The film and history communities have produced volumes of work on the filmic presentation of the past. The majority of this work concentrates on dramatic feature films. Though not as widely seen as Hollywood films, the evolution and development of the non-fiction or documentary film and its relationship to depiction of history is also relevant. While technological changes, like the advent of sound, and the influence of other disciplines, like theater and journalism, changed the content and form of early history non-fiction films, their authors chose to create narratives, formally and functionally, that reflected contemporary ideas about history.
I intend to show how the modes used in historical non-fiction films reflect ideas about narrative authority, storytelling conventions, temporality, causation, and counter-narrative construction. By analyzing the first historical re-creation films, omnipotent narration, expert interviewees, dramatic techniques, and the challenge of filmed archival evidence, I will argue that the struggle to depict history on film reflects the contingency of and shifting patterns within narrative, academic, and popular authority and its relationship to the past.