Documentary Rules & Guidelines

university of colorado denver national history day in colorado a pre-collegiate social studies and literacy program

PLEASE NOTE: The General Rules for All Categories must also be adhered to.
Rule 1: Time Requirements 
  • Documentaries may not exceed 10 minutes in length. 
  • You will be allowed an additional 5 minutes to set up and 5 minutes to remove equipment. 
  • Timing will begin when the first visual image of the presentation appears and/or the first sound is heard. Color bars and other visual leads in a video will be counted in the time limit. 
  • Timing will end when the last visual image or sound of the presentation concludes (this includes credits). 
Note: Use your set-up time to prepare your documentary for presentation, adjust volume, etc. 
Rule 2: Introduction 
  • You must announce only the title of your presentation and names of participants. 
  • Comments prior to or during the presentation, including live narration, are prohibited. 
Rule 3: Student Involvement 
  • You must be able to run the program within the ten-minute time limit.
  • You must provide and be able to run your own computers, software, and other equipment while presenting your documentary to the judges.
  • Interactive computer programs and web pages in which the audience or judges are asked to participate are not acceptable; judges are not permitted to operate any equipment.
  • Internet access may not be available.
Rule 4: Student Production 
  • All entries must be student-produced. 
  • You must operate all equipment, including all editing equipment used in the production of your presentation.
  • You must provide the narration, voice-over, and dramatization. Only those student(s)listed as entrants may participate in the production. 
  • Only you/your group and the subjects of your interviews (participants in a historical event or experts) may appear on camera.
  • Your entry must be an original production.
  • Using material created by others specifically for use in your entry is prohibited. 
Rule 5: Entry Production 
  • You may use professional photographs, film, slides, recorded music, etc. within your presentation. However, you must integrate such items into your presentation and give proper credit within the presentation as well as in your annotated bibliography. 
Note: Remember that different equipment may affect how your documentary appears on the screen. You should test equipment provided at competitions beforehand, bring back-up copies of your documentary in different formats, and/or bring your own equipment. There is no penalty for displaying your documentary on a laptop computer, and many students use them successfully as a backup measure.
Rule 6: Credits 
  • At the conclusion of the documentary, you must provide a list of acknowledgments and credits for ALL sources. These credits should be brief-- not full bibliographic citations and not annotated.
  • You are not required to credit individual images or video clips while the documentary is playing; that is the purpose of the credits at the end. 
  • All sources (e.g., music, images, film/media clips, interviews, books, websites etc.) used in the making of the documentary should be properly cited in the annotated bibliography. 
  • The list of the credits counts towards the ten-minute time limit and should be readable by viewers. 
Rule 7: Required Written Materials
  • Three copies of your title page, process paper, and bibliography should be presented to the judges for review. Be sure to bring an additional copy for your own reference. Refer to Part III, Rules 16-18, for citation and style information.
Tips From Your State Office
When developing your production, make sure you emphasize the "thesis" or main argument of the topic you're about to portray, AND its "significance" - both in relation to the annual theme. Follow this formula: (1) Tell them what you're going to tell them; (2) Tell them; then, (3) Tell them what you told them. For example, in your opening, "set the stage" for the "thesis and significance"; make sure it's reinforced throughout the presentation; and, then summarize what the audience has seen, continuing to emphasize the "thesis and significance." We cannot stress this enough! "Pound home" the relationship to the annual theme. 
When annotating your bibliography, make sure you emphasize what primary documents, in particular, were helpful and how you used them in the documentary. For example, in the bibliography of a video on the Nuremberg trials and its impact on human rights, the students listed a variety of primary sources from paper documents to interviews. In the annotation, they said, "This particular document/interview was helpful because it represented . . ." "We incorporated this statement. . . because it pointed out . . ." Sometimes the judges' final decision rests on the quality of the process paper.