A documentary film presents facts, usually about people and events of historical significance, or about social issues. The City Symphony, whose roots go back to the every day images recorded by Auguste and Louis Lumière in the 1890's, began with Manhatta in 1921. This movie took the documentary film a step further by putting it in the realm of the art form.
As any good teacher would, the director of a documentary endeavors to present facts in an entertaining way without distorting the information. A documentary in its purest form uses actual footage of people and events to communicate information or viewpoints. The director uses actors only to recreate historical events. In this sense, City Symphonies are true documentaries. They use, in most cases, candid shots of common people going about their daily lives. On the other hand, City Symphonies by the juxtaposition of scenes create a montage, which tends to create a work of art. In addition, while no distortion of information about the city may take place, the images often take on a surrealistic aspect. Aesthetic effects as well as an attempt to encourage the viewer to look at everyday scenes with a new eye motivate these artistic attempts on the part of the director. The Chilean documentary film director Patricio Guzman once said that "A country without documentaries is a like a family without a photo album." If that is the case, then a City Symphony is more like scrapbook with a theme.