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What is Direct Cinema?

Throughout the history of motion picture making which began more than 100 years ago there have been a variety of genres and styles to develop as filmmaking has progressed year to year. Documentary films, in particular, have evolved in many ways to overcome the amateur, “home movie” style and quality that some of the earliest documentaries had during the direct cinema era. But what is direct cinema and what are some examples of films from the direct cinema genre?

What is Direct Cinema?

Direct cinema can be quite challenging to define. Closely resembling Cinema Verité and equally having some similarities to Free Cinema, Direct Cinema was a form of documentary filmmaking that was unique to North America and was particularly prominent in Canada.

Some would say that Direct Cinema differed from traditional documentary filmmaking. In the sense that it events recorded for this style of filmmaking appears to have been captured.

Without rehearsal, minimal editing was used, and those speaking during interviews or voiceover of this type of film performed without guidance or interruption. Which would allow their own motives, psychology, and attitudes to play out in the film.

Advance in Technology

Some would say that Direct Cinema was amateur, similar to a home video. This style of documentary filmmaking evolved throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Confined to the North American continent.

Direct Cinema is allegedly the direct result of technological advancements in the film industry. And a number of sociological changes that were then taking place in the world. 

Is Direct Cinema a Documentary Style?

Although Direct Cinema was largely for documentary filmmaking it is not technically a documentary style. Direct Cinema is a technique that had expansive use throughout the course of documentary filmmaking.

But it was not a form of documentary technique only. In fact, direct cinema was also an integral part in the creation of fiction films. Particularly when the technique of utilizing better technology to get closer to the subject.

And allow their natural flow of speech or action without interruption would provide a unique opportunity for the filmmaker to capture a variety of footage.

Fly on the Wall

Direct Cinema represented a sort of “fly on the wall” approach to filmmaking. In which the filmmaker would capture footage and dialogue with minimal direction or request from the Director.

This method of filmmaking wouldn’t last long, though. Because it was found to be amateur and of “low quality” when compared to the more planned, overseen and “directed” filmmaking. Which the majority of today’s dramas and documentaries include. 

In Summation

So, what is direct cinema? Direct cinema is a filmmaking technique with a North American focus. One can largely describe this as being similar to the French Cinema Verité in many ways although not technically the same thing.

Direct Cinema involved the use of hand-held imagery as real life events unfolded and the filmmaker would capture the reactions of the subject without any obtrusive direction or influence of the cinematographer’s presence causing altered outcomes.

Sometimes referred to as a fly-on-the-wall approach, you might recall the following films which were largely inspired by the Direct Cinematic techniques: The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield.