Standard Article

Cinema Direct and Indirect

American Documentary, 1960–1975

3. 1946 to 1975

4. 1966–1975

  1. Charles Warren

Published Online: 13 NOV 2011

DOI: 10.1002/9780470671153.wbhaf059

The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film

The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film

How to Cite

Warren, C. 2011. Cinema Direct and Indirect. The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film. 3:4:56.

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 13 NOV 2011


“Direct cinema” is a name preferred by certain American filmmakers emerging around 1960, for work they were doing in documentary under new principles and using new techniques. The technical breakthrough was the development of new lightweight equipment that allowed a crew as small as two persons, or even one, to move about freely and relatively unobtrusively, filming in 16 mm with synchronous sound recording. The new determination, or basic approach, was to attend to the world with a new flexibility and even modesty, following what might unfold, walking with the handheld camera and keeping it and the recorder running as long as appropriate, reframing and refocusing without stopping, not planning, not setting up shots, not setting out to teach a moral or make an argument, but just to take an interest, to become involved as an observer and to register, record, and relay. Anticipated in part by the Free Cinema movement in Great Britain of the 1950s, direct cinema practitioners in the United States — as Erik Barnouw says of the British — “often poked into places society was inclined to ignore or keep hidden,” and they liked to let the material stand with some ambiguity, leaving conclusions to viewers (1983, 231).


  • direct cinema;
  • cinéma vérité;
  • Robert Drew;
  • Maysles;
  • Pennebaker;
  • Leacock;
  • Wiseman