Documentary films, just like narrative films, come in all shapes and sizes. As creators of non-fiction films, documentary filmmakers strive to present honest and truthful stories, however, the methods in which they attempt to achieve this can be varied. Because of this fact, respected documentary film theorist, Bill Nichols named six subcategories to help classify different styles of documentary filmmaking. These are: Poetic mode, Expository mode, Observational mode, Performative mode, Participatory mode, and Reflexive mode. These six modes are widely used by filmmakers and film theorists alike. It is important to note that although these modes exist, it does not mean the conventions of one mode cannot be present in another.
In this series of articles, we will be looking into each mode, identifying the features, looking into the history, and highlighting notable films and directors.
The Poetic Mode
With the poetic mode of documentary, the goal is not to create a film with a traditional narrative but rather to look into presenting patterns and associations to create meaning and evoke an emotional response from the audience. This is often achieved by arranging imagery into rhythms and juxtapositions.
When people become part of the poetic documentary as participants, they are seen more like objects or “raw material” rather than characters with complex personalities and backstories. They are often arranged by the filmmaker, just like other objects in the film to create patterns and meaning.
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