Direct Cinema filmmakers wanted to create a cinema that more closely resembled traditional narrative feature films. 

They used tripod-mounted cameras with longer takes, locked-off shots, and carefully controlled lighting schemes. They also had their subjects react more realistically to situations on set.

The beginning of Direct Cinema can be traced back to 1956 when Robert Drew released The Quiet One, which was shot using a single camera on a tripod. The idea came from Drew’s assistant, Richard Leacock. It became known as “the tripod technique,” and it would later be called “Direct Cinema.”

In 1958, Drew founded Drew Associates with his business partner, former Life magazine photographer John Marshall. Marshall was an important figure in the Direct Cinema movement.

Top Direct Cinema Films

Direct Cinema is a form of observational cinema that evolved in the United States during the 1950s. 

The name was coined by critic P. Adams Sitney, who noted that unlike most other nonfiction films of the time, these films were not documentaries or newsreels but rather “the cinema of reality.”

Titicut Follies (1967)

This documentary is told from the point of view of inmates at a Massachusetts state prison for the criminally insane. This documentary sparked a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case (Estelle v. Gamble) and helped launch the prison reform movement of the 1970s.

Field Goal (1977) 

This film was shot at Iowa’s Camp Dodge, where more than 25,000 WWII veterans returned to train as part of their rehabilitation. Field Goal explores what happens when loneliness and war memories are left untreated.

Relationship to Other Forms

In addition to being one of the first films made with portable synchronized sound equipment, Direct Cinema films also frequently featured new camera angles, lighting techniques, and more intimate approaches to characters than had been typical in nonfiction films up until that time.

Still, some Direct Cinema films were criticized for relying too heavily on narration and close-ups—clichés associated with television journalism.

Direct Cinema Theory

Direct Cinema Theory is a style of filmmaking that focuses on capturing real events as they happen, mainly in documentary films. The method was pioneered by the filmmakers Richard Leacock, Robert Drew, and D.A. Pennebaker in the 1950s-60s era of documentary filmmaking.

Direct Cinema Theory is known for its mobility, natural sound recording, and minimal editing. 

Direct cinema is often confused with Cinéma vérité, another form of documentary filmmaking that is characterized by its use of handheld camera work, lack of interviews and voice over narration, and emphasis on viewer participation.

It’s easy to say that Direct Cinema does it without any editing but the reality is more complicated. It’s not really a matter of no editing; rather, it’s a matter of using the minimum amount necessary to tell a compelling story.

If you’re making a film about someone who goes through an entire baseball season, then you might only want to use one or two clips from each game…that way, your audience feels like they were there and didn’t miss anything important.

Direct cinema relies heavily on sound to tell the story because you can have hours of footage where nothing much happens…but when something important does happen, that can carry everything else on its back.

Importance Of The Direct Cinema

Direct Cinema is a narrative film genre in which the camera and sound equipment are given prominent roles. It was originally developed by such French New Wave filmmakers as Chris Marker, Alain Resnais, and Jean-Luc Godard.

American filmmakers like Robert Drew, Richard Leacock, D.A. Pennebaker, and Frederick Wiseman have also been associated with the movement. When I first heard about it back in college, there was no way I could have imagined why anyone would want to make a movie about nothing but a bunch of people talking for an hour and 45 minutes straight. I mean, how boring is that?

But after having watched a few movies from the movement, I got to say – Direct Cinema is not just a set of movies that are boring as hell; they are also majestic pieces of work that will change your perspective on what cinematography really is.

The movement was born out of an environment that had just gone through one of its worst war periods ever – World War II – and it was meant to convey what life really was like when you go through this kind of experience. Direct Cinema relies heavily on improvisation and spontaneity versus pre-scripting events before they happen.

The End Of The Direct Cinema

The days of the big budget, long take, observational film are over. The “direct cinema” movement as we knew it has ended. 

These filmmakers made films about real people in real places, with no script or planned outcome. What was observed was captured with a camera. 

The result was often natural and raw footage that revealed truthfully what really happened instead of what actors thought would be interesting to an audience or what directors had intended.

The work of these direct cinema filmmakers became some of the most famous examples of documentary filmmaking in history. Some notable examples are “Primary”, “Don’t Look Back”, and “Hearts And Minds”.

The movement was well established by the late 1960s, but came to an end when funding dried up due to lack of interest from studios and television networks, who believed that audiences were only interested in entertainment films like “Jaws” rather than documentaries or serious dramas.