What Makes a Good Documentary Film?

Documentaries have become increasingly popular over the years, with more and more people turning to them for education, entertainment and inspiration. This rise in popularity can be attributed to a number of different factors, such as easily accessible streaming services, increased access to information, and a growing interest in authenticity and truth.

Interestingly, documentaries are one of the fastest growing genres, with demand for these films growing 142% from 2018 to 2021.

So, if you’re looking to create one, you might be wondering what makes a good documentary. In this blog, we explain just that.

But first, it’s important to understand exactly what they are and their various purposes.

What Is the Purpose of a Documentary?

A documentary is a type of film that examines a real-life theme, event, problem or individual, and they can have a number of different purposes. For example, they can serve to inform, educate, inspire, raise awareness, inspire and spark thought and discussion among the audience.

Here are 5 key elements that make a good documentary film:

  1. Thorough research
  2. Effective use of archival footage and interviews
  3. A compelling storyline & emotional connection
  4. Complete authenticity
  5. Hiring a video production company

1. Thorough Research

It goes without saying that thorough research is the heart and soul of a good, credible documentary film. A documentary simply cannot be made without in-depth research in the subject, and factual accuracy, expert interviews, and a deep understanding of the subject matter are absolutely paramount for credibility.

This is because, when a documentary has clearly been well researched, the audience is much more likely to have trust in the film as the information presented in the documentary is accurate, factual, and based on credible sources.

Misinformation can undermine the reliability and integrity of the documentary, so carrying out as much high quality research as possible is key for a good film. Remember, documentaries are often seen as educational tools, so without thorough research, how can you expect the documentary to offer any educational value?

This brings us nicely onto our second point…

2. Effective Use of Archival Footage and Interviews

Another key element of a good documentary is incorporating archival footage, photographs and interviews with experts, witnesses or individuals closely involved in the subject. Including these things in the documentary allows the film to be much more engaging, immersive, informative and somewhat emotional.

Every good documentary out there includes interviews with individuals, experts, or key figures as not only does this bring a human element to the documentary, but hearing personal accounts and experiences directly from those involved or knowledgeable about the subject enhances the audience’s connection to the story.

Interviews with various people also provide multiple perspectives on the documentary subject matter, offering a well-rounded and comprehensive view.

What Makes a Good Documentary Film

Those being interviewed might have varying opinions on the subject, insights, or experiences that enhance the storytelling and promote a deeper understanding of the topic, so always include interviews when you can!

3. A Compelling Storyline & Emotional Connection

While every documentary film is about a general topic, the best ones are about more than just that – they have a strong and engaging narrative with a clear structure. By this we mean, a beginning, middle, and end.

A compelling storyline grabs the audience’s attention from the beginning and keeps them interested throughout the whole documentary, stimulating their interest and making them eager to know what happens next.

A structured storyline also allows the documentary to flow much more smoothly than if there was no real narrative, and helps viewers retain information and understand the subject matter better.

A good documentary should also evoke the audience’s emotions, whether it be anger, empathy, sadness, joy or inspiration. When the audience feels a strong emotional connection with a documentary, they are much more likely to not only remember the documentary but also recommend it to their peers.

4. Complete Authenticity

As we touched on at the beginning of the blog, credibility is the cornerstone of a good documentary, which is why documentaries should strive to be as authentic as possible, presenting an accurate and unbiased perception of the topic.

As well as ensuring that facts, figures and general details are presented accurately, there must also be complete authenticity when shedding light on any cultural, political or societal issues.

What Makes a Good Documentary Film

Authenticity in representing these issues helps in fostering informed discussions, raising awareness, and driving positive social change based on accurate information.

5. Hiring a Video Production Company

With the popularity of streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, the demand for documentaries continues to boom. In fact, in 2020, documentaries accounted for ‘12.41% of viewing’ in the UK and were therefore one of the most popular types of content to watch.

That said, as the streaming market becomes more saturated with documentaries, it’s becoming harder and harder to create engaging films and therefore, harder to compete. This is why leaving it to the professionals is highly recommended.

What Makes a Good Documentary Film

When looking for a professional media production company, do your research by looking at reviews and the company’s previous case studies of past documentary work.

At Buffoon Media, we have been lucky enough to work on productions for TV and documentaries shared online. You can take a look at some of our past documentaries here.

So, if you’re looking for a documentary video production company to follow a project and turn it into a documentary film, we’d love to speak with you. We have documentary production crews situated in Wales, London, Manchester and Birmingham.


For more tips on how to make a good documentary, check out this blog!

We’re Buffoon Media: a bilingual video production company based in London and Port Talbot, producing and live streaming content across the globe. Learn more about our documentary video production services, as well as the other services we provide on our website, and check out our video production blog page for more tips.

Written by Kate Jones for Buffoon Media.