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Introduction to Documentary [Paperback]

Bill Nichols
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

20 Dec 2010 0253222605 978-0253222602 2nd edition
This new edition of Bill Nichols's bestselling text provides an up-to-date introduction to the most important issues in documentary history and criticism. Designed for students in any field that makes use of visual evidence and persuasive strategies, Introduction to Documentary identifies the distinguishing qualities of documentary and teaches the viewer how to read documentary film. Each chapter takes up a discrete question, from "How did documentary filmmaking get started?" to "Why are ethical issues central to documentary filmmaking?" Carefully revised to take account of new work and trends, this volume includes information on more than 100 documentaries released since the first edition, an expanded treatment of the six documentary modes, new still images, and a greatly expanded list of distributors.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Indiana University Press; 2nd edition edition (20 Dec 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0253222605
  • ISBN-13: 978-0253222602
  • Product Dimensions: 22.9 x 15.4 x 2.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 266,504 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"This engaging, thoughtful, accessible, and comprehensive work will stimulate many to teach documentary film." Choice "Bill Nichols' succinct Introduction to Documentary would make an ideal textbook, and that's no back-handed compliment. Patiently, almost tenderly, the author leads the reader step by step through the thicket of moral, political, aesthetic and technological issues documentary film raises - writing in a clean style that doesn't simplify ideas so much as distil them. As hapless tutors groping for a pat definition know, documentary is an exasperatingly 'fuzzy' mode whose tactics of representation can't always be distinguished from those of fiction. Cutting to the quick of the matter, Nichols suggest that the main difference is epistemological. Where fiction suspends our disbelief regarding the imaginary world it portrays, documentary whets our intellectual curiosity about the world out there. But since distortions are possible - indeed necessary - it becomes a question of faith on the viewer's part and scruples on the film-maker's. The most original pages draw on Aristotelian first principles to propose documentary as a branch of rhetoric that sways us by fair means or foul. Decidedly the latter in the case of Leni Riefensahl's propaganda classic 'Triumph of the Will' (1936, left) - rather startlingly pegged as an observational documentary in the sense that its stage-managed events are offered without overt editorializing. Whenever feasible, however, Nichols cites works beyond the official canon, a practice that lends the book much vitality while affirming those democratic values the best documentaries continue to exemplify." Sight & Sound (August 2002)

About the Author

Bill Nichols is Professor of Cinema at San Francisco State University and author of Representing Reality: Issues and Concepts in Documentary (IUP, 1992) and Blurred Boundaries: Questions of Meaning in Contemporary Culture (IUP, 1995).

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5.0 out of 5 stars Student or film maker? Essential reading 23 Jun 2014
When I picked up a video camera some years ago I wanted to read all I could that would give me direction for film making. I got a few 'how to..' books on making documentaries and read them avidly but without feeling particularly inspired until I read through this book. I soon realised that I had taken the wrong approach. Forget books that try to teach you how to shoot film, how to light, how to edit a script or what camera angle to take. Better still, this book showed me the different approaches to documentary film making that have evolved over the past century, or so. It went on to give titles of particular films that illustrated these different styles. So, I then watched as many of these as I could find and learnt for myself what it was that made each individual film a 'classic' of its genre. If anyone reads this and is interested to make documentary films then I would highly recommend this book, and this book only. No 'teach yourself' book will ever teach you how to find your style. One learns by practical work and emulation of those one admires.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Essential book for University 6 April 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I bought this book because it was mandatory for university course, but this book is great and I advise people to buy regardless. The book goes through all the documentary styles and forms throughout the years and goes a lot deeper's been a while since I read this book but believe me it's good.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.3 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The first edition was much better 11 Oct 2011
By Penny J Lane - Published on
I have taught many undergraduate courses in documentary film and have always used this book as the core text of my class. The first edition was short and clear (or at least as clear as I've come to hope for with academic writing). Unfortunately, this edition is at least twice as long and at least twice as confusing. It is full of "charts" that really don't make any sense. All of the primary topics have been divided up into so many categories and sub-categories and split across multiple chapters that the result is quite difficult to follow. My students are confused by it, and frankly, so am I.

I still give it three stars because I love how it is organized into a series of compelling questions (rather than the stodgier and more traditional chronological approach, which does me no good as I teach theory & production, not history), because it still has a good deal to recommend it in terms of covering the main points you'd want covered, and because I think it's probably still the best there is. But I really wish we could do better for our students.

I don't think my lone review here will make any difference, because this book will be assigned widely regardless of whether it is any good. I do hope, however, that a better "Introduction to Documentary" text designed for undergraduate students comes along to replace this one very soon!!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive 3 May 2013
By Alyssa Yerga-Woolwine - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Used this book for a class. The content is comprehensive. My only complaint is that the page numbers don`t have corresponding loc numbers.
5.0 out of 5 stars essential text 13 April 2014
By m Pantin - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book not only analyses documentary forms for students of film studies but gives form for those who wish to make documentaries.
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential book for screenwriting documentaries 18 Mar 2014
By Alvena Stanfield - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
So many people say they want to write memoirs or creative non-fiction. This book does a great job of identifying the elements that go into producing those stories in (distorted because all documentaries are not news stories but news with a twist stories) distorted methods. It's all here, voice, structure, modes. It's not a how-to book but a book that explains the physics and structure of analyzing and developing documentary versus fictional films.
5.0 out of 5 stars Thinking about docs? This book is for you... 22 Oct 2013
By Heather Jacks - Published on
If you have a love of documentary film, then, very simply this book is for you.

A few months ago, I found myself presented with an interesting proposition: to make a documentary film. It was a startling idea, to say the least. What do I know about making a film, let alone a documentary? The answer would be zero. Nada. Nothing. Zilch. Aside from watching hundreds of documentary films--and I do mean literally, hundreds, I knew nothing about how to make one. But at the heart of every good film is a good story; this especially holds true for documentaries. I had one of those. I also had great footage and interviews. I thought I was nearly there; so why not? Let's make a documentary.

After a healthy dose of the `Filmmaking for Dummies' style books, which there are many, I felt prepared for my new adventure. And then my boyfriend brought me a book by Bill Nichols, simply titled Introduction To Documentary. What? A textbook? Leave it to my Engineer mate to make this an academic exercise. Bah Humbug. But, it was this book, which took me back to the drawing board, forcing me to throw out all my previous conceptions and perceptions; to understand why I love documentaries, what makes them special, what makes them work and how ultimately, I, as a storyteller will do exactly that; choose the story to tell and how to tell it. Introduction to Documentary caused me to realize that I didn't just want to make a good film, because I could; but that I wanted to create something of value with a message and meaning; to, as Mr. Nichols says, `stand in intimate relation to a historical moment and those who populate it.'

About the book: It is a textbook. I mention this so that when you choose to embark upon this reading journey, you are apprised that the material may be esoteric at times, may be academic and is certainly above and beyond the scope of `Dummies' style books. However, it is not a dull or dry book, as many texts fall victim to. Bill Nichols himself is an expert in contemporary American and foreign film, having written ten books on the subject. He recently retired as a Professor of Cinema from San Francisco State University. These levels of expertise, coupled with his teaching background, make this book insightful and extraordinarily thought provoking. In the 323 pages, he discusses and encourages us the readers to contemplate many aspects of documentary film from how to define documentary, which sounds easy, but turns out, not so much; to, `ethical concerns' in documentary; the ethics of representing others. It was a fascinating topic, that I had not previously considered, and it is integral to the heart of documentary. One chapter that I found particularly compelling was; `what gives a documentary a voice of its own'? It was also the chapter which caused me to re-evaluate everything I had done over the past 8 months. He then moves through categories and models of documentary film, how documentaries have addressed social and political issues and concludes with a listing of distributors.

For me, after reading the final page, I put the book down, feeling a new sense of inspiration, a deeper appreciation of the genre and armed with more focused goals. I realized that `Oh yes, it was definitely time to go back to the drawing board and start over.' I always knew I could tell a good story. Now, I wanted to tell a great story....and in no small part, due to this book, I believe I can....
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