What is the Difference Between Documentary and Feature Film

In the realm of filmmaking, two prominent genres that captivate audiences are documentaries and feature films. While both contribute to the vibrant world of cinema, they differ significantly in their approach, purpose, and presentation. In this article, we will explore the distinctions between documentary and feature films, shedding light on their unique characteristics and the impact they have on viewers.

Understanding Documentary Films

Documentary films are a genre dedicated to presenting real-life events, people, issues, or topics. These films aim to inform, educate, and raise awareness by providing a factual and often in-depth exploration of the subject matter. Documentaries can cover a wide range of subjects, from historical events to social issues, scientific discoveries, and personal narratives.

Understanding Feature Films

Feature films, commonly known as fictional films, are created with the primary objective of entertainment. These films employ fictional characters, narratives, and settings to engage the audience in a captivating story. Feature films come in various genres, such as drama, comedy, action, romance, and fantasy, allowing filmmakers to experiment with creativity and imagination.

Key Differences Between Documentary and Feature Films

The distinction between documentary and feature films is fundamental. While documentaries focus on real events and facts, feature films craft fictional narratives for entertainment purposes. Let’s explore some other significant differences between these two genres.

Narrative Approach: Reality vs. Fiction

In documentaries, the narrative is centered on reality, often showcasing interviews, real footage, and archival material. On the other hand, feature films construct fictional stories with characters, dialogues, and plot twists.

Purpose and Objectives

Documentaries are often made to inform, educate, or advocate for a particular cause or viewpoint. They aim to shed light on real-world issues and provoke thoughtful discussion. Feature films prioritize entertainment, aiming to captivate audiences through compelling storytelling and emotional experiences.

Visual Style and Cinematography

Documentaries often employ a raw and unfiltered visual style, utilizing real-life footage and interviews. Feature films emphasize cinematic techniques, including lighting, camera angles, and visual effects, to create a visually captivating experience.

Role of Script and Dialogue

Documentaries may have a script for narration or interviews, but the focus is on capturing authentic conversations and real moments. In feature films, the script is a crucial element that guides character interactions and plot progression.

Editing Techniques and Storytelling

Documentary editing emphasizes organizing real footage and interviews into a coherent and impactful narrative. Feature film editing weaves together scenes to build tension, suspense, or emotional resonance.

Audience Engagement and Impact

Documentaries engage audiences through their informative and thought-provoking content. They often inspire viewers to take action or deepen their understanding of a subject. Feature films engage audiences emotionally, immersing them in fictional worlds and characters’ journeys.

Documentaries as a Medium of Education

Documentaries serve as educational tools, providing insights into history, culture, science, and society. They allow audiences to gain a deeper understanding of real-world issues.

Entertainment Value in Feature Films

Feature films prioritize entertainment and escapism, offering audiences a break from reality and a chance to experience diverse emotions.

Blurring the Lines: Docudramas and Mockumentaries

Some films blur the lines between documentary and fiction. Docudramas combine real events with dramatized storytelling, while mockumentaries mimic the documentary format for comedic or satirical purposes.

Budget and Production

Documentaries often have smaller budgets and production teams compared to feature films, which may involve elaborate sets, costumes, and special effects.

Film Festivals and Awards

Both documentary and feature films are showcased in film festivals worldwide. Documentaries often compete for awards in categories like Best Documentary, while feature films vie for recognition in various genres.


In conclusion, the world of filmmaking is diverse, encompassing documentary and feature films, each with its unique characteristics and objectives. Documentaries provide a lens into reality, aiming to inform and educate, while feature films offer entertainment and emotional experiences through fictional narratives. Both genres contribute to the rich tapestry of cinema, offering audiences a wide range of perspectives and stories to explore.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Q: Can a documentary have fictional elements?

A: Yes, some documentaries use reenactments or dramatizations to enhance storytelling, but the core focus remains on factual content.

Q: Do feature films always have to be fictional?

A: Feature films are primarily known for fictional narratives, but some may be inspired by real events or incorporate elements of reality.

Q: Can documentaries be entertaining?

A: Absolutely, documentaries can be both informative and engaging, captivating audiences through compelling storytelling.

Q: Are mockumentaries considered documentaries?

A: Mockumentaries mimic the documentary style for comedic or satirical purposes but are ultimately fictional in nature.

Q: Are there any films that blur the lines between documentary and feature film?

A: Yes, docudramas and mockumentaries are examples of films that blend elements of both genres, creating a unique cinematic experience.

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