In the 1930s and 1940s, there was a British documentary film movement. It was called Documentary Film Movement and it was headed by John Grierson, who coined the term ‘documentary’.

He worked for the Empire Marketing Board in the 1920s and created many documentary film shorts.

The documentary film movement began in the UK in the early 1930s. The term itself came from a review of Robert Flaherty’s Moana, which was released in 1926.

The review said that Moana was ‘documentary’ because it showed people living in nature without using dramatic devices to heighten their reality.


Documentary Film Movement

What Is Documentary Film Movement?

The British documentary film movement began in the 1930s, and continued into the 1940s, with a group of filmmakers that shared a common desire to make socially relevant films.

They used non-fiction film to produce documentaries on subjects of social welfare, unemployment, housing, and education.

The movement emerged in the 1930s and 1940s, as a response to the widespread belief that documentaries could not only provide entertainment but also bring about social change.

John Grierson, who coined the term documentary film, believed that films could and should play a vital role in educating citizens and changing their perspectives.



What Is The Documentary Film Movement?

A film movement is a group of filmmakers who share a common set of aesthetic, ideological, or political attitudes.

The most prominent documentary film movement was the British Documentary Film Movement of the 1930s and 1940s, sometimes confused with the Free Cinema movement.

The 1930s and 1940s were a time when many non-fiction films were made in Britain.

At that time, the British government sought to boost morale and encourage national unity by showing movies about what life was like for ordinary citizens.

As a result, many films were made about everyday life during this period. These films were known as “documentaries.”

However, not all documentaries are created equal. Some documentaries are more objective than others.

For example, a documentary about a football game would probably be pretty objective because there is no way to distort what actually happened on the field.

However, if you wanted to make a documentary about poverty in your city and you focused only on poor people who live in one area, that documentary would be very subjective because it would be biased towards one group of individuals over another group (in this case, poor people vs rich people).

That’s why some documentaries are more objective than others – they don’t have any agenda or bias towards one group over another.


Documentary films have been around since the invention of film as an art form. But it wasn’t until the late 1920s and early 1930s that documentaries began to be seen as a distinct genre.

The term “documentary” was coined by Scottish filmmaker John Grierson for his films about British life, but it was American Pare Lorentz who really forged a new path for real-life filmmaking.

Lorentz made three government films in the 1930s: The Plow That Broke the Plains (1936), The River (1938) and Power and the Land (1940).

He emphasized telling a story with facts to provoke social change, a technique that influenced future documentarians like Robert Flaherty, who made Nanook of the North (1922) and Man of Aran (1934).

Documentaries began to bloom in the 1950s with a few influential films that would set precedents for nonfiction filmmakers:

  • Nanook Revisited (1950), the first sequel documentary,
  • Day of the Painter (1955), which focused on ordinary people instead of celebrities or historical figures, and
  • High School (1968), which blended fiction and documentary techniques.

These films became touchstones for documentary filmmakers, especially those in Canada and England.


The Economic Situation Of Interwar Britain And The Establishment Of E.M.B. Film Unit

These filmmakers were particularly pressing goals during the the worldwide depression created by the United States’ Great Depression period of the 190s.

Making films was very expensive in this era, so it was not yet possible for aspiring filmmakers to just borrow a camera and get started on their own.

Instead, filmmakers had to receive funding from existing organizations with access to equipment and resources.

The first wave of documentaries were made by filmmakers employed by the British government or funded by non-government organizations and labor unions.


These early films did not openly criticize the government or question its policies and practices; instead, they promoted social progressivism by highlighting poverty and other social issues.

These films were considered very effective in their time because they brought attention to significant issues while still being entertaining enough to attract large audiences.

The new genre really came into its own with Night Mail (1936), which combines narration with poetry set to music — a unique combination that captured the public’s attention.

Britain was a period of uncertainty and change; the old certainties that had governed society for generations had been lost and the future was unpredictable as new technologies were invented and industry changed at a rapid pace.

Society was experiencing an identity crisis as people questioned their traditional values and tried to understand what their role in the modern world would be.

In these circumstances, it is no wonder that people turned to new forms of entertainment such as cinema which offered escape from the everyday world and hope for a better future.

It is also understandable that the government became interested in using film to promote its message of hope and reassurance to a mostly working-class audience who were struggling with economic hardship after the First World War (and, indeed, many still were).

However, as this essay will argue, despite the best intentions of the government, the EMB Film Unit’s output proved to be largely ineffective propaganda because it failed to grasp what made cinema so popular with this audience: dramatic realism (in fact, some films made by EMB even went against this principle).


Film As Instrument Of Social Enquiry: The British Documentary Film Movement Of The 1930s

The emergence of the documentary film movement in Britain during the 1930s was a product of the social and economic climate of the time.The movement’s filmmakers’ decisions to use film as a medium for social enquiry and reform was an attempt to counterbalance the increasing commercialisation of cinema during the era.

Both the rise of Hollywood in America, and the arrival of a new technology known as sound, had served to make cinema an increasingly profitable industry during this period.Whilst these developments were welcomed by many, others felt that they did not reflect the social change which they felt was necessary as a result of both the Great Depression and the political developments taking place in Europe at this time.

Towards The Social Documentary Movement, In 1932, John Grierson, who was considered to be one of Britain’s leading film critics, argued that: “The potentialities of the cinema as a medium for social observation and reform have never been developed.”

Grierson went on to suggest that it would be possible to use film as a means by which to educate people about social issues such as poverty, unemployment and slums.

Grierson believed that if such issues were brought to light through this new medium it would be possible for people to become more aware of them and thus take action against them.

History Of The Documentary Film Movement

 The documentary film movement is a term applied to a group of films made mainly in the 1930s and 1940s that were innovative in their use of cinematic style, content, and social impact. It is a movement in the sense that it had no particular goal or agenda; rather, it was an organic development that represented the democratic spirit of its time.

The documentary film movement began with Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North (1922), which Flaherty filmed on location in northern Canada at a time when the world was discovering the exotic cultures of faraway places. The film was widely acclaimed as a realistic depiction of life among Inuit tribe members and elicited much interest in ethnographic films.

Some films made during this period include Drifters (1929) by John Grierson, considered to be one of the founding fathers of British documentary; Goodbye to All That (1929) by Basil Wright; and The Voice of the Desert (1930), also by Wright.Convinced that documentaries could have a great impact on society if they were entertaining as well as informative, Grierson founded England’s General Post Office Film Unit in 1930.

Documentary Film Movement Filmmakers

The Documentary Film Movement, also known as the British Documentary Movement and the Great Depression in America had its origins in the 1920s.It was a time of economic prosperity and change.

The world was recovering from the ravages of World War I and moving into an age of mass production.People were starting to move from rural areas to cities to find new jobs at factories.

There was also a rise in leisure time, as well as a desire for more entertainment, which brought about changes in culture, art and music.Toward the end of this period came the Great Depression.

As economic times got harder, people became even more disillusioned with the government’s ability to help them lead better lives. They started looking for other ways to improve their lot through different kinds of organizations and collectives.

This was a time when film began to gain popularity. People could now go see movies at theaters, or even have their own projectors at home for viewing films made by others.

This gave people one more way to see how others lived, worked or enjoyed themselves.Films also helped create some political awareness among those who might not otherwise have been concerned with politics, or who might have been too busy working or struggling just to survive day-to-day lives to be able.

Documentary Film Movement Films

Welcome to, a collection of documentary films from the 20th Century. This website is a resource for film lovers, students, scholars and anyone else interested in film, who also wishes to learn more about the history of documentary film making.

Documentary Film Movement Films was launched as an experiment with some of my own films on the subject of early cinema. It works well as a resource, because there are no other sites that I know of that have all these films available in one place.

The Documentary Film Movement was a rebellion against the fiction film industry in the UK during the 1920s.

The people involved were dissatisfied with what they called “fiction factory” filmmaking methods and wanted to make more realistic films.These filmmakers tried to record life from moment to moment as it happened and not to change anything for dramatic effect like Hollywood did at the time.

Documentary Film Movement Films is dedicated to this idea and we try our best to only provide historical information about these films that is truthful, accurate and not altered for entertainment or editorial purposes.


Documentary Film Movement Theory

Many people who make documentaries have not been formally educated in documentary film. Instead, they have learned through working with other filmmakers.

The most common way of learning the craft is by working with an experienced filmmaker as a trainee.Most modern directors would not learn their trade without some sort of formal or informal apprenticeship system.

Telling stories in film is an art form that has been around for less than 100 years. It is still developing and becoming more sophisticated as technology progresses and the audience’s expectations change.

It is an art form that will never be perfected, because human beings are always changing and the world around us is constantly changing.There are various schools of thought about what makes a great documentary film.

This article will attempt to explore each movement that has contributed to the overall development of documentary film theory.Brechtian: the Brechtian Film Movement was developed by German playwright Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) in the 1920s and 1930s.

He felt that documentary films should educate and inform the audience while entertaining them at the same time.He believed that audiences should be able to understand the piece as a whole and not just individual parts at a time.

Importance Of Documentary Film Movement

The concept of documentary film making can be explained as non-fiction or non-fictional motion pictures which are also known as factual films. The word “documentary” implies a certain approach to the film’s content and its production, which distinguishes it from films centered on fiction.

The film form has been around since the very beginning of cinema itself. However, early films such as “Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory” (1895) were more recordings of events than a means to express any particular artistic vision.

The documentarian film was pioneered in its most basic form by Auguste and Louis Lumiere in France in 1895.They shot footage of workers leaving their factories and families going about their daily lives with the intent to share these images at public screenings for educational purposes.

The Lumiére brothers were the first to make a moving picture that captured an actual event. The first modern documentary is considered to be “The Gold Rush” (1925) by Charles Chaplin.

It is a film showing Chaplin’s experiences in Alaska during the Klondike Gold Rush.It is also one of the earliest examples of movie-making where scenes are shot following a narrative story line (as opposed to just capturing random events).


The End Of Documentary Film Movement

Like the past, this summer is a great time to be alive. But perhaps no time in history has been better than now to be a documentary director.

Tortoise or hare? That’s the big question. The answer? Both, of course.

The long-forgotten “documentary movement” of the 1920s through the 1940s saw progressive directors like Dziga Vertov and Robert Flaherty build a new form of nonfiction storytelling that was just as much about technique and experimentation as it was about capturing reality on film.

While there are still plenty of documentarians who subscribe to that free-form approach, there is a competing trend within documentary film, one that favors formal perfection over loose innovation; one that celebrates the traditional cinematic craft of editing and sound design more than it does shooting on an iPhone; one that relies on Hollywood stars rather than nonactors; and one that favors the “story” over “reality.”

This is how we came to have two distinct flavors of documentary: one rooted in the 1920s, which takes a “making-of” approach to shooting any subject matter (the work being done by filmmakers behind the scenes); and another rooted in the 1940s, which uses classic Hollywood techniques (narration, interviews.

Ready to learn about some other Film Movements or Film History?