A video essay is an essay presented in the format of a video recording or short film rather than a conventional piece of writing; The form often overlaps with other forms of video entertainment on online platforms such as YouTube.[1][2][3][4] A video essay allows an author to directly quote from film, video games, music, or other digital mediums, which is impossible with traditional writing.[5] While many video essays are intended for entertainment, they can also have an academic or political purpose.[6][7] This type of content is often described as educational entertainment.[8]


A film essay (also essay film or cinematic essay) consists of the evolution of a theme or an idea rather than a plot per se, or the film literally being a cinematic accompaniment to a narrator reading an essay.[9] From another perspective, an essay film could be defined as a documentary film visual basis combined with a form of commentary that contains elements of self-portrait (rather than autobiography), where the signature (rather than the life story) of the filmmaker is apparent. The cinematic essay often blends documentary, fiction, and experimental film making using tones and editing styles.[10]

The genre is not well-defined but might include propaganda works of early Soviet filmmakers like Dziga Vertov, documentary filmmakers including Chris Marker,[11] Michael Moore (Roger & Me, Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11), Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line), Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) and Agnès Varda. Jean-Luc Godard describes his later works as "film-essays".[12] Two filmmakers whose work was the antecedent to the cinematic essay include Georges Méliès and Bertolt Brecht. Méliès made a short film (The Coronation of Edward VII (1902)) about the 1902 coronation of King Edward VII, which mixes actual footage with shots of a recreation of the event. Brecht was a playwright who experimented with film and incorporated film projections into some of his plays.[10] Orson Welles made an essay film in his own pioneering style, released in 1974, called F for Fake, which dealt specifically with art forger Elmyr de Hory and with the themes of deception, "fakery", and authenticity in general.

David Winks Gray's article "The essay film in action" states that the "essay film became an identifiable form of filmmaking in the 1950s and '60s". He states that since that time, essay films have tended to be "on the margins" of the filmmaking the world. Essay films have a "peculiar searching, questioning tone ... between documentary and fiction" but without "fitting comfortably" into either genre. Gray notes that just like written essays, essay films "tend to marry the personal voice of a guiding narrator (often the director) with a wide swath of other voices".[13] The University of Wisconsin Cinematheque website echoes some of Gray's comments; it calls a film essay an "intimate and allusive" genre that "catches filmmakers in a pensive mood, ruminating on the margins between fiction and documentary" in a manner that is "refreshingly inventive, playful, and idiosyncratic".[14]

Other notable film essays include Chris Marker's Sans Soleil (1983) and Ross McElwee's Sherman's March (1986).[15]


While the medium (or as film scholar Eric Faden called it "media stylos") has its roots in academia, it has grown dramatically in popularity with the advent of online video-sharing platforms like YouTube and Vimeo.[16][17] In 2021, the Netflix series Voir premiered featuring video essays focusing on films like 48 Hrs and Lady Vengeance.[18][19]

Fellow video essayist Thomas Flight observes videos about popular media receiving more clicks as part of the video essay economy.[20]

In 2017, Sight & Sound, the magazine published by the British Film Institute (BFI), started an annual polls of the best video essays of the year. The 2021 poll reported that 38% of the essayists whose work received a nomination are female (which implies an increase of the 5% from the previous year), and that predominantly the video essays are in English (95%).[21]

Notable examples

Frequently cited[22][23][24][25] examples of video essayists and series include Every Frame a Painting (a series on the grammar of film editing by Tony Zhou and Taylor Ramos)[26][27][28] and Lindsay Ellis (an American media critic, film critic, YouTuber, and author formerly known as The Nostalgia Chick) who was inspired by Zhou and Ramos's work.[29] Websites like StudioBinder, MUBI, and Fandor also have contributing writers providing their own video essays. One such contributor, Kevin B. Lee, helped assert video essays' status as a legitimate form of film criticism as Chief Video Essayist for Fandor from 2011-2016.[30] Other video essayists include pioneering African American documentary filmmaker Marlon Riggs,[31] Korean-American filmmaker Kogonada, British film scholar Catherine Grant,[32] American experimental filmmakers Thom Andersen and Mark Rappaport (the latter known as the "father of the modern video essay")[33][34][35] and French media researcher Chloé Galibert-Laîné.[36]

In 2020, curator Cydnii Wilde Harris, along with Will DiGravio and Kevin B. Lee, collaboratively curated The Black Lives Matter Video Essay Playlist, highlighting the medium's activist potential.[37] Because the video essay format is digestible yet often emotionally impactful and can be created without requiring expensive equipment, it has served as a crucial tool for filmmakers and community organizers who have been marginalized from mainstream film criticism and media production.[38]

Youtuber and critic Jacob Geller has received acclaim for his videos on art and social justice, and published a print collection of his video essay scripts in 2024.[39][40]

Notable video essays

Academic application

Academics, especially in regard to film, find video essays great for critique and analysis.[5] Academics also believe that video essays are an excellent way for students to explore creativity whilst being scholarly.[76] Professors have found that students benefit and become better writers after learning how to make video essays.[77][78]

In 2014, a new peer-reviewed academic journal, [in]Transition, was created to have a platform for scholarly videographic work and video essays. [in]Transition is a collaborative project between MediaCommons and the official publication of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies, Journal of Cinema & Media Studies. The goal of [in]Transition is to bolster videographic work as a legitimate and valid medium for scholarship.[79]

Since 2015 under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and under the auspices of Middlebury’s Digital Liberal Arts Summer Institute, Professors Jason Mittell, Christian Keathley and Catherine Grant have organized a two-week workshop with the aim to explore a range of approaches by using moving images as a critical language and to expand the expressive possibilities available to innovative humanist scholars. Every year the workshop is attended by 15 scholars working in film and media studies or a related field, whose objects of study involve audio-visual media, especially film, television, and other new digital media forms.[80]

In 2018, Tecmerin: Revista de Ensayos Audiovisuales began as another peer-reviewed academic publication exclusively dedicated to videographic criticism. The same year Will DiGravio launched the Video Essay Podcast, featuring interviews with prominent video essayists.[36]

In 2021, the research project Video Essay. Futures of Audiovisual Research and Teaching funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation started, led by media scholar and video essayist Johannes Binotto, with Chloé Galibert-Laîné, Oswald Iten, and Jialu Zhu as main researchers.

See also


  1. ^ "WATCH: Best Film Video Essays of 2020". StudioBinder. 27 December 2020. Retrieved 21 October 2023.
  2. ^ McLaughlan, Paul. "LibGuides: How to do a Video Essay: Home". ecu.au.libguides.com. Retrieved 25 October 2023.
  3. ^ "Video Essays". Excelsior OWL. Retrieved 25 October 2023.
  4. ^ Bernstein, Paula (3 May 2016). "What is a Video Essay? Creators Grapple with a Definition". Filmmaker Magazine. Retrieved 5 July 2017.
  5. ^ a b Naremore, James; Hanstke, Tamar (18 June 2023). "A Short Interview with Dr. James Naremore". Cinephile: The University of British Columbia's Film Journal. 17 (1): 5–7. doi:10.14288/cinephile.v17i1.198233 (inactive 16 June 2024).((cite journal)): CS1 maint: DOI inactive as of June 2024 (link)
  6. ^ Higgin, Tanner (23 January 2018). "Why and How to Use YouTube Video Essays in Your Classroom". Common Sense Education. Retrieved 25 March 2018.
  7. ^ Roose, Kevin (8 June 2019). "The Making of a YouTube Radical". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 19 October 2023.
  8. ^ Ibraheem, Azeezah (13 March 2023). "The Growing Popularity of Video Essays". Study Breaks. Near East University. Retrieved 26 October 2023.
  9. ^ Laura Rascaroli (2008). "The Essay Film: Problems, Definitions, Textual Commitments". Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media. 49 (2): 24–47. doi:10.1353/frm.0.0019. ISSN 1559-7989. S2CID 170942901.
  10. ^ a b Cinematic Essay Film Genre Archived 2007-08-08 at the Wayback Machine. chicagomediaworks.com. Retrieved March 22, 2011.
  11. ^ (registration required) Lim, Dennis (July 31, 2012). "Chris Marker, 91, Pioneer of the Essay Film" Archived 2012-08-03 at the Wayback Machine. The New York Times. Retrieved July 31, 2012.
  12. ^ Discussion of film essays Archived 2007-08-08 at the Wayback Machine. Chicago Media Works.
  13. ^ Gray, David Winks (30 January 2009). "The essay film in action". San Francisco Film Society. Archived from the original on 15 March 2009.
  14. ^ Brown, Bill, ed. (Spring 2009). "Talking Pictures: The Art of the Essay Film". Cinematheque. UW–Madison. Archived from the original on 20 July 2011. Retrieved 22 March 2011.
  15. ^ Beyond the Essayistic: Defining the Varied Modal Origins of Videographic Criticism on JSTOR
  16. ^ Bresland, John. "On the Origin of the Video Essay". Blackbird: an online journal of literature and the arts. Department of English at Virginia Commonwealth University & New Virginia Review, Inc. ISSN 1540-3068. Retrieved 5 July 2017.
  17. ^ The Video Essay: The Future of Academic Film and Television Criticism? - Frames Cinema Journal
  18. ^ Stream It or Skip It: 'Voir' On Netflix - Decider
  19. ^ Netflix's Visual Essay Series Voir is Worth a Look|TV/Streaming|Roger Ebert
  20. ^ a b c 18 Great Essays from 2018 - Thomas Flight
  21. ^ Avissar, Ariel; Harris, Cydnii Wilde; Lee, Grace (18 January 2022). "The best video essays of 2021". British Film Institute. Retrieved 18 June 2022.
  22. ^ Liptak, Andrew (1 August 2016). "This filmmaker deep-dives into what makes your favorite cartoons tick". The Verge. Retrieved 5 July 2017.
  23. ^ Oller, Jacob (14 December 2017). "The 17 Best Video Essays of 2017". Film School Rejects. Retrieved 24 December 2020.
  24. ^ Shields, Meg (13 December 2018). "The Best Video Essays of 2018". Film School Rejects. Retrieved 24 December 2020.
  25. ^ a b c d e Lee, Kevin B.; Verdeure, David (10 January 2010). "The best video essays of 2017". British Film Institute. Retrieved 24 December 2020.
  26. ^ Netflix explores the visual essay’s potential with the David Fincher-produced Voir|A.V.Club
  27. ^ Netflix cruelly announces David Fincher-produced video essay series, not a new season of Mindhunter|A.V. Club
  28. ^ a b c Williams, Wil. "The video essays that spawned an entire YouTube genre", Polygon, 1 June 2021. Retrieved 1 June 2024.
  29. ^ Raftery, Brian (8 March 2019). "How YouTube Made a Star Out of This Super-Smart Film Critic". Wired. Conde Nast. Retrieved 17 March 2024.
  30. ^ "Kevin B. Lee". British Film Institute. Retrieved 1 February 2021.
  31. ^ The Signifyin’ Works of Marlon Riggs: Positive Images|Current|The Criterion Collection
  32. ^ Video Essays in the Cinema History Classroom - Frames Cinema Journal
  33. ^ Deeper into Movies: The Video Essays of Mark Rappaport|ACMI: Your museum of screen culture
  34. ^ Video Essay: Mark Rappaport on The Empty Screen - Talkhouse
  35. ^ Image and Voice:The Audiovisual Essays of Mark Rappaport - Film Critic: Adrian Martin
  36. ^ a b Avissar, Ariel; DiGravio, Will; Lee, Grace (14 January 2020). "The best video essays of 2019". British Film Institute. Retrieved 4 September 2020.
  37. ^ Harris, Cydnii Wilde (13 August 2020). "Video Essays That Address Race, Inequality, and the Movement for Black Lives". Hyperallergic. Retrieved 1 February 2021.
  38. ^ "Seen and Heard: Selections from the Black Lives Matter Video Essay Playlist". Open City Documentary Festival. Retrieved 1 February 2021.
  39. ^ King, Andrew. "After Jacob Geller's Book, More YouTube Creators Should Release Their Work In Physical Form", The Gamer, 15 March 2024. Retrieved 1 June 2024
  40. ^ Engber, Corinne. "Running on Serendipity: Jacob Geller on Video Game Journalism", Jewish Boston, 16 February 2021. Retrieved 2 June 2024.
  41. ^ Barbara Hammer: Short Films - ΛΑΛΑ|LALA
  42. ^ a b c d Blackness, Gayness, Representation: Marlon Riggs Unpacks It All in His Films - The New York Times
  43. ^ Brief Descriptions and Expanded Essays of Titles at National Film Registry
  44. ^ No Regrets: A Celebration of Marlon Briggs|BAMPFA
  47. ^ Red Hollywood|Screen Slate
  48. ^ Red Hollywood - Harvard Film Archives
  49. ^ 'Red Hollywood' Looks at Work by Blacklisted Filmmakers - The New York Times
  50. ^ Writing Desire|Video Data Bank
  51. ^ Essay Film Festival: Los Angeles Plays Itself|Institute of Contemporary Arts
  52. ^ Los Angeles Plays Itself - LUX
  53. ^ Revisiting Thom Andersen’s ‘Los Angeles Plays Itself’ and Three New Movies for the Remake - Film Independent
  54. ^ View of Interview with Eric Faden and Nina Paley|Transformative Works and Culture
  55. ^ In Dialogue: Eric Faden and Kevin B. Lee - The Videographic Essay
  56. ^ The Documentary's New Politics (2008) - MediaStylo.com
  57. ^ Kirbach, Benjamin (2014). "Critical Psychosis: Genre, Détournement, and Critique in Mr. Plinkett's Star Wars Reviews". Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies. 16 (1): 109. doi:10.17077/2168-569X.1430.
  58. ^ On Video Essays, Cinephilia and Affect - Girish Shambu
  59. ^ The Tenth Anniversary of The Unloved|Features|Roger Ebert
  60. ^ Watch: How History's Greatest Painters Inspired 39 Amazing Movies Shots|IndieWire
  61. ^ Watch: "Film Meets Art III" - Filmmaker Magazine
  62. ^ Video Essay: The Man Who Knew Too Much on Notebook|MUBI
  63. ^ Video Essay: Sirk/Anti-Sirk on Notebook|MUBI
  64. ^ a b c d e The best video essays of 2019|Sight & Sound|BFI
  65. ^ High School Redesigns Shouldn't Remind You Of Taking Cover In Gears Of War", Kotaku. Retrieved 2 June 2024.
  66. ^ FILMADRID & MUBI: The Video Essay—"News from Taxi Driver" on Notebook|MUBI
  67. ^ CITIZEN KAEL, A VIDEO ESSAY - desistfilm
  68. ^ The 20 Best Video Essays of 2020 - Film School Rejects
  69. ^ The best video essays of 2020 - Polygon
  70. ^ a b The best video essays of 2021|Sight & Sound
  71. ^ a b c The best video essays of 2022|Sight & Sound
  72. ^ a b c d The best video essays of 2023|BFI
  73. ^ Martin, Michel (13 February 2022). "Cryptocurrency expert slams NFT hype". NPR. Retrieved 28 May 2022.
  74. ^ The Video Essay: "Sound & Sight & Time" on Notebook|MUBI
  75. ^ The Video Essay|"The Old, the New, and the One Coming" on Notebook|MUBI
  76. ^ D’Cruz, Glenn (2021). "3 or 4 things I know about the audiovisual essay, or the pedagogical perils of constructive alignment". Media Practice and Education. 22 (1): 61–72. doi:10.1080/25741136.2021.1832768 – via Taylor & Francis Online.
  77. ^ Evans, Christine (Spring 2022). "The Sharpening of Knives: Video Essays and Reflecting on Argumentation". The Journal of Cinema and Media Studies. 61 (8). doi:10.3998/jcms.18261332.0061.803 (inactive 16 June 2024). hdl:2027/spo.18261332.0061.803. ISSN 0009-7101.((cite journal)): CS1 maint: DOI inactive as of June 2024 (link)
  78. ^ Nieminen, Juuso Henrik; Tuohilampi, Laura (2 October 2020). "'Finally studying for myself' – examining student agency in summative and formative self-assessment models". Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education. 45 (7): 1031–1045. doi:10.1080/02602938.2020.1720595. ISSN 0260-2938.
  79. ^ "About [in]Transition | [in]Transition". mediacommons.org. Retrieved 23 October 2023.
  80. ^ "Scholarship in Sound & Image". Scholarship in Sound & Image. Retrieved 25 October 2023.