Documentary Report

After watching ‘Trevor McDonald’s Life On Death Row’ and ‘Life In A Day’, both these factual programmes convey various styles, structures and narratives which can be elaborated on for analysis.


Starting with Trevor McDonald’s documentary centred around the inmates of Indiana State Prison, telling their stories, who are incarcerated with the knowledge they will all but likely face the death penalty. The structure consists of more traditional methods; including overlaying narrative from Trevor McDonald to give an audience an overview of the impending scenes or give extra narrative to events. As Trevor meets the prisoners, his questioning is closed, but leading, deciding not to delve to deeply into the convicts past bluntly in the first episode- as we enter the second instalment however, they become more direct. Examples of this include; ”Does being on death row bring an emotional or physical toll?”, but then a more direct, open question asked is, ”Tell me about the incidents which landed you here on death row?”

His line of questioning benefits from the broadness and frankness of the inmates, who quite openly reveal the fullness and ‘richness’ of their past. This, in turn, seeing murderers speak so thoughtfully and eloquently, creates a paradoxical impression on the audience as they find it hard connecting their previous actions to the people who are being focused in on Life On Death Row.    

In asking these questions, and in turn the objectivity of the entire documentary, the programme remains impartial by letting the inmates tell their stories in their own words, but near the end of the second episode were Trevor interviews Frederick Baer who confesses he killed a young mother and her child. After hearing this, Trevor McDonald makes the statement that he is against the death penalty, but in the case of Baer, then the penalty is just and fair. However, his underlying beliefs do not feel as if they are influencing the narrative of the series.

From the subject matter, an emotional connection can be established from the subject, but also imposes the thoughts of mortality and death in to the audiences minds. There are scenes of prison guards constantly being vigilante to attacks not just between inmates, but to themselves as well, which draws empathy from the viewer.

Finally, Life On Death Row, does well in answering the questions it raises without leaving too many undisclosed. Those still left in the audiences’ mind are more underlying; such as what happened after the recordings and the inmates fate for clarification.


Life In A Day is a unique documentary from Tony and Ridley Scott taking 4,500 hours of footage from people from around the world to see what humanity does in one given day in the world, recording what took place on 24th July 2010.

There is evident structure to the film; starting at midnight and running right through to midnight in ascending order of time. Each aspect of the day is covered with perspectives of how different people from different walks of life deal with everyday normalities. It is not only seeing what we all do day-to-day; like waking up, eating and brushing our teeth etc. but the cultural variances of them and how others practice them, either by choice or due to necessity; for example seeing people waking up in various locations from the warmth of a bed to sleeping rough on the streets.

Materialistic possessions are covered also, filming what a select group have in their pockets from around the world including money, rings and even weapons to those who have nothing. The anthesis of is heavily featured to; the emotions carry with them. In certain scenes, a girl holding a written sign with topics that the following individuals will discuss or give their feelings on, for example ‘love’ and ‘what people fear’. Other scenes express these emotions without any prompt. Two examples of this are found near the start of the documentary. As a father and small boy wake up to the start of a new day, the boy remembers his mother by lighting incense and sounding a chime. The second example is of a western boy struggling to deal with his mother’s illness, crying as he is being filmed whilst his mother tries to explain the dreadfully hard situation. Both of these scenes hold the bittersweet sadness of life that many watching could surely relate to, aiding the subjective tone because of the content.

From the way it is filmed, by the people creating the footage with handheld devices, impartiality remains constant as it is from the individuals point of view and each person identified brings an interesting perspective on life which engages the viewer. The key to Life In A Day is its purpose, giving an account of how this generation lives, and more importantly how we live, on a daily basis, to what makes up our lives; birth, death, fighting, working, relationships, laughter and turmoil.

The woman who recorded her segment at 23:57 at the end of the feature summed up the tone of the film perfectly by saying, ”I’m running out of time…I spent all day waiting for something special to happen- but the truth is, it doesn’t always happen. I want people to know I’m here, I don’t want to cease to exist.”


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