Documentary Film Analysis – Helpful Steps Task: Please answer all of the

Documentary Film Analysis – Helpful Steps


Please answer all of the following in order to prepare for your upcoming essay on a documentary film. Be sure to take a look at all of the films on the prompt and pick them one you are most interested in analyzing. The work you do is here is pre-writing for your essay.

Step 1. Pre-viewing

Title of Documentary?

Date Released?

Principle documentary maker(s)?

Why did you select this particular documentary for this assignment?

What do you think you will see in this documentary? List three concepts or ideas that you might expect to see based on the title of the documentary or list what you already know about this documentary.

Step 2. Viewing

Determine type of documentary (check all that apply – many films are a combination of more than one of these):

Advocacy for social concerns



Community History


“How To”


News/Special Events

Ideological Argument

Skits & Spoofs


Physical qualities of the film: Explain all of the qualities below as they are used in your film. How do the following ontribute to creating an atmosphere in this documentary?


Live action

Narration/voice over:

Background noise

Special effects


Color/Black and white

Interviews (Who did the filmmaker interview and for what purpose?)

Dramatizations or reenactments

Camera angles


What is the mood or tone of the documentary? What emotions does the documentary evoke in its viewers?

Step 3. Post-viewing (or repeated viewing)

Answer the following:

What is/are the central message(s) of this documentary? Be specific. Use examples from the documentary to support your choice.

Discuss the subjectivity in the documentary (point of view of the filmmakers).

Consider the effectiveness of the film in communicating its message. As a tool of communication, what are its strengths and weaknesses?

How do you think the filmmakers wanted the audience to respond? What evidence is there that the filmmaker was looking for this response?

Does this film appeal to the viewer’s reason? What about emotion? How does it build credibility? Explain the role of each rhetorical appeal in this documentary.

Write a question to the filmmaker that is left unanswered by his/her documentary. Do you believe the question was left unanswered purposefully? Why or why not?

Once you have answered / brainstormed through these steps you are ready to start working on your essay. Remember that rhetorical analysis is thinking about the structure of someone else’s argument in an effort to evaluate the effectiveness of the choices the creator of the text has made. You are focused on HOW the film is getting its point across.