Documentary Research: In Search of the Truth

by David Kaminski


Never Take Something As Simple As a Person’s Name for Granted.

Recently, I discovered that my documentary subject was not only named after an uncle, but that he also carried the middle name of his grandfather. Surprise? Even his living relatives did not know it was true. A passport and some other documentation settled the matter.

Do Not Trust Your Subject to Tell the Truth.

An article printed 50 years ago in a newspaper included the wrong date for a land sale. December 1937 was “rounded” to 1938, and the amount of money land was bought for was likewise inaccurate. The source? The person who bought the land, and the subject of the documentary, a scrupulously honest man. Even though he died decades ago, the myth has persisted in print, has been photocopied, and is even on microfilm. Only the land deeds, found in the county courthouse shed light on the truth.

Find It In Print? In Writing?

Finding a fact in print in a state document may not be enough. Look for hand-written journals, see if there are misspellings, unclear handwriting, abbreviations, variations in spellings, misprints, changes, or omitted material. When you see it hand-written in ink from 1837, it is probably true. Let’s hope so.

Points of View? Facts?

Being a documentary filmmaker is sometimes more like being a lawyer. But you do not have to say it out loud in court, or shout to make your point. The facts – right or wrong – will have their day on a big screen when you finish. Your editing will say it all.


David Kaminski teaches TV Production/Media at Clarkstown HS North in New City, NY about 25 miles north of New York City. His students have earned five Telly Awards and over 50 national awards for their work. They also have screened their films more than 200 times in festivals across the country and internationally.


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