In this article, we will cover the six documentary modes – or types of documentaries – you might encounter. The film documentary is a genre that typically involves filming an event and its aftermath. Since the invention of cinema, this genre has been around, but it has seen a surge in popularity over the last few decades.
History of Documentary Modes
In 1991, Bill Nichols, American film critic and theoretician, proposed six documentary modes. Each mode contained its own specific characteristics. They have their own goals and require their own distinct documentary techniques.
Let’s break them down individually!
What is Poetic Mode?
They are documentaries that seek to emphasise as much as possible their visual dimension. The images can provoke more sensations, affections, and impressions than necessarily transmit an argument or build a clear narrative about the historical world.
What is Expository Mode?
In the expository way of representing reality, the documentary filmmaker aspires to give the impression of objectivity (always remembering that this total objectivity is an impossibility). Thus, the voice that narrates the facts seeks to judge the actions of the historical world without getting involved with them.
What is Reflexive Mode?
The reflexive documentary is more concerned with the process of representing the outside world than with what it wants to make known to the public. Documentaries of this type show themselves as representation. They speak for themselves, and for their process of realisation.
What is Observational Mode?
Observational documentaries attempt to discover the ultimate truth of their subject by acting as a fly-on-the-wall—in other words, observing the subject’s real-life without interrupting. This style of documentary embraces the cinema verité movement. Cinematographers are often asked to be as unobtrusive as possible. This is to capture their subjects in a raw, unguarded state.
What is Performative Mode?
Performative documentaries centre on the filmmaker’s interaction with his or her subject, using the filmmaker’s personal experience or relationship with the topic as a springboard for delving into wider, subjective realities about politics, history, or groups of people. The cinematographer is often asked to capture the production process as well as intimate footage that depicts the filmmaker’s personal interaction with the subject.
What is Participatory Mode?
The participatory documentary aims to show that the truth of an interview is the truth of the encounter between who is filming and who is being filmed. Thus, the participatory method is the opposite of the observational mode.
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