Reality and Authenticity and Documentary Films

Film Analysis Essay

Documentary films employ different forms of evidence to underpin their claims of reality, authenticity, and their method of presentation. However, these films often straddle the categories of fact, fiction, art, and knowledge. This document aims at analyzing different solutions and approaches in the documentary genre by selecting and comparing three documentaries. The analysis includes a critical examination that utilizes specific examples of scenes to compare different elements within the films. Secondly, this document will examine the objectives of each film to establish their cultural and political significance. The discussions contained herein are imperative because they will help validate the subsequent critical literature of the films regarding the original texts.

Comparing and Contrasting the Documentary Films

It is imperative to compare and contrast the three documentary films to discuss the different solutions and approaches to the documentary genre. Four elements have been selected to develop the comprehensive critical analysis. First, the three films had a similar objective, and they all employed the same forms of aesthetics to convey their message, which played a key role in supporting their reality and authenticity claims. Bowling for Columbine was a 2002 documentary film produced and directed by Michael Moore whose main objective was to educate his audience about the main causes for the Columbine High School massacre in 1999 (Brown & Merritt, 2008). Moore’s decisions to focus on the massacre and to release the film three years after the incidence had taken place were imperative in increasing its realism because there was sufficient time to gather information and conduct comprehensive investigations to ascertain the claims presented in the documentary. Additionally, the aesthetics of the films have underpinned its claims of authenticity by featuring Moore in some of the scenes. For example, one of the early scenes shows a bank in Michigan that issues free hunting rifles to customers who make large deposits. The scene shows Moore as he moves around the bank filling a deposit form before leaving the premise holding a brand new Weatherby rifle, and asks” do you think it is dangerous handing out guns at a bank?” (Borda, Harold, Rosteck, at al., 2015). Mintz (2005) notes that asking a question in the film was one of Moore’s ways of connecting with his audience to support the claims he had made regarding banks using guns as incentives to open accounts.

An Inconvenient Truth is a 2006 documentary written and directed by Davis Guggenheim. The film’s objectives and the aesthetics employed conveyed a message which had a significant influence on how the audience perceived the authenticity of the facts presented by Guggenheim. The film aimed at educating the audience on former US Vice precedent Al Gore’s campaign that focused on global warming. The aesthetics employed are similar to those used by Moore which included Guggenheim’s personal estimates and experiences. The main contrast between the film and Moore’s work is that it utilizes slide shows to convey its core message. The Exit Through the Gift Shop was a British film written and directed by Bansky and sought to tell the story of a French immigrant living in Los Angeles who was obsessed with street art.

The main objective of the film and its aesthetics supported Bansky’s claim of reality and authenticity because most of the scenes show Thierry Guetta, the French artist, journey to becoming one of the greatest artists. There are four main differences regarding the film’s objectives and aesthetics employed, and identifying these differences is imperative in establishing solutions to the underlying authenticity issues in the documentary genre. First, the lack of scientific evidence to support reality claims in Moore’s and Bansky’s films undermined their authenticity, but Guggenheim’s work is different from the two films because it is based on scientific facts. Rosteck and Frentz (2009) note that scientific evidence plays a key role in underpinning authenticity claims within the documentary genre, and producers and directors should focus on incorporating empirical research and theories in their work to solve these issues.

The key themes that Guggenheim chose to focus at supported the film’s authenticity claims because they outlined genuine global warming issues and sought to educate the audience about climate change.  Guggenheim’s work capitalized on the fact that people are more likely to relate with the dangers associated with global warming and the consequences of human behavior regarding the current climate change to support his authenticity claims.  Rosteck and Frentz (2009) note that Guggenheim’s work is an influential film because throughout its presentation,  several persuasive techniques have been used to underpin the films authenticity claims. First, Guggenheim employs the technique of creating fear to his audience. The slides used contained graphic images that Rosteck and Frentz (2009) note might have exaggerated the real extent of the problem. Nevertheless, the technique is effective because the film is able to persuade the audience that the situation is far worse and more real than subsequent research had depicted. Finn (2003) argues that the use of fear in making documentary films is an effective strategy that can change people’s attitudes especially when the producers provide a plausible way in which the fear presented can be overcome either by changing behavior, or recycling as was the case with Guggenheim’s film.

 Secondly, Guggenheim uses guilt to try and support his authenticity claims. The film makes the audience feel guilty so that they can change their attitudes and behaviors by emphasizing how the current global problems would have been avoided had everyone acted more responsibly. By making the audience feel guilty, Guggenheim is able to present a solution that can stop climate change from getting worse. The first scenes of the film begin by using the guilt tactic by stating that “if you love your planet, children you have to see this film” (Rosteck & Frentz, 2009). This message was the main slogan for marketing the film and implied that those who failed to watch the film or listen to its message did not love their children or care about the survival of the environment they live in, thereby underpinning the film’s claims of authenticity.

The three films were similar in that they aimed at presenting the spectator with factual information about the world they live in. However, Guggenheim’s work was more successful in underpinning his authenticity claims because the film sought to make a rhetoric argument. Moore’s work was also successful in employing techniques that predisposed his audience to a specific view of the 1999 massacre. Moore’s film was expository in nature because it sought to address the audience directly using scenes that propose a perspective and advance specific arguments. Moore’s work was tailored to maintain the continuity of contentious arguments that often displayed a sense of bias towards the subject matter, which undermined the film’s authenticity claims.      

Though the three films had a significant impact on the social-cultural and political environments, Guggenheim work impact was experienced globally. The film’s objectives, aesthetics, and significance to the social-cultural and political factors were underpinned by strong scientific facts that Guggenheim presented to his audience through slides. As a result, unlike the other two films, Guggenheim’s work can change public policy and social-cultural values.

According to Briley (20005), Moore’s work is greatly idealized and demonized and attributes much of his criticism to Moore’s inducement of the then Bush administration regarding the haste in it went into war with Iraq. Moore’s inability to use available evidence to support the reality and authenticity claims of his work attracted critics who accused him of producing propaganda that was comparable to Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will (Briley, 2005).

In conclusion, the three films have employed different forms of evidence to support their claims of authenticity. However, Moore and Bansky have straddled between the categories of fact, fiction, art, and knowledge. Moore’s film sought to educate his audience on the 1999 massacre, but his lack of empirical research and scientific evidence has undermined his claims that the film is authentic. Additionally, the audience perceived Bansky’s work as being fictional rather than real. From the analysis conducted, Guggenheim’s film is the most realistic and has far reaching implications than the other two films. The comparisons carried out herein suggest that the film was not the most entertaining about Moore’s and Bansky’s work, but it might have been the most socially and culturally  significant documentary film.


Borda, J. L., Harold, C., Ott, B. L., Rosteck, T., Frentz, T. S., Schiappa, E., & Phillips, K. R. (2015). Michael Moore and the rhetoric of documentary. Carbondale, Ill: SIU Press.

Briley, R. (2005). Michael Moore Heats it Up. Film & History: An interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies, 35 (2), 10-11.

Brown, B., & Merritt, R. (2002). No easy answers: The truth behind death at Columbine. New York, NY: Lantern Books.

Finn. P. (2003). Bowling for Columbine. Film & History: An interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies, 33 (1), 65-66.

Mintz, S. (2005). Michael Moore and the Re-Birth of the Documentary. Film & History: An interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies, 35 (2), 10-11.

Rosteck. T., & Frentz. T.S. (2009). Myth and Multiple Readings in Environmental Rhetoric: The Case of An Inconvenient Truth. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 8(4), 37-47.


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