Are Feature Films The Same As Documentary Films?

Posted on 25 Oct 00:00


A discussion far too common amongst serious movie buffs of this era is the debate about whether or not a documentary film, is different from a feature film. It makes sense that die-hard movie buffs will want to know the difference between these two types of films since the thin line separating information from entertainment in the movie industry is blurring. As a result, feature films and documentary films (also called docudramas) now possess similar characteristics. Which makes it difficult for viewers to believe that feature films and documentary films actually imply two different things.  Even more confusing, is the fact that the movie directors of feature films and documentary films use actors and actresses for their screenplays.

While it is easy to make the mistake of using feature films and documentary films interchangeably in a discussion, they are not the same. In reality, feature films relationship with documentary films is analogous to newspapers relationship with magazines. Even though they both offer great content, the newspaper aims to inform while the magazine aims to entertain.  So how do you tell a feature film apart from a documentary film?

In the event that you want to draw a clear line difference between feature film and documentary films, here are some common metrics that set them apart.

Feature film versus Documentary film.

  1. Story Line

In all probability, the story line is the biggest and the most obvious line of difference between feature films and documented films. Generally, documentary films are created to portray the real-life experiences of real people, or to provide insight into a specific area of study or discovery. feature film, on the other hand, portrays the story of fictional characters as proposed by the screenplay writer. In other words, feature films are a portrayal of someone’s imagination.

  1. Aim

The aim of documentary films is completely different from the aim of feature films. While the documentary film aims to edify, instruct, inform, and hopefully inspire the viewers, the feature film aims for something different. The aim of feature film revolves around one thing, Entertainment. In this way, your classic comedy films will automatically fall in the feature film category.

  1. Cast

Documentary films may cast real people in real location or use clips cut from the real-life event for their screenplay. You may also see clips of the victims or concerned parties of the real-life occurrence being interviewed at different points in the screenplay. Feature films, on the other hand, don’t use real people (concerned parties of a real-life event) for their cast. Instead, they use actors and actresses that are well-suited for the story they want to portray.  Also, they shoot their movies in sets, built specifically for that movie, to entertain viewers.

  1. Budget

This is perhaps the least referenced line of difference between feature films and documentary films. However, it is a very clear line of difference between the two types of classic films. Documentary films, in general, is produced with very low budgets since they rarely use expensive sets for their films. Feature movies, on the other hand, are produced with a high monetary budget. As a result, they are able to create expensive sets for their films and hire renowned actors and actresses for their screenplay.

  1. Application to the Real-world

Documentaries, for the most part, use real people, real locations, and real-life story for their films. For this reason, the information provided in these films is applicable in real life. As opposed to documentaries, feature films use fictional characters, fictional locations/sets to portray fictional stories that may not be applicable in the real world.

Depending on the run time of a documentary film, a documentary film may also double as a feature film. Thus, documentaries that run more than 40 minutes are known as documentary feature films.

The essential difference between documentary and feature film is that documentaries record facts and feature films are fiction. And, both types of film are equally essential to our society.

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