Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Legacy Department



Palmer, Barton R

Committee Member

Skrodzka-Bates , Aga

Committee Member

Blakesley , David


The cinematic essay, also known as the essay film, is an extension of the documentary genre which replaces the impossible task of objectivity with a more subjective, argumentative approach. The existence of this form arguably dates back to the birth of the documentary, but certainly encompasses more recent endeavors like Errol Morris' investigative work, the experimental features of Chris Marker, and the political exposes of Michael Moore. Until the recent growth in digital technology, which has decreased the financial burden associated with the cost of film stock and other aspects of production, essayistic cinema was mostly created by professional filmmakers, who approach thesis-driven arguments through a visual medium to achieve what documentary pioneer John Grierson described as 'the creative treatment of actuality' (Winston, 19). Yet in recent years the development of digital cameras and editing equipment has made it possible for amateur filmmakers, including those involved in academia, to craft essay films with the same efficiency and quality of their professional predecessors. This thesis examines the essay film from a theoretical and historical perspective to reveal the similarities between those films and the form of argumentative writing which is typically taught to students in composition courses.