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Free Documentaries Essay Examples & Topics

Free Documentaries Essay Examples & Topics

Watching documentaries is a great way to learn new things. These are films that shape and interpret facts for education and entertainment of their viewers. It has several social functions, which are to record, preserve, and reveal, and persuade. This form of motion films also aims to entertain and educate.

If you are struggling to write a good documentary essay, our experts have combined some helpful tips for you here. So, no need to worry.

First and foremost, you should find a topic. Focus on something you are genuinely passionate about. Think about the cause that matters to you: maybe it’s climate change, slavery, environmental cause, ocean pollution, or perhaps it’s something else. It is essential to find something that speaks to you. This way, you won’t struggle with composing your paper.

You can also find a list of essay topics for your documentary research below, checking our samples. Yet, to pick the right idea, we first need to understand what film types are available.

There are several genres of documentaries:

  • Expository documentaries. Such films present objective information with a ubiquitous presence. The filmmaker usually does not appear on the screen.
  • Poetic documentaries. They rely heavily on images and music rather than narration. That is to say, there is little verbal communication with the audience.
  • Essayistic documentaries. These movies feature an essay-like narration. The filmmaker relies both on speech and on the images to make their point.
  • Observational documentaries. They try to demonstrate an objective record of some activity. It almost does not have music and narration and tries to present the event as-it-is.
  • Participatory documentaries. The films are the complete opposite of observational ones. The filmmaker is an active participant in the movie. They appear on the screen and communicate the subject.
  • Performance documentaries. These movies feature a dramatic performance. It can be a concert, a play, or another performance event recorded in the form of a documentary.
  • Interview films. These are the records of a conversation between two or more people. It relies on communication on-screen to deliver the message rather than on images and music.
  • Dramatization. This type recreates an event using actors to bring the viewer to the event. Some argue that it is not a form of documentary.
  • Mixed documentaries. The films use different modes and techniques. It can combine poetic, expository, interview modes at the same time.
  • Animation films. Such movies are standard, too, and their most distinctive feature is the use of animation to present the material.

As for your documentary essay assignment, you can be asked to work with any documentary. Let’s figure out what tasks you will need to fulfill beforehand.

Movie Review vs. Movie Analysis

Not everyone understands the difference between a movie review and a movie analysis when watching movies and writing essays about the material. Sometimes these two terms are used interchangeably. Nevertheless, when it comes to grading and evaluating the paper, this difference is essential.

  • A film review essay is a “consumer-oriented” judgment that aims to recommend (or not) a movie. One can find documentary review essay examples in the newspapers, websites, or online databases.
  • An analysis of the film usually offers an interpretation and an evaluation of the movie. Some film theory is generally used as a framework to analyze and interpret the feature.

You can center your documentary essay assignment around not only a specific film but an entire genre of documentaries. You might be asked to write about a specific topic or an aspect of one movie in depth. Let’s try to see how it works!

How to Write a Documentary Essay

When you are asked to write an essay about a documentary, there are expectations. You will need to analyze specific elements in one film or a few.

No matter what your assignment is, we are here to help you nail it! Here is a short guide on how to write a documentary essay:

  1. Watch the documentary (and take notes). We highly recommended watching the film several times before you start writing anything. Throughout this process, you should take notes to recall essential elements later on. Schematically express your ideas and arguments.
  2. Choose your perspective. You need to understand the approach you will be using. However, your position should be supported by the examples and ideas from the film. Search for what others think and say on a similar issue and compare it to your thoughts.
  3. Pick what to discuss. After that, you need to start collecting the examples and ideas from the movie that support your viewpoint. All these elements should eventually connect to the main focus of your paper. You can try to do some additional research but do not forget to return to the movie continually.
  4. Outline your essay. The outline will help you stay within the word limit. This way, you’ll structure your thoughts and ideas on the paper before you start your essay. Plus, you will remain close to the intended format while writing.
  5. Write it! Start with a brief introduction about the documentary and your thesis statement at the end of it. Then, evaluate the film, developing your arguments logically. In your conclusion, restate your position on the matter and list the critical points discussed.

Thank you for reading this article till the very end! We hope you found it helpful. Share this page with those who need our help. For your inspiration, you can check the list of documentary essay examples below.

232 Best Essay Topics on Documentaries

“The People’s Republic of Capitalism” Documentary

The central themes of The People's Republic of Capitalism are the intricacies of the Chinese experiment with capitalism restrained by the authoritarian government and interdependence of American and Chinese economies.
  • Pages: 3
  • Words: 968

“Merchants of Doubt” Documentary on Global Warming

When applying some of Rawls' concepts of justice to the situation described in Merchants of Doubt, it becomes clear that the actions of tobacco companies and such public figures and scientists as Frederick Singer who [...]
  • Pages: 2
  • Words: 668

“Thin Blue Line” by Errol Morris

In "Thin Blue Line," Morris turns his attention to the wrongful conviction of Texan Randall Adams, who was arrested and prosecuted for the murder of a police officer instead of the actual murderer.
  • Pages: 11
  • Words: 1127

The Documentary Film “Flow: For Love of Water”

First, the issue in question is in direct relation to the welfare of the entire planet's population, and the film makes a convincing case that there are reasons to worry. In the end, I believe [...]
  • Pages: 2
  • Words: 638

Themes in “I Am” Documentary by Tom Shadyac

Shadyac wanted to tell everyone what he had come to know: that the world was a lie, and the activities which he had always considered to be improving it were, in fact, destroying it. I [...]
  • Pages: 3
  • Words: 876

“Restrepo” Documentary Film Rating

The movie is about the efforts of Junger and Hetherington who spent a year with B Company the second platoon that was sent to a combat zone in Afghanistan.
  • Pages: 2
  • Words: 849

Korean Women in “Habitual Sadness” Documentary

In developing the film, the director attempts to record important events within the history of Korea and inform the viewer about the past and experiences of the people during the Second World War.
  • Pages: 2
  • Words: 307

Scientific Racism: the Eugenics of Social Darwinism

I think that the development of Scientific Racism and further Eugenics became the result of people's attempts to justify their unethical behavior toward other individuals and to support their material goals to develop slavery, and [...]
  • Pages: 2
  • Words: 575

The Century of the Self: Video Summary

This part concentrates on the changes the newly elected President Roosevelt was making to lead America out of the economic crisis, the alternatives to democracy that were being sought around the world, and Bernays' later [...]
  • Pages: 3
  • Words: 913

“Rosie: Stories from the Home Front” Video Summary

The second part introduces the main heroines of the documentary the women who started working in industries at an early age to support the economy of the war-stricken country and features their stories about the [...]
  • Pages: 3
  • Words: 1017

The Documentary “The Murder of Emmett Till”

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The current paper discusses a documentary, "The Murder of Emmett Till," which presents the story of the death of Emmet Till, one of the most known victims of racial violence in the USA, and briefly [...]
  • Pages: 2
  • Words: 646

“Super Size Me” Documentary by Morgan Spurlock

The movie is a documentary on an experiment conducted on filmmaker Spurlock by himself so as to reveal the effects of eating fast foods. The movie concludes by authoritatively stating that fast foods are hazardous [...]
  • Pages: 3
  • Words: 841

“Born into Brothels” Documentary Analysis

Title of the film: Born into Brothels: Calcutta Red Light Kids Date released: January 17, 2004 Producers: Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman I selected this movie due to the controversies that surround it.
  • Pages: 2
  • Words: 749

Default: The Student Loan Documentary Critique

The documentary features personal student stories, as well as professional comments from the Student Loan Justice official, emphasizing that it is rather corporate than personal irresponsibility to blame for the existing situation.
  • Pages: 2
  • Words: 200

“Super Size Me” Documentary by Morgan Spurlock

Talking about the ethical side of the movie Super Size Me and its hard critics of McDonald's and the style of life offered by this company, it is necessary to admit that its author, Morgan [...]
  • Pages: 3
  • Words: 1059

The 2008 Banking Crisis in the Documentary “Inside Job”

Using the documentary "Inside Job", the paper presented below asserts that the malpractices of different banking experts, the ethical dilemma revolving around ratings agencies' actions, and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley and the Glass-Steagall Acts influenced the nature [...]
  • Pages: 5
  • Words: 1412

“Sun Ra: A Joyful Noise” Documentary Analysis

The overall essence of the film can be characterized as musically and visually complex due to the combination of seemingly separate worlds: Ra's deep philosophical monologues and the Arkestra's banter about Ra and his contribution [...]
  • Pages: 6
  • Words: 1665

The Documentary “Supplements and Safety”

The Frontline documentary, "Supplements and Safety," provides a thorough and insightful description of the main problems existing in the supplement industry: safety, regulation, and efficacy.
  • Pages: 3
  • Words: 900

The Documentary “The Lost Libraries of Timbuktu”

The historic and exotic city is positioned strategically north of the large Niger River on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. The text written in the margins was added after the original text of [...]
  • Pages: 3
  • Words: 1254

“The Great Depression: 1929-1939” Documentary

Despite the promises given by the President and the leaders of finance, the situation did not improve. The narrator remarks that people were losing hope, and no one knew how to improve the situation.
  • Pages: 1
  • Words: 272

“Unacceptable Levels”: Film Analysis

The film describes the development of the chemical industry that began in the middle of the 20th century. This issue occurred for the first time in the history of the United States.
  • Pages: 2
  • Words: 590

Barrios and Barriers: The Tucson Civil Rights Era

Although the second decade of the 21st century seems to be far away from the events described in the film racial issues continue to be one of the most heated topics not only in Arizona [...]
  • Pages: 2
  • Words: 662

The Documentary “Last Train Home”

The social issues that have been shown in the documentary are living condition of migrant workers in cities, the growing gap between the children and their absentee parents, and the change in the position of [...]
  • Pages: 5
  • Words: 1385

“Nostalgia for the Light” by Patricio Guzman

The reason for this is apparent the deployment of such an approach will naturally prompt the audience to think of what is being discussed as such that directly relates to what happened to be their [...]
  • Pages: 3
  • Words: 830

The Documentary “Genocide”

According to the documentary, genocide is the outcome of mass hysteria. After that, the international community will be able to have an impact on the decisions of political leaders.
  • Pages: 2
  • Words: 648

“Freedom Riders” by Stanley Nelson

Having invited many participants and witnesses to star in the movie and having included numerous original recordings of the events that happened in 1961, Nelson became able to create a profoundly impressive account of one [...]
  • Pages: 3
  • Words: 917

The Documentary “Immigration Battle”

In their documentary Immigration Battle film, Shari Robertson and Michael Camerini show the human factor and the guilt of both the Democrats and the Republicans regarding this failure to end the deportations.
  • Pages: 3
  • Words: 853

The Documentary “Triumph of the Nerds”

The introduction of personal computers to the market revolutionized almost every aspect of human life today."Triumph of the Nerds" is a 1996 documentary about the history of personal computing since the creation of the first [...]
  • Pages: 2
  • Words: 675

“Street Fight” a Film by Cory Booker

The main goal of this paper is to discuss the concepts of leadership and power, using examples that are presented in a film Street Fight. His slogans emphasized the importance of changes in the leadership [...]
  • Pages: 2
  • Words: 561

Oman in “Routes of Incense to Those of Black Gold”

However, these symbols are also used in the documentary in order to accentuate the direction in the author's story from discussing different ways followed by the country during its development to accentuating the core of [...]
  • Pages: 9
  • Words: 2490

The Documentary “Inequality for All?”

As competition continues to become fierce in the global market, more companies will be expected to engage in different malpractices thus threatening the lives of more people. Experts also believe that this problem will continue [...]
  • Pages: 2
  • Words: 557

Hip Hop Culture in “The Otherside” Documentary

Regardless numerous discussions about Hip Hop, this culture remains to be a considerable part of human life that helps to understand that such issue as racial profiling is not only something that is required by [...]
  • Pages: 2
  • Words: 551

“Race – The Power of an Illusion” Documentary

One of the most amazing facts uncovered in the process of viewing the first episode of the "Race The Power of an Illusion" documentary is that people of different races have significant genetic coincidences.
  • Pages: 2
  • Words: 321

The Status of Jamaica in the “Life and Debt”

Jamaica was one of the countries that benefitted from the IMF and the World Bank funds. The money from the financiers required a structured payment that the country could not live up to immediately.
  • Pages: 2
  • Words: 591

The Documentary “Life and Debt”

The film aims to analyze the relation of the IMF to the process of globalization. The process of globalization and the cooperation of the countries with the IMF are affecting the countries of the third [...]
  • Pages: 2
  • Words: 484

The Documentary “How Hackers Changed the World?”

The documentary provides detailed information, as to what were the process's sub-sequential phases, while presenting the audience with the excerpts from the interviews with the most prominent members of Anonymous and promoting the idea that [...]
  • Pages: 5
  • Words: 277

Documentary Films Concept and Definition

The definition of documentary films addresses such features as the level of control, the institutional base, the structure of texts, and the attitude towards viewers.
  • Pages: 5
  • Words: 1356

The Movie “The Central Park Five”

The movie "The Central Park Five" is a vivid example of the way mass media have distorted the truth and led to the imprisonment of five innocent men.
  • Pages: 2
  • Words: 584

The Documentary “Nas: Time Is Illmatic”

In the documentary film entitled Nas: Time is Illmatic dedicated to the twentieth anniversary of the Nas' debut album, the history of the musician's life and the album is revealed to the viewer.
  • Pages: 3
  • Words: 545

The Documentary “Muscle Shoals”

The challenge of the musicians described in the movie was that they struggled to find their own styles and sound to compete with the mainstream music of the time.
  • Pages: 2
  • Words: 581

“Slavery by Another Name” Documentary

To assure the existence of the social and historical support, the movie is presented in the form of the documentary and can be viewed by an extended audience to spread awareness about the drawbacks of [...]
  • Pages: 4
  • Words: 1206

The Documentary “The Lost World of Communism”

Romania was no exception, and the period from the 1960s to the 1980s is known as an epoch of the Ceausescu dictatorship. It reveals the dreadful truth about the power of the Ceausescu family and [...]
  • Pages: 2
  • Words: 649

“Wild Carpathia III” by Charlie Ottley

This area can be named the heart and soul of rural Romania because ancient traditions and customs are carefully kept there despite the globalization and modernization of the world. There is no spirit of death; [...]
  • Pages: 2
  • Words: 455

The Documentary: “Wild Carpathia in Romania”

What was particularly interesting is that the area is a rare example of almost pristine nature and forest life in the entire Europe, which means that Wild Carpathia has a great potential in being an [...]
  • Pages: 2
  • Words: 400

“The Cove” a Documentary by Rick O’Barry

In a bombshell revelation, the documentary purports that the Japanese populous is mostly unaware of the activities that go on in the cove. In the end, O'Barry has to be escorted out of the meeting [...]
  • Pages: 2
  • Words: 573

“The World According to Monsanto” Documentary

The company has been criticized for a long time by the ecological organizations and opponents of GMOs; in 2013, 2014 and 2015 the waves of protest against the company spread across the world.
  • Pages: 2
  • Words: 573

“NOVA: Battle of the X-Planes” Documentary

The documentary film NOVA: Battle of the X-Planes throws light on the functioning of the aircraft industry. In particular, much attention is paid to the cooperation of companies representing this industry with military agencies, especially [...]
  • Pages: 2
  • Words: 577

Social Issues in “Born into Brothels” Film

It is possible to apply the feminist theory to consider a family featured in the film. In Shanti's family, this is also the case, and her mother is afraid of her daughter's future as the [...]
  • Pages: 2
  • Words: 593

“The 11th Hour” Environmental Documentary

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Thus, to overcome the catastrophic events and to predict the worsening of the situation, it is important to answer questions about the causes of the processes and the ways to cope with the ecological crisis.
  • Pages: 3
  • Words: 805

“Expo: The Magic of the White City”

One of the details that can attract attention of the viewers is that the film-makers include many vivid photographs which highlight the magnificence of this exposition.
  • Pages: 2
  • Words: 573

“Her Brilliant Career” a Documentary by Jean Holland

The documentary supports the writings about the gender discrimination by illustrating how the vice is perpetuated in the workplace. There are a number of solutions that can be implemented to end gender discrimination in the [...]
  • Pages: 3
  • Words: 826

Documentary Movie Analysis: “Jesus Camp”

Through the roles played by Tory, Rachael and Levi, the audience is in a position to understand events in the camp, the learning process and purported gifts that children can use to draw America back [...]
  • Pages: 2
  • Words: 610

The Documentary “The Invisible War”

The systematic cover-ups of assault cases illuminate how patriarchy and the lack of accountability have made sexual violence against servicewomen to persist in the military.
  • Pages: 6
  • Words: 1654

“The Massacre” Episode of “The War of Lebanon”

The movies include interviews with key figures that took place in the events, as well as with eyewitnesses, and contain vast visual evidence filmed during the time of war."The Massacre" is the tenth episode of [...]
  • Pages: 3
  • Words: 863

‘Obama’s Deal’ Documentary Analysis

After the struggle which was won by the president following the singing of the health reform, a surprise in the support that the president and his party had enjoyed was realized to have faded from [...]
  • Pages: 2
  • Words: 584

African-Americans in the Documentary “Pride”

The film is commendable due to its appeal in overcoming racial barriers of prejudice, racism, and stereotype projected against African-American by proving that blacks are equally capable to the whites. The cultural differences and ways [...]
  • Pages: 2
  • Words: 562

“Daughter from Danang” a Film by Gail Dolgin

For instance, in the movie, 'Daughter from Danang', Heidi's adoptive mother plays a major role in terms of showing her the need to forego her Vietnamese culture in order to fit into the American way [...]
  • Pages: 3
  • Words: 977

The Documentary “Taboo: Blood Bonds”

One of the things that attracted my attention is that women have to ensure the wellbeing of children almost independently, while their spouses do not have to take many responsibilities. This is one of the [...]
  • Pages: 2
  • Words: 566

“The Other F-Word”: Documentary Film

The analysis attempts to develop a comprehensive understanding of the identities and identity formation through music and the consequences of these identities to the individuals involved.
  • Pages: 7
  • Words: 2052

“The Guide: A Biologist in Gorongosa”

Since the movie titled The Guide: A Biologist in Gorongosa sheds some light on the specifics of the Gorongosa nature and helps understand the connection between its key elements, it can be considered a rather [...]
  • Pages: 2
  • Words: 299

Cuban Missile Crisis Documentary

During a long period of time, the government of the Soviet Union denied the fact of the presence of their missiles in Cuba.
  • Pages: 2
  • Words: 567

“Please Vote for Me”

There is no use denying the fact that it is one of the most fast-growing economies in the world and, that is why it is rather efficient and, moreover, it is possible to predict the [...]
  • Pages: 4
  • Words: 1136

“Cuban Missile Crisis: Three Men Go To War”

The film Cuban Missile Crisis: Three Men Go To War produced by the Public Broadcasting Service throws light on the actions of the political leaders who were involved in the confrontation that could result in [...]
  • Pages: 2
  • Words: 553

Jero: A Balinese Trance Séance Documentary

The film about Jero, the Balinese medium, is designed to document her professional performance, catch the details of the ritual on tape and present it from the anthropological point of view, the filmmakers do not [...]
  • Pages: 4
  • Words: 1122
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