The Reality of Documentary in Digital Era

The initial impression audience had of films was thrilling, which came from its representation of reality. A century later, with the increasing development of technology, the distinction between real and unreal has blurred, like when CGI brings Kennedy alive in Forrest Gump.


Among all these genres, what has the highest requirement of reality can be documentary. In this digital era, the concept “the camera never lies” (Alan, 2014, p151) has been obsolete. We have to judge the reality of the images ourselves instead of completely relying on the genre. Although that doesn’t mean the reality of documentary has dead, it seems that people still need to be cautious when watching, not simply believing what are shown on screen are authentic.


According to Carl Plantinga, “digital images still have authority as evidence and/or information.” (Cinema Studies Institute, 2010) It all depends on how technology is used. Take The Cove (2009) for example, its filmmakers deploy digital cameras to record the process of slaughtering dolphins, use computers to edit and even employ internet as a platform of distribution. It could be argued that The Cove basically relies on digital technology. The documentary arose fierce dispute after its release, not on credibility of its images but on the ways of use of digital technology. It is a good example to illustrate that digital revolution didn’t threaten the property of digital images as visual evidence. Instead, it captures things that can’t be done with traditional ways, increasing credibility of the film itself.


Mengyu Huang



Alan. (2014). The Shakespearean Archive: Experiments in New Media from the Renaissance to Postmodernity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cinema Studies Institute. (2010). Digital Apocalypse? The Documentary and New Technologies. University of Toronto. Available from [Accessed 29 March 2017].

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