Documentary vs. Fiction Film: Exploring the Contrasts in Filmmaking

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The world of cinema encompasses a diverse array of genres and styles, each with its own distinct purpose and approach. Among these, fictional films and documentaries stand out as two distinct forms of storytelling. While fictional films transport us into imaginative worlds, documentaries delve into the realm of reality, offering an authentic glimpse into real-life events, people, and issues. In this article, we will explore the key differences between fictional films and documentaries, highlighting their unique characteristics, objectives, and impact.

Difference Between Documentary and Fiction Film

Definition of Fiction Film

A fictional film is a type of movie that tells a story that is not based on real events or real people. It is created purely from the imagination of the filmmakers, writers, and actors involved. The characters, events, and settings depicted in fictional films are entirely made up and exist solely within the world of the film.

These films can span a wide range of genres, including drama, comedy, science fiction, fantasy, horror, and more. The purpose of fictional films is to entertain, captivate, and transport viewers into an imaginary world or narrative. They allow filmmakers to explore diverse themes, emotions, and experiences, often drawing inspiration from real life but ultimately presenting a fictionalized version of reality.

Features of Fiction Film

Fiction films possess several distinctive features that set them apart from other types of films. Here are some key features of fictional films:

Imaginary Narrative

Fictional films present a fictional story that is created from the imagination of the filmmakers. The plot, characters, and events depicted in the film are not based on real-life occurrences.


Fictional films involve the portrayal of fictional characters who may undergo various developments, conflicts, and interactions throughout the story. These characters are brought to life by actors and contribute to the narrative arc of the film.


Fictional films often take place in fictional or imaginary locations. These settings can be realistic or fantastical, depending on the genre of the film. They provide a backdrop for the story to unfold and can enhance the overall atmosphere and tone.

Cinematic Techniques

Fictional films employ various cinematic techniques to enhance storytelling and create a compelling visual experience. These techniques include cinematography, editing, sound design, special effects, and more. They are used to evoke emotions, establish the film’s aesthetic, and engage the audience.

Genre Diversity

Fictional films span a wide range of genres, catering to different storytelling styles and audience preferences. Some common genres include drama, comedy, action, adventure, romance, science fiction, fantasy, horror, thriller, and animation.

Suspension of Disbelief

Fictional films require the audience to suspend their disbelief and accept the fictional world presented on screen. Viewers willingly engage with the story, accepting its imaginative elements and investing emotionally in the characters and their journey.

Creative Freedom

Fictional films provide filmmakers with immense creative freedom. They can explore various themes, ideas, and perspectives, pushing the boundaries of imagination and storytelling. This freedom allows for the creation of unique and captivating narratives.

Overall, fictional films are a form of artistic expression that transport viewers into imaginative worlds, inviting them to experience a story that is distinct from reality.

What is a Documentary?

A documentary is a non-fictional film or video production that aims to present a factual and informative account of real-life events, people, places, or social issues. Unlike fictional films, documentaries are grounded in reality and strive to portray actual events and subjects in an objective or subjective manner, depending on the filmmaker’s approach.

Features of Documentary

Here you can find some of the important features of documentaries that include:

Real Events and Subjects

Documentaries focus on real-life events, individuals, communities, historical occurrences, or contemporary issues. They often explore topics such as politics, history, science, nature, culture, art, social justice, and more.

Authenticity and Accuracy

Documentaries strive to depict their subjects truthfully and accurately. While there may be different perspectives and interpretations, documentarians typically aim to present information and evidence based on research, interviews, and firsthand accounts.

Filmmaker’s Perspective

Documentaries may reflect the filmmaker’s point of view and personal vision. Some documentaries adopt a more objective approach, presenting information without overt bias, while others express a subjective or advocacy-oriented stance, aiming to persuade or provoke a particular response from the audience.

Cinematic Techniques

Documentaries employ various filmmaking techniques to tell their stories effectively. These techniques include interviews, archival footage, reenactments, voice-overs, on-location shooting, narration, visual effects, and more. The creative use of these techniques enhances the storytelling and engages the audience.

Informative and Educational

Documentaries often seek to inform and educate viewers about a specific subject or issue. They delve into deep research, interviews with experts or eyewitnesses, and sometimes present alternative viewpoints to encourage critical thinking and understanding.

Social Impact

Many documentaries aim to create social awareness, expose injustices, or provoke discussions and actions around important topics. They can spark conversations, influence public opinion, and even contribute to real-world changes or movements.

Various Subgenres

Documentaries encompass a wide range of subgenres, including historical documentaries, biographies, nature documentaries, investigative documentaries, social issue documentaries, political documentaries, music documentaries, and more. Each subgenre has its own unique approach and purpose.

Documentaries play a crucial role in documenting and exploring our world, shedding light on important issues, amplifying marginalized voices, and offering a deeper understanding of various subjects. They provide a window into reality and contribute to the cultural, social, and educational fabric of society.

Differences Between Documentary and Fiction Film

In this section, you can find the key differences between a documentary and a fiction film.

Narrative Approach

Fictional Films: Fictional films captivate us with their imaginative narratives. They present stories that are created from the filmmaker’s imagination, featuring fictional characters, events, and settings. Whether it’s a heartwarming romance, an action-packed adventure, or a thought-provoking science fiction tale, fictional films take us on a journey where we suspend our disbelief and immerse ourselves in the filmmaker’s vision.

Documentaries: In contrast, documentaries embrace the power of reality. They aim to capture the essence of real-life events, individuals, and social issues. Documentaries often rely on interviews, archival footage, and investigative research to present a factual account or explore a specific subject. They strive to inform, educate, and sometimes advocate for social change by shedding light on important topics, offering different perspectives, and presenting evidence-based information.

Authenticity and Imagination

Fictional Films: Fictional films grant filmmakers the freedom to create their own worlds, characters, and stories. They allow for artistic expression, imaginative settings, and the exploration of diverse themes and emotions. Fictional films can be a means of escapism, providing entertainment, inspiration, and emotional connection with the characters and their journeys.

Documentaries: Documentaries, on the other hand, prioritize authenticity and accuracy. They aim to portray real-life events and subjects as truthfully as possible, with a commitment to presenting facts, research, and multiple viewpoints. Documentarians often strive to depict real people, communities, or historical events with honesty, and they may also seek to create awareness, challenge societal norms, or inspire action through their work.

Filmmaker’s Perspective

Fictional Films: Filmmakers of fictional films have the creative license to shape the story, characters, and visual aesthetics according to their artistic vision. They can craft narratives that convey personal viewpoints, evoke emotions, and explore thematic elements. Fictional films offer a canvas for filmmakers to express their ideas, challenge conventions, and spark imagination in their audiences.

Documentaries: While documentaries aim for objectivity, they are not entirely free from the filmmaker’s perspective. Documentarians often approach their subjects with a specific viewpoint or purpose, whether it’s raising awareness about an issue, exposing an injustice, or highlighting a particular perspective. However, ethical documentarians strive to maintain a balance between subjectivity and accurate representation, ensuring transparency about their intentions and potential biases.

Impact and Engagement

Fictional Films: Fictional films primarily seek to entertain and engage audiences emotionally. They transport us into fictional worlds, providing a sense of escapism, and eliciting laughter, tears, and a wide range of emotions. Fictional films can be a source of inspiration, exploration of the human condition, and a catalyst for conversations on universal themes.

Documentaries: Documentaries, with their grounding in reality, often aim for social impact and engagement. They have the potential to raise awareness, ignite discussions, challenge societal norms, and inspire action. Documentaries have the power to shed light on social issues, amplify marginalized voices, and provide a platform for understanding and empathy. They can contribute to social change by informing, educating, and influencing public opinion.

Similarities Between Fictional Film and Documentary

While fictional films and documentaries have significant differences, there are a few similarities between the two:

Visual Storytelling

Both fictional films and documentaries utilize the medium of film to tell stories visually. They employ cinematography, editing, sound design, and other cinematic techniques to create a compelling narrative and engage the audience.

Emotional Impact

Both fictional films and documentaries aim to evoke emotions in the viewers. Whether it’s through fictional characters and plotlines or real-life subjects and events, both forms of filmmaking can elicit empathy, excitement, fear, or other emotional responses from the audience.

Filmmaking Techniques

Filmmakers use similar technical tools and skills in creating both fictional films and documentaries. They employ camera work, lighting, sound design, and editing to enhance the storytelling and create a cohesive visual experience for the viewers.

Artistic Expression

Filmmakers in both fictional and documentary genres have opportunities for artistic expression. They can use creative storytelling techniques, visual aesthetics, and innovative approaches to convey their intended message or explore themes and ideas.

Impact on Society

Both fictional films and documentaries have the potential to influence and shape public opinion, raise awareness about specific issues, or spark conversations and debates. They can address social, cultural, or political topics and prompt viewers to reflect on the world around them.


Both types of filmmaking often involve collaboration between various professionals, including directors, writers, actors, cinematographers, editors, and sound designers. The process of bringing a fictional film or documentary to life requires teamwork and coordination among these individuals.

While fictional films and documentaries have inherent differences in their purpose, approach, and content, they share common elements in terms of visual storytelling, emotional impact, technical aspects, artistic expression, societal impact, and collaborative efforts.

Examples of Fiction Films and Documentaries

Here are well-known examples of both fictional films and documentaries:

Examples of Fictional Films

The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003)

The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) Logo

Directed by Peter Jackson, this epic fantasy series is based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels. It transports viewers to the fictional world of Middle-earth, following the journey of Frodo Baggins and his companions as they embark on a quest to destroy the One Ring.

Inception (2010)

Inception (2010) Theatrical Poster

Directed by Christopher Nolan, this science fiction thriller delves into the realm of dreams. The film follows a team of skilled thieves who can enter people’s dreams to extract information. It explores complex ideas of perception, reality, and the power of the mind.

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

The Shawshank Redemption Movie Poster

Directed by Frank Darabont, this drama is based on a Stephen King novella. It tells the story of Andy Dufresne, a banker who is wrongfully convicted of murder and sentenced to life in Shawshank State Penitentiary. The film explores themes of hope, friendship, and redemption.

Examples of Documentaries

Blackfish (2013)

Blackfish Film Poster

Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, this documentary focuses on the captive orca Tilikum and the consequences of keeping such intelligent creatures in captivity. It raises important questions about the ethics of marine parks and the treatment of animals in captivity.

An Inconvenient Truth (2006)

An Inconvenient Truth Film Poster

Directed by Davis Guggenheim, this documentary features former U.S. Vice President Al Gore as he presents a comprehensive overview of the dangers of climate change. It serves as a call to action to address the environmental crisis facing our planet.

Amy (2015)

Amy (2015) Film Poster

Directed by Asif Kapadia, this documentary examines the life and tragic death of British singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse. Through archival footage and interviews, the film explores her talent, struggles with addiction, and the pressures of fame.

These examples showcase the diversity within both fictional films and documentaries, highlighting their ability to transport us to imaginary worlds or shed light on real-life events and issues.


Fictional films and documentaries are two distinct forms of storytelling within the world of cinema. While fictional films transport us to imaginative realms, documentaries ground us in the reality of real-life events, people, and issues. Fictional films offer the freedom to create and explore diverse narratives, characters, and themes, providing entertainment and emotional engagement. On the other hand, documentaries strive for authenticity, aiming to inform, educate, and advocate for social change through factual representation and exploration of real-world subjects.

Both fictional films and documentaries contribute significantly to the art of filmmaking and storytelling. Fictional films offer escapism, inspiration, and imaginative experiences, while documentaries provide insights into the complexities of the world, provoke discussions, and raise awareness about important topics. They serve different purposes, but both have the power to captivate, inform, and impact audiences.

Ultimately, whether we seek the imaginative journeys of fictional films or the enlightening realities of documentaries, both genres enrich our understanding of the human experience, broaden our perspectives, and remind us of the power of storytelling in all its diverse forms within the world of cinema.


Which is better fiction film or documentary?

Determining whether a fiction film or a documentary is better is subjective and depends on personal preferences, interests, and the specific qualities of each film. Both genres offer unique experiences and can be equally compelling and impactful in their own ways. Here are a few points to consider when comparing the two:

1. Storytelling: Fiction films have the advantage of being able to create fictional worlds, characters, and narratives that can captivate and transport audiences. They offer imaginative storytelling, emotional engagement, and the ability to explore themes and concepts in a fictional context. Documentaries, on the other hand, provide real-life stories, events, and perspectives, offering a chance to learn, understand, and be inspired by actual people and situations.

2. Authenticity and realism: Documentaries have the advantage of presenting real-life events, interviews, and perspectives, providing an authentic and often educational experience. They can offer insights into different cultures, shed light on important issues, or document historical events. Fiction films, on the other hand, have the creative freedom to construct narratives and visual aesthetics that may be more visually striking or emotionally resonant.

3. Impact and engagement: Both fiction films and documentaries have the potential to engage, provoke thought, and evoke emotional responses from the audience. Fiction films can transport viewers into new worlds, make them empathize with fictional characters, and provide an escape from reality. Documentaries, on the other hand, can inform, raise awareness, and spark discussions about real-world issues and topics that have a direct impact on society.

4. Entertainment value: Fiction films are often created primarily for entertainment purposes, providing an immersive and enjoyable viewing experience. They can be thrilling, funny, dramatic, or romantic, offering a wide range of genres and storytelling styles. Documentaries, while they can also be entertaining, may prioritize education, social commentary, or advocacy over pure entertainment value.

Ultimately, the “better” genre depends on your personal preferences, interests, and the specific qualities of the film in question. Both fiction films and documentaries have their own merits and can provide unique and valuable experiences for viewers. It’s worth exploring both genres to discover the diverse range of stories and perspectives they offer.

What is the purpose of a documentary?

The purpose of a documentary is to provide a factual and informative account of real-life events, people, places, or issues. Documentaries are typically created with the goal of documenting and exploring various aspects of the world, society, history, or specific subjects.

Here are some common purposes of documentaries:

1. Inform and educate: Documentaries aim to present information, ideas, and perspectives on a particular topic or issue. They often delve into subjects that may not receive extensive coverage in mainstream media and provide in-depth analysis, research, and interviews to educate the audience.

2. Raise awareness: Documentaries can shed light on lesser-known or overlooked topics, social issues, or environmental concerns. By presenting facts, personal stories, and expert opinions, they seek to increase awareness and understanding among viewers.

3. Advocate for change: Many documentaries are created with the intention of inspiring action or advocating for a cause. They may focus on social justice, human rights, environmental sustainability, or other relevant issues, aiming to spark dialogue and motivate viewers to take action.

4. Preserve history and culture: Documentaries can serve as valuable historical records, documenting events, cultures, and traditions for future generations. They may explore historical events, cultural practices, or the lives of influential individuals, contributing to the preservation of collective memory.

5. Entertain and engage: While documentaries are primarily associated with information and education, they can also entertain and captivate audiences. Engaging storytelling techniques, compelling narratives, and visually appealing cinematography can make documentaries an enjoyable and immersive viewing experience.

Overall, the purpose of a documentary is multifaceted, encompassing elements of education, awareness, advocacy, and entertainment. The specific goals may vary depending on the subject matter and the intentions of the filmmaker. Still, the underlying aim is to provide a factual and impactful representation of real-life events or issues.

What is a fiction film?

A fictional film is a type of movie that tells a story that is not based on real events or people. It is created purely from the imagination of the filmmakers, writers, and actors involved. The characters, events, and settings depicted in fiction films are entirely made up and exist solely within the world of the film. These films consist of a wide array of genres, including drama, comedy, science fiction, fantasy, horror, etc.

The purpose of fictional films is to entertain, captivate, and transport the audience into an imaginary world. This creative film genre allows filmmakers to explore diverse themes, emotions, and experiences, often drawing inspiration from real life but ultimately presenting a fictionalized version of reality.

Can fictional films be used as historical evidence?

Fictional films, by their nature, are works of imagination and storytelling rather than factual accounts. They are created for entertainment purposes and often include fictional characters, events, and settings. As such, they cannot be considered direct historical evidence in the same way as primary sources, such as documents, eyewitness accounts, photographs, or artifacts.

However, fictional films can indirectly contribute to our understanding of history by reflecting the cultural, social, and political contexts in which they were created. They can provide insights into the beliefs, values, and attitudes of the time period in which they were made. They may also draw inspiration from historical events or incorporate elements of real historical settings.

While fictional films can help generate interest in historical topics and spark curiosity, they should not be relied upon as accurate historical records. If you’re seeking reliable historical evidence, it’s important to consult scholarly works, primary sources, and reputable historical research.

What are the similarities and differences between a documentary and a fiction film?

Documentary films and short films are distinct categories within the realm of filmmaking. Here’s a breakdown of their key differences followed by a list of important similarities between these two genres.

1. Purpose and Focus:

Documentary Films: Documentaries are non-fictional films that aim to present factual information or explore real-world subjects. They often tackle social, historical, scientific, or cultural topics and strive to provide an objective or subjective perspective on the subject matter.

Short Films: Short films, on the other hand, can encompass various genres and subject matters. They are not restricted to non-fiction or documentary content. Short films are generally narrative-driven and focus on telling a concise story within a shorter duration compared to feature-length films.

2. Length:

Documentary Films: Documentary films can range in length from a few minutes to several hours, depending on the depth and complexity of the subject being explored. They can be both short and long.

Short Films: As the name suggests, short films are typically shorter in duration compared to documentary films. While there is no strict rule defining the length, short films are generally under 40 minutes, and often much shorter, even as brief as a few minutes.

3. Style and Approach:

Documentary Films: Documentaries employ various styles and techniques to convey information and engage the audience. They can include interviews, archival footage, voiceovers, reenactments, and other cinematic devices. The objective is to provide an informative and often persuasive examination of the chosen subject matter.

Short Films: Short films offer a creative space for filmmakers to experiment with storytelling techniques and artistic expression. They can be fictional or non-fictional, and their style and approach can vary widely, depending on the filmmaker’s intent and vision. Short films are often characterized by their concise and condensed narratives. 

4. Distribution and Audience:

Documentary Films: Documentaries are typically distributed through various channels, such as theaters, television networks, streaming platforms, or film festivals. They cater to a diverse audience interested in learning about real-world subjects and engaging with informative content.

Short Films: Short films are commonly showcased at film festivals, online platforms, or specific short film events. They often target a niche audience, including film enthusiasts, industry professionals, and those interested in innovative storytelling.

Similarities Between a Documentary and a Fiction Film:

1. Filmmaking techniques: Both documentaries and fiction films utilize filmmaking techniques such as cinematography, editing, sound design, and visual storytelling to convey their narratives and engage the audience.

2. Narrative structure: While the storytelling approach may differ, both genres often employ a narrative structure to communicate their ideas and evoke emotional responses from the viewers.

3. Production process: Both documentaries and fiction films go through a production process involving pre-production (planning, research, scriptwriting), production (shooting), and post-production (editing, sound design, and visual effects).

What is the difference between a documentary and a film?

A documentary and a film are both forms of visual storytelling, but they differ in their purpose, style, and approach. Some important differences between a documentary and a film include:

1. Purpose: The main purpose of a documentary is to inform, educate, and provide a factual account of real events, people, or issues. Documentaries aim to present reality or explore a specific subject matter through interviews, archival footage, observational footage, and other non-fictional elements.

On the other hand, films (or narrative films) are primarily focused on storytelling and often involve fictional narratives, characters, and events. They aim to entertain the audience through plot development, character arcs, and emotional engagement.

2. Style: Documentaries typically adopt a more objective and non-fictional approach. They strive to represent the truth, presenting real-life footage, interviews, and evidence to support their claims. Documentaries often employ a journalistic or investigative style, attempting to uncover information or shed light on social, political, or cultural issues.

Films, on the other hand, have more creative freedom in their storytelling and can utilize various stylistic elements like cinematography, visual effects, and editing techniques to enhance the narrative and engage the audience.

3. Approach: Documentaries tend to focus on presenting real events, people, or issues without fictional elements or dramatic embellishments. They often involve interviews with experts, subjects, or witnesses, providing firsthand accounts and perspectives. Documentaries can take different forms such as observational documentaries, where the filmmaker observes and records events as they unfold, or expository documentaries, where the filmmaker presents information and analysis on a particular subject.

Films, on the other hand, create fictional narratives and characters, using storytelling techniques like plot development, character arcs, and conflicts to engage the audience emotionally and intellectually.

4. Audience Expectations: When watching a documentary, the audience generally expects to gain knowledge, learn about a particular subject, or have their perspectives challenged. Documentaries often aim to create awareness, provoke thought, or inspire action related to social, political, or environmental issues.

Films, however, aim to entertain and immerse the audience in a fictional world. Audiences expect to be engaged emotionally, follow a compelling narrative, and experience a range of emotions through the characters and their storylines.

While these distinctions can help differentiate documentaries from films, it’s worth noting that there can be some overlap and hybrid forms that incorporate elements of both. Some films may incorporate documentary-style footage or be based on true events, while certain documentaries may adopt narrative storytelling techniques to enhance their impact.

What is a feature documentary?

A feature documentary, also known as a full-length documentary or a feature-length documentary, is a documentary film that typically has a runtime of 60 minutes or longer. It is distinguished from shorter documentaries, such as short films or television documentaries, which are typically under an hour in length.

Feature documentaries are often more comprehensive and in-depth compared to shorter documentaries, allowing for a more extensive exploration of the subject matter. They provide filmmakers with the opportunity to delve into complex topics, conduct thorough research, and present a more detailed and nuanced perspective.

Like other documentaries, feature documentaries aim to inform, educate, raise awareness, or advocate for a particular cause or issue. They often tackle a wide range of subjects, including social issues, historical events, biographical profiles, cultural phenomena, environmental concerns, and more. Feature documentaries can cover a diverse array of topics, allowing for a deep dive into subjects that require extensive investigation or exploration.

The length of feature documentaries provides filmmakers with the space to develop compelling narratives, introduce multiple perspectives, and incorporate interviews, archival footage, and additional storytelling elements to engage and captivate the audience. They can offer a more immersive experience and allow for a comprehensive examination of the subject matter, providing viewers with a thorough understanding of the topic being presented.

Feature documentaries are commonly screened at film festivals, released in theaters, broadcast on television, or distributed through online platforms. They contribute to the rich landscape of documentary filmmaking and have the potential to make a significant impact by shedding light on important issues, inspiring change, and providing a platform for underrepresented voices and stories.

What is the mix between documentary and fiction?

The mix between documentary and fiction is a genre known as docufiction or hybrid filmmaking. Docufiction refers to films that combine elements of both documentary and fiction filmmaking techniques and approaches.

In docufiction films, real-life events, people, or places are often incorporated into fictional narratives or scenarios. Filmmakers may use real locations, include documentary-style interviews or archival footage, or blend fictional and non-fictional elements to create a unique cinematic experience. This blending of documentary and fiction elements can serve various purposes, such as exploring subjective truths, blurring the lines between reality and fiction, or presenting a different perspective on historical or social events.

Examples of docufiction films include Waltz with Bashir (2008) directed by Ari Folman, which blends animation and documentary interviews to explore the director’s memories of the 1982 Lebanon War, and The Act of Killing (2012) directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, which combines documentary interviews with reenactments to explore the Indonesian mass killings of the 1960s.

What is another word for a fictional documentary?

Another word for a fictional documentary is “mockumentary.” A mockumentary is a genre that presents a fictional narrative in the style of a documentary. It often mimics the conventions and techniques of factual documentaries, including interviews, handheld camerawork, documentary-style editing, and a realistic portrayal of events or characters.

However, the content is entirely fictional, and the intention is to entertain and sometimes satirize or parody the documentary format. Mockumentaries often employ humor, irony, and comedic elements to create a lighthearted or comedic effect. Some well-known examples of mockumentaries include This Is Spinal Tap (1984), Best in Show (2000), and What We Do in the Shadows (2014).

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