Moving images, moving methods: Advancing documentary film for qualitative research


With the widespread use of digital media as a tool for documentation, creation, preservation, and sharing of audio-visual content, new strategies are required to deal with this type of “data” for research and analysis purposes. This article describes and advances the methodological process of using documentary film as a strategy for qualitative inquiry. Insights are drawn from a multimedia study that explored Inuit-caribou relationships in Labrador, Canada, through the coproduction of community-based, research-oriented, participatory documentary film work. Specifically, we outline: 1) the influence of documentary film on supporting the project conceptualization and collaboration with diverse groups of people; 2) the strength of conducting filmed interviews for in-depth data collection, while recognizing how place and activities are intimately connected to participant perspectives; and 3) a new and innovative analytical approach that uses video software to examine qualitative data, keep participants connected to their knowledge, and simultaneously work towards creating high impact storytelling outputs. The flexibility and capacity of documentary film to mobilize knowledge and intentionally create research outputs for specific target audiences is also discussed. Continued and future integration of documentary film into qualitative research is recommended for creatively enhancing our abilities to not only produce strong, rich, and dynamic research outputs, but also simultaneously to explore and communicate diverse knowledges, experiences, and stories.

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Film can bring diverse groups of people together to work collaboratively


Video-interviews allow for more information to be collected beyond participant words


Video-editing software can be used manage data and explore not just what participants say, but how they say it


Documentary film is a powerful strategy to communicate knowledge in accessible and engaging ways 

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Video-based qualitative analysis

A guide

Video-based qualitative analysis

A video-based qualitative analysis is an analytical approach that unites the strengths of two distinct fields of work: qualitative research and documentary filmmaking. At the core of this approach is the recognition that video interviews are data collected through the documentary film process, and these video data can be analysed through a qualitative methodological procedure. More specifically, this approach generates analytical outputs and deep understandings from human experiences, knowledge, stories and their embedded visual contexts, while simultaneously producing an audio-visual, storytelling output that can be more easily viewed and communicated back to research participants, communities, and the public.

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The Lumberjack Builder program is a text-based video-editing and organizational software. We repurposed it to apply qualitative, thematic codes to video clips. 

Final Cut Pro X is a video-editing software. We repurposed coding, searching, and filtering functions within this program to facilitate applied qualitative analysis in a manner that was capable of handling high volumes of video data. 

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