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What Does the Term “Direct Cinema” Refer To in Film?

Throughout the many years that filmmaking has been popular, there have been a variety of changes that have occurred to the techniques and processes that are used to produce the films we know and love. One particular filmmaking technique, known as Direct Cinema, became incredibly popular in the 1950s and 1960s for documentary filmmaking. But has recently come to light once again in the form of vlogging. But what does the term “Direct cinema” refer to in film? And how does early direct cinema apply to vlogging that so many individuals and families get involved in today?

BBP Cinematographer

What is Direct Cinema?

Direct cinema is a term that references a particular sub-genre of documentary filmmaking.

In which the Director and associated camera crew would observe and film the events as they occurred in real-time with minimal interruption from the crew.

Direct Cinema was very different from traditional documentary filmmaking in that there was significantly less equipment involved. The scenes that were shot were not staged for the camera.

And post-production editing was very minor in relation to the amount of film editing involved in traditional cinema from that time.

An Organic Experience

So what does the term “direct cinema” refer to? It’s referring to the fact that the Director would produce the film based largely on exactly what was taking place at the time.

Rather than based on staged events. Because the filming was direct, it was more informative and received significantly more attention than other forms of cinema from the same time period.

In fact, direct cinema was powerfully impressionable and fact oriented rather than opinionated. 

How is Direct Cinema like Vlogging?

Videographer Prepping Camera Gear 339

Although direct cinema is a term that comes from as far back as the 1950s, the very basic elements of bringing minimal equipment and using an unrehearsed.

And was filmed in an environment that was not staged, the outcomes were extremely realistic and more informative than entertaining.

You might be thinking, direct cinema sounds sort of familiar, and that’s because it is! Direct cinema is very close to what many of us do today which is vlogging.

You might even say that direct cinema is something like the early introduction of vlogging.

Direct cinema and vlogging had a number of elements in common including:

  • Direct cinema and vlogs both use minimal equipment in many cases.
  • Both use handheld cameras and keep the use of extensive equipment down to the basics.
  • Events for both direct cinema and vlogging are recorded as they take place. 
  • Very minimal editing is used in direct cinema. Although a bit more post-production editing might be involved in today’s vlogging.

A Minimal Approach

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s news reporters and documentarians would use direct cinema as a means of bringing their audiences with them.

As they documented their adventures and the events taking place around them.

The use of minimal equipment made direct cinema a favorable option. Despite technology updates bringing many more unique opportunities to the industry.

Particularly handheld cameras and just what was absolutely necessary for filming,

Post-Production Editing

While vlogging is a popular activity today, and it is similar to direct cinema from 75 years ago, most filmmakers make extensive use of editing software.

In order to achieve the desired video outcomes for family vlogs and the many other forms of video blogs which are so popular on YouTube, Facebook, and various other social media platforms today.

Post-production enhancements of many different types are incorporated into the otherwise “direct cinema” productions produced by many filmmakers.

As compared to what was so popular all those years ago.

Direct Cinema Revolutionary for Its Time

Although direct cinema may seem so minimal and as if there was really nothing “special” about it, that wasn’t the case for its time.

In fact, direct cinema was extremely popular for its time and it was revolutionary.

Prior to direct cinema, filmmakers used heavy equipment and incredibly obtrusive elements in order to film events as they occurred. Film crews were large and invasive.

Much of the filmmaking process was an invasive practice that really limited the ability for filmmakers to capture real time events or elements without interrupting.


As we seek to answer the question, “What does the term “direct cinema” refer to?” It’s really important to consider the timeframe upon which this term came about.

It was the 1950s and film crews and the equipment they used was bulky.

Cameras, film, reels, and the associated needs of a film crew resulted in the need for an incredibly large area to film within and a lack of authenticity when trying to capture events as they unfold.

More Realism

Direct cinema would bring about the hand-held camera. Which allowed for closer shots, more authentic looking subjects. And even more realism than we had ever before seen in filmmaking.

Stories could unfold as they would in real-time with events being documented in a way like never before.

In Summation

So, what does the term “direct cinema” refer to and why is it important to consider the impact that direct cinema had on filmmaking and the industry as it stands currently?

The term direct cinema stands for a “fly on the wall” technique of cinematic production in which documentary filmmaking would take on a non-interventionist approach.

Such that less invasion would take place in filmmaking and more natural, real-time filming could result.

Much like vlogs today, direct cinema took a scaled down, only bring what you need, non-interruptive approach to filming real-time events and documenting with minimal interruption from the filmmaker or film crew.