Cinéma vérité

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Cinéma vérité (UK: /ˌsɪnɪmə ˈvɛrɪt/, US: /- ˌvɛrɪˈt/, French: [sinema veʁite] lit. truth cinema; "truthful cinema") is a style of documentary filmmaking developed by Edgar Morin and Jean Rouch, inspired by Dziga Vertov's theory about Kino-Pravda. It combines improvisation with use of the camera to unveil truth or highlight subjects hidden behind reality.[1][2][3] It is sometimes called observational cinema,[4][5] if understood as pure direct cinema: mainly without a narrator's voice-over. There are subtle, yet important, differences between terms expressing similar concepts. Direct cinema is largely concerned with the recording of events in which the subject and audience become unaware of the camera's presence: operating within what Bill Nichols,[6] an American historian and theoretician of documentary film, calls the "observational mode", a fly on the wall. Many therefore see a paradox in drawing attention away from the presence of the camera and simultaneously interfering in the reality it registers when attempting to discover a cinematic truth.


Cinéma vérité can involve stylized set-ups and interaction between the filmmaker and the subject, even to the point of provocation. Some argue that the obvious presence of the filmmaker and camera was seen by most cinéma vérité filmmakers as the best way to reveal the truth.[7][8][9] The camera is always acknowledged, for it performs the act of filming real objects, people, and events in a confrontational way. The filmmaker's intention was to represent the truth as objectively as possible, freeing the viewer from deceptions in how those aspects of life were formerly presented to them. From this perspective, the filmmaker should be the catalyst of a situation. Few agree on the meanings of these terms, even the filmmakers whose films are being described.

Pierre Perrault sets situations up and then films them, for example in Pour la suite du monde (1963) where he asked old people to fish for whale. The result is not a documentary about whale fishing; it is about memory and lineage. In this sense cinéma vérité is concerned with anthropological cinema, and with the social and political implications of what is captured on film. How a filmmaker shoots a film, what is being filmed, what to do with what was filmed, and how that film will be presented to an audience, all were very important for filmmakers of the time.

In all cases, the ethical and aesthetic analysis of documentary form (see docufiction) of the 1950s and 1960s has to be linked with a critical look at post-war propaganda analysis. This type of cinema is concerned with notions of truth and reality in film. Feminist documentary films of the 1970s often used cinéma-vérité techniques. This sort of "realism" was criticized for its deceptive pseudo-natural construction of reality.[10][11]

Edgar Morin coined the term around the time of such essential films as 1960's Primary[12] and his own 1961 collaboration with Jean Rouch, Chronicle of a Summer.[13]

Filmmakers associated with the style[edit]


Selected cinéma-vérité films[edit]

Fictional cinéma vérité–style films[edit]

The following are films that are fictional or semi-fictional which use cinéma vérité film-making techniques:


Many film directors of the 1960s and later adopted use of handheld camera and other cinéma vérité aspects for their scripted, fiction films—having actors improvise to get a more spontaneous quality in their dialogue and action. Influential examples include director John Cassavetes, who broke ground with his 1968 Academy Award-nominated film Faces.[71] The techniques of cinéma vérité can also be seen in fictional films from The Blair Witch Project[14] to Saving Private Ryan.[72]

Cinéma vérité was also adapted for use in scripted TV programs, such as Homicide: Life on the Street, NYPD Blue,[14] both the UK and American versions of The Office,[31] Parks & Recreation[73] and Modern Family.[14] Documentary series are less common, but COPS is one famous non-fictional example.[14]

It has also been a subject ripe for parodies and spoofs such as the mockumentary film This Is Spinal Tap[74] and Emmy Award-nominated TV series Documentary Now (the latter paying homage to the style of such CV classics as Grey Gardens, Salesman and The War Room).[75][76]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Glossary of Rouchian Terms". Archived from the original on 30 April 2019. Retrieved 2024-03-02.
  2. ^ Ricky Leacock and “The Sense of Being There” Archived 2013-06-14 at the Wayback Machine – Article by Stephen Altobello at IMN
  3. ^ Camera that Changed the World, BBC Four.
  4. ^ Direct Cinema Archived 2019-04-06 at the Wayback Machine at Karamumedia12 Archived April 6, 2019, at the Wayback Machine.
  5. ^ Observational documentary at Film Reference
  6. ^ Nichols, Bill. Introducing the Documentary. Indiana University Press, 2001, p. 109
  7. ^ Barbara Bruni, "Jean Rouch: Cinéma-vérité, Chronicle of a Summer and The Human Pyramid", Senses of Cinema, issue 19, March 2002.
  8. ^ DIRECT CINEMA: Filmmaking Style and its relationship to "Truth" – Thesis by Bernice K. Shneider, B.A., Art History University of Massachusetts, MIT (1972)
  9. ^ Jean Rouch – The Film-maker as Provocateur Archived August 24, 2014, at the Wayback Machine – Article at Microwave.
  10. ^ A feminist critique of documentary film – Paper at Serendip Studio Archived 2012-11-05 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ By, For, and About: The “Real” Problem in the Feminist Film Movement Archived January 25, 2020, at the Wayback Machine – Paper by Shilyh Warren at Mediascape, UCLA
  12. ^ a b Richard Brody, "The Godfather of Cinéma Vérité", The New Yorker, July 31, 2014.
  13. ^ Chronicle of a Summer (1961), The Criterion Collection.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u "Cinema Verite: The Movement of Truth", Independent Lens,
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Does Cinéma Vérité Exist? Watch These 2 Movies to Find Out - The New York Times
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t Film Fourm · 60s VERITÉ
  17. ^ a b "Haskell Wexler". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2023-05-13.
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Cinema Verité Shorts - The Criterion Channel
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k How ’60s Vérité Transformed American Cinema - Flavorwire
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Cinema Verité - The Criterion Channel
  21. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x The Criterion Channel’s January 2023 Lineup|Current|The Criterion Collection
  22. ^ How Tyler, The Creator Crafted His Own Cinematic Universe - VICE
  23. ^ The 50 Best Documentaries of the 21st Century - IndieWire
  24. ^ Cassavetes, Major Director In U.S. Cinema Verite, Dies at 59 - The New York Times
  25. ^ UNDER THE INFLUENCE: FILMS BY JOHN CASSAVETES | Official Trailer | Hand-Picked by MUBI - MUBI on YouTube
  26. ^ New Working-class Studies - Google Books (pg.160)
  27. ^ The 25 Best Movies About The Cold War – Page 2 – Taste of Cinema
  28. ^ a b c d Matthew Heineman: 5 Documentaries That Taught Me Vérité Filmmaking|A.frame
  29. ^ Hall, Jeanne (1991). "Realism as a Style in Cinema Verite: A Critical Analysis of "Primary"". Cinema Journal. 30 (4): 24–50. doi:10.2307/1224885. JSTOR 1224885.
  30. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n 1960s Cinema Verité documentaries come to the Criterion Channel|Stark Insider
  31. ^ a b c d e f g h Cinéma Vérité: How to Use the Filmmaking Technique|Backstage
  32. ^ The 'I' of the Camera - Google Books (pg.281)
  33. ^ Chronicle of a Summer (1961)|The Criterion Collection
  34. ^ Happy Mother's Day at Pennebaker Hegedus Films
  35. ^ Terri C Smith (January 15, 2007). "D.A. Pennebaker's Don't Look Back: Direct Cinema's Early Portrait of a Cultural Icon" (PDF).
  36. ^ 10 Essential Cinema Verite Films Every Documentary Fan Should See - Page 2 -Taste of Cinema
  37. ^ The Plaint of Steve Kreines as recorded by his younger brother Jeff at Sundance Festival
  38. ^ Maslin, Janet (July 5, 1981). "MISS SPHEERIS'S PUNK VERITE". The New York Times.
  39. ^ The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll: The Definitive History of the Most Important Artists and Their Music - Google Books (pg.113)
  40. ^ Goldman, Tanya; Nachman, Spencer (29 July 2018). "The Atomic Cafe". Screen Slate.
  42. ^ Parkinson, David (30 March 2006). "The Atomic Cafe Review". Empire.
  43. ^ "Atomic Cafe: History Done Right". Conelrad. Archived from the original on 7 January 2023.
  44. ^ A New Pot of Gold: Hollywood Under the Electronic Rainbow, 1980 1989 - Google Books (pg. 380)
  45. ^ Two Stark Visions of the American Underbelly Hit the Big Screen|Current|The Criterion Collection
  46. ^ Huff, Christopher Allen (9 August 2013). "Sherman's March - film". New Georgia Encyclopedia.
  47. ^ Television History, the Peabody Archive, and Cultural Memory - Google Books
  48. ^ Goslawski, Barbara (June 17, 2019). "Paris Is Burning". Cinema Axis.
  50. ^ When We Were Kings: Hale County This Morning and Hoop Dreams|Watershed
  51. ^ Tarnation (2004): Jonathan Caouette's Reality as Painfully and Weirdly Entertaining Confessional Family Saga | Emanuel Levy
  52. ^ Enter Narci-Cinema - The New York Times
  53. ^ Dick Johnson Is Dead (2020)|The Criterion Collection
  54. ^ Why a Documentary About a Cow Reveals the Limits of an Art Form|The New Yorker
  55. ^ Inside the 21-Year Spiritual Journey of Capturing Kayne West's Life and Career|The Film Stage
  56. ^ Josh Schasny, "25 New Hollywood Era Films That Projected the Hopes and Fears of the Times", Taste of Cinema, March 4, 2016.
  57. ^ Charlie Fox on John Waters's Multiple Maniacs - Artforum International
  58. ^ Wanda (1970)|The Criterion Collection
  59. ^ Killer of Sheep|The Seventh Art
  60. ^ One hundred violent films that changed cinema Fulwood, Neil; 2003 (pg.100)
  61. ^ Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) -
  62. ^ K-rime: Timeless, Bottomless Bad Movie screening
  63. ^ Slam: The Book - Publishers Weekly
  64. ^ Take Out (2004)|The Criterion Collection
  65. ^ Daddy Longlegs (2009)|The Criterion Collection
  66. ^ The 100 Best Movies of the 2010s - Paste Magazine
  67. ^ How the Filmmakers Behind Sundance Hit 'Tangerine' Shot on an iPhone & Got Cinematic Results - No Film School
  68. ^ What 'American Honey' Says About the Kids: No, They're Not All Right - Variety
  69. ^ "The Florida Project" finds magic for those living in the shadow of Disney – Tone Madison
  70. ^ The 25 Best Movies of the Decade (2010s) - World of Reel
  71. ^ John Cassavetes in Allmovie, accessed online on the New York Times, October 23, 2006.
  72. ^ Best Film Editing Sequences -
  73. ^ Brad Becker Parton, "How 'Parks and Rec' Transcended its Mockumentary Roots", Vulture, February 26, 2015.
  74. ^ "Greatest Film Scenes and Moments -". Archived from the original on 2019-09-20. Retrieved 2019-09-20.
  75. ^ "'Documentary Now!' a spoof on docs by 'SNL' alums Seth Meyers, Bill Hader and Fred Armisen", Daily News, August 14, 2015.
  76. ^ Hubert Adjei-Kontoh, "Documentary Now! An ode to the funniest spoof on television", The Guardian, February 20, 1019.

External links[edit]