Making Sense Out of Film

A film is essentially a series of still pictures on a display, most often with audio, that create a tale over a period of time. For example, a home movie is the narrative that is created over several viewings of the movie. You may enjoy watching old French movies while secretly loving animated movies. The film itself is just a film, and often you will also use the term to indicate the still photograph that runs across a monitor and captures the motion of the film. Or, you may prefer to use “the film” to refer to the still picture on the monitor.


There are many different kinds of films, but the two most common types are motion picture and documentary. Motion picture is often called ‘pure cinema,’ since it is meant to be enjoyed on the big screen, in the original full-length format. Movie houses show a wide variety of motion pictures, from classic movies to award-winning films, to movies that have only been shown in certain countries or for a limited period of time. Even the rarest of silent films can be found on archive VHS or DVD formats, sometimes featuring rarely seen masterpieces or the work of masters well beyond their sell-by date. The world wide web also offers a wealth of information on films, both recent and historical, from posters to deleted scenes.

Documentary films, also known as documentaries, are similar to motion pictures, but focus more on the visual aspect of something. Many people may confuse a documentary film with a film noir, but they are not the same. Most documentaries are long, feature-length, and tell a meaningful story. Many feature artfully executed long shots of cities or abstract objects, telling the viewer about the place or the subject at large. Documentary films are often made for scientific, educational, or political purposes, and feature an artistically-created style that frequently goes beyond recognizable montage. While most documentaries contain some narrative elements, the emphasis tends to be on visual aspects and artistic interpretation rather than plot.