Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Bachelor of Communications Honours


School of Communications and Media Studies


Faculty of Communications and Creative Industries

First Supervisor

Keith Smith

Second Supervisor

Mardie O'Sullivan


Documentary filmmakers 11 engage directly in the study of the phenomena of life that surrounds us. We hold the ability to show and elucidate life as it is, considerably higher than the occasionally diverting droll games that people call theatre, cinema etc." (Vertov, 1984, p. 47). The ability to 'show and elucidate life as it is' is a controversial claim that the majority of academic documentary discussion is concerned with. I intend to add to this discussion through an exploration of performance and its pertinence to the ability of documentary to represent reality truthfully. The reception of documentary is significantly influenced by this claim and expectation of a truthful representation of the world. As O'Shaughnessy has noted, 11 documentary's special pleasures lie in its reality content, the spectacle and voyeurism involved in watching something that we know really happened" (1997, p.86). While the audience is satisfied that the film is, as it reports to be, a truthful representation of the world, this voyeuristic pleasure is catered for. However when the audience's scepticism is aroused documentary begins to fall apart. One of the biggest criticisms of documentary and its ability to represent the world as it is, is the claim that the act of observation changes what it observes. So anything that documentary studies through its observation of the world, it creates in the process. I will argue that this artificial affect is incidental in comparison to the importance of documentary maintaining the audience's perception of its truthfulness, regardless of how untrue this may be.