What makes a Film different from a Documentary

Since a long time back, when films started to be made, documentaries have also been gaining popularity. But we all know that films and documentaries are two different cases. It all starts with the main purpose of why they are made. It is not a difficult task to distinguish between a film and a documentary but at times it gets confusing to know which is what. Let’s start by knowing what exactly are films and documentaries.

What is a film?

To put it simply it is a form of visual art which is also known as a motion picture or a movie. The film uses various techniques like visual arts, theatre, storytelling, and literature. In the 1880s, celluloid photographic film was introduced and hence motion picture cameras came into existence. These cameras had the ability to run sequences of images at a rapid speed, making it look like a picture in motion. At first, the idea of film making did not occur to the ones who had these cameras so there were static shots of any action or event. There was no concept of editing until in the 20th century where they realized that several shots started telling a story. From there on the birth of the cinema took place.

A film or a movie can be called a pure form of entertainment. Generally a film can either be fiction or non-fiction. The main purpose of the film is to tell the audience a story or convey a message. Films are made for commercial purposes but it still talks about several social issues or can be based on personal problems.

What is a documentary?

A documentary can be called a part of a film or genre that is pure non-fiction. Documentaries are made to cover various problems, social issues, political issues or can be based on a particular person or subject. Documentaries can reveal different unknown and interesting aspects that we couldn’t even have imagined existed.

The main purpose of making a documentary is to cover something which is not given importance but should be given to or something that the people should know about. It covers real events with real people at real locations, without affecting their behavior even to the tiniest. It is possible that a documentary can be amusing and funny or can be disturbing or ironic. Inspirational documentaries have also gained recognition in the last several decades.

As mentioned above, a feature film and a documentary are two different types of motion pictures. There is a big conceptual difference between film/movie and documentaries. When you will watch a feature film you will be easily able to identify it as a film and not a documentary. But what exactly helps us to distinguish between the two?

Difference between a Film and Documentary

One can easily differentiate between them on the basis of various aspects. But you must know some important differences between a film and a documentary. Here are some of the major differences between them.


The most obvious difference between them is their genres. A feature film is mostly fiction and does not have any connection to the real event. Whereas, a documentary is purely non-fiction, shot at real places which capture the real event.


As discussed above feature films are mainly made with the purpose of entertaining the audience and give them an escape from reality experience. On the contrary, documentaries make you aware of the actual reality of the world. It aims to inform and educate the people about their surroundings. It is not like a news package which we see on news channels. Most of the time students get confused between a news package & documentary.


The difference in budget is huge when it comes to films and documentaries. Hence, films usually hold a budget that can go up to millions of dollars. They need to provide their audience with high quality and some great visuals. Films are making it for commercial purposes and entertainment of the people. But when you are making a documentary it does not require you to go to some cinematic view and capture that. A camera, a mic, and your small crew are sufficient to make a first-class documentary. For visuals, you just need to use your videography skills to get some great shots.


For documentaries, as we all know, we don’t need to hire any specialized actor, while shooting a documentary we use real people, interview them, or get their shots in the natural setting. But talking about films, we need qualified actors because we are not shooting their story instead we are trying to enact the story written in the script. A good actor must be hired since they need to portray a character that is not their own.


Feature films have scripted dialogues along with predefined action. Directors tell the actors what to do, how to do, and exactly when to do it. Documentaries are based on real action without telling anyone what they must do. When asked questions, people are free to speak whatever they want and there is no director to direct them. Documentaries are non-biased views, although in today’s world we see a lot of sided stuff still a genuine documentary is the real insight of one problem.

These being the major differences between a film and a documentary, can help us to know what exactly we are looking at. If you ever had an idea and were confused in which category you must put it in, well now you know. There can be some changes that you might feel in the film or documentaries that are made today in comparison to those which were made back then.

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