Documentary Filmmaking and Research

Associate professor Angela Fitzgerald and documentary filmmaker Magnolia Lowe drive a compelling case for documentary filmmaking as not only a research output but a research process. Documentaries are so cemented in popular culture as entertainment, but scholars too have begun to acknowledge the possibility of documentary filmmaking as a form of generating and disseminating knowledge in academia.

While some have dismissed documentary filmmaking as a research method because it is not rigourous enough, Fitzgerald and Lowe prove this is not the case. Documentary filmmaking can be seen as an extension of ethnographic research methods, harnessing the power of storytelling while maintaining the authenticity of the data. Using their own successful research project as a case study, Fitzgerald and Lowe champion the possibilities of documentary filmmaking to inform the collection and analysis of research data.

Screenshot from Mapping the Messiness, Interview with Clara (Magnolia Lowe/Vimeo)

The researchers created a documentary called ‘Mapping the Messiness’ (2020) that depicted the lived experiences of early-career graduate teachers in Australia. Over 12 months, they conducted video interviews and collected video-diaries from the 5 participating teachers. They analysed the videos to better understand the factors influencing teachers in the first few years of their profession and why the retention rate of graduate teachers in Australia is so low. Documentary filmmaking was considered an innovative way to document the teachers’ own lived experiences and respond to the research questions of the study.

Documentary filmmaking can be translated into the research sphere as it has many methodological strengths for capturing, showing, and making meaning of lived experiences under study.


Angela Fitzgerald and Magnolia Lowe. “Acknowledging Documentary Filmmaking as not Only an Output but a Research Process: A Case for Quality Research Practice.”  International Journal of Qualitative Methods, Vol. 19 (2020): 1–7 .