Digital age: truth and lies of documentary films

Written by Liang Xiong

Digital age leads to revolutionary change for the creation and spreading of documentary films. Do analogue images and reenactments violate the truth of documentary films?

“Perceptual realism, then, is central to understanding visual effects in cinema, the goal of effects artists, and the credibility that the effects image seeks to elicit among viewers “(Prince, 2012, P34).


The concept of image truth has always been challenged since films were born. The idea of truth refers to the unity of the subject reality and perception reality for documentary films. Real life is reflected and presented in documentary films. The subjects are obtained from real life. Directors select, summarise, extract and combine actual matters through documentary mode. Documentary film is an approach for the audience to comprehend the world or obtain knowledge. A sense of truth and psychological satisfaction can be gained by watching documentary films.

“Through the desire to achieve perfect photographic credibility, perceptual realism in digital images reproduces and reinforces deeply recalcitrant cultural norms of depiction. Nevertheless, this desire is paradoxical, in that computational processes, and the automatisms derived from them, fuel powerful countercurrents that reconfigure these norms, shifting the function of screens and challenging spectators to reconsider the very concept of the image” (Rodowick, 2007, p101-102).

Analogue images and reenactments are used due to actual causes. Pictures of the real world cannot be obtained actually during the production of documentary films. Reconstruction or digital virtual images are adopted for expressing events which have occurred or will occur in the objective world by facts, such as disaster and war scene. Documentary films show richer visual and sound special effects with the help of digital technology.


Documentary film pursues the truth of art and perceptual reality recognised by the audience. Digital technology expands the expression space of documentary films. The definition of the documentary film should be diversified and multidimensional between reality and analogue images. Documentary films will show richer artistic reality in digital age under the precondition of following objective truth.



Prince, S. (2012). Digital visual effects in cinema: The seduction of reality. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Rodowick, D.N.N. (2007). The virtual life of film. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

BBC Genghis Khan. YouTube. Available from:  [Accessed 19 March 2017].


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