Factual programming can really be further divided into three categories: <br />Information<br />Education<br />Entertainment<br /> There are many definitions for what Documentary is, but it is an incredibly ambiguous subject as you will discover. <br />
DOCUMENTARY IS...<br /> 'ANY film practice that has its subject persons, events or situations that exist outside the film in the real world, also referred to as NON-FICTION FILM. ’<br /> Film Studies Dictionary(Blandford, Keith-Grant & Hiller, 2001; 73)<br />
Documentary has also been<br /> described as<br />‘The creative treatment of actuality’ <br />(John Grierson (1926), in a review of Robert Flaherty’s film Moana)<br />
REMEMBER!! All television and film has been constructed.<br /> Documentaries are formed by decisions made by producers and directors:<br />The initial selection of what to film.<br />The conditions on which consent is given or withheld.<br />How the event is framed, stages, the ‘angle’ in both senses of the word.<br />Editing decisions, including simple decisions to abbreviate routine happenings.<br />
Bill Nichols, in his influential writings on documentary during the 1980s and 1990s developed a classification of what he called ‘documentary modes’ (Nichols 1991) <br />
<ul><li>Expository – the voiceover is a ‘voice of authority’ and attempts to present a fixed meaning about the ‘reality’ that is represented. Usually to inform the audience about something they are unfamiliar with.
Observational -Watching the action play out in front of the camera, can be referred to as ‘fly on the wall’ and it attempts to represent the world as it is.
Interactive/Participatory - The encounter between filmmaker and subject is recorded. The filmmaker engages with the situations, asks questions of their subjects and shares experiences with them.
Reflexive - reveals how documentaries are produced as representations of reality, based on the construction and manipulation of the image. A suggestion that emotion – rather than facts – informs our view of the world.
Performative - Acknowledges the emotional and subjective aspects of documentary. The documentary-maker and crew interact with the subject and comment on the process of making the documentary. The documentary is often shaped into a narrative of an investigation or search, possibly without a satisfactory conclusion.
Poetic- Reassembling fragments of the world, a transformation of historical material into a more abstract, lyrical form, usually associated with Grierson, 1920s and Modernists. Aims at an inner "truth" that can only be grasped by poetical manipulation</li></li></ul><li>Some documentaries can be placed in more than one mode.<br />It can be difficult to distinguish between the different modes – there are areas of overlap<br />It is better to approach the categorisation of a documentary through identifying which mode is dominant rather than expecting to find all the techniques present.<br />The category of documentary as a whole is fluid and can be difficult to define.<br />Theorists don’t always agree as to which mode a documentary belongs. <br />
Expository Mode<br />Techniques include a voice over narration commenting on the images and explaining what is happening in a direct addressto the audience. <br />The aim of an expository documentary is usually to inform the audience about a place, an event etc with which they are not familiar.<br /> It will usually develop an argument – not objective. Social issues are assembled into an argumentative frame, mediated by a 'Voice-of-God' narration, associated with 1920s-1930s<br />(e.g. John Grierson - Night Mail (1936) and Robert Flaherty - Nanook of the North (1921)) <br />Here is an example from 1944 Frank Kapra - Why We Fight<br /> http://www.mediaedu.co.uk/documentaries/modes.php<br />
The Expository mode of Documentary is characterised by the sound track’s ‘voice of authority’ and a general attempt to present a fixed meaning about the ‘reality’ that is represented.<br />
Many modern documentaries/ factual programmes could also fall under this category.<br />Robert Hughes - The Shock of the New (1980)<br />Still present in some wildlife programmes<br />David Attenborough -‘Life in Cold Blood’ 2008 <br />and current affairs documentaries such as Panorama <br />
Expository conventions<br />Voiceover addresses the audience directly and is the dominant convention.<br />The voiceover may be a ‘voice of God’ commentator (heard but not seen) or ‘voice of authority’ (seen and heard – usually an expert in the relevant field).<br />Images are used to illustrate (or sometimes counterpoint) the voiceover.<br />
Direct relationship between voiceover and images shown.<br />Editing is used for continuity, to link together images supporting the argument put forward in the voiceover.<br />A variety of footage, interviews, stills and archive material are assembled to support the argument.<br />
<ul><li> There is an attempt to persuade the audience of a particular point of view, often by appealing to logic and the idea of a common sense-response.
Events are organised to provide the viewer with the solution to a puzzle. </li></li></ul><li>Contextual Factors <br />In the 1920s the technology for recording sound on location (sychronous sound) was limited which may be one reason for the use of a voiceover, which could be recorded in the studio. <br />
The expository mode can also be interpreted as representative of wider social and cultural contexts of the time.<br />The authoritative and instructional tone of early documentary has been linked to a hierarchical society where the dominant groups felt it their responsibility to teach the masses.<br />It also suggests a greater trust in authority and experts than is evident now. <br />
Discussion point<br />If expository documentary is the product of a particular time and place, why is it so popular (particularly on TV) today?<br />
Observational Mode<br />Watching the action play out in front of the camera.<br /> This mode of documentary can be referred to as ‘fly on the wall’ and it attempts to represent the world as it is. <br /> Techniques include long takes, hand-held camera with no interviews or voice over in an attempt to capture a slice of life. <br /> In an observational documentary, the audience should not be aware of the filmmaker, making it very different from other modes such as the participatory mode.<br />
Observational conventions<br />Location shooting; hand-held cameras.<br />Long takes dominate.<br />Sychronous sound recording.<br />No voiceover (in its purist form).<br />No interviews.<br />Documentary-maker’s presence is hidden.<br />Subjects pretend they are not being filmed.<br />
Contextual factors<br />The development of the observational mode is often linked to the development of new technology, specifically the hand-held camera and audiotape machines which facilitated recording on location, although of dubious quality.<br />
This mode of documentary also developed out of a political culture – a more liberal and open society represented by the mass movements for civil rights of the period. <br />
Many observational film makers were motivated by the desire for political change but rather than attempting to instruct the audience – as with the expository mode – the observational mode was chosen as being more democratic, allowing audiences to interpret the evidence rather than telling them what to think.<br />
Kilborn and Izod (1997) also point to the influence of the new US television networks that developed observational formats in the belief that they would be a ratings winner – they weren’t. <br />
Participatory Mode<br />The encounter between filmmaker and subject is recorded, as the filmmaker actively engages with the situations they are documenting, asking questions of their subjects and sharing experiences with them. Heavily reliant on the honesty of witnesses.<br />In opposition to the observational style, the filmmaker is foregrounded in the participatory mode, making it explicit that the film is made from their point of view. <br />The filmmaker is often the central character in the film with the emphasis on their interaction with the people they meet and these people’s reaction to them. Techniques include filmmakers voiceover (with pronounced use of ‘I’), hand held cameras and an emphasis on informal interviews.<br />E.g. Nick Broomfield, Michael Moore.<br />
Michael Moore - Roger &Me - Trailer (1989)<br />Kurt & Courtney: A Film by Nick Broomfield <br />Werner Herzog: Grizzly Man<br />
Participatory conventions<br />Documentary-maker and crew interact with the subject.<br />Interviews dominate but tend to be informal – literally ‘on the run’ questioning.<br />Use of archive material – stills, news footage, newspaper headlines, letters etc.<br />
Location shooting; hand held camera.<br />Sychronous sound recording.<br />Voiceover, usually by the documentary maker.<br />Documentary maker is visible to the audience – intervenes and participates in the action.<br />
Contextual factors<br />From the list of conventions it is clear that there are overlaps between participatory and observational modes; both were made possible by new developments in technology.<br />
The participatory mode can be seen as a direct response to the convention (similar to that of fiction film) of hiding the role of the filmmaker in order to help the audience suspend its disbelief –to forget it is watching a film. <br />
By revealing the presence of the filmmaker, the participatory mode raises new questions.<br />How far should the intervention go?<br />How much has the participation of the filmmaker altered the behaviour of the subjects?<br />What effect does the participation have on the filmmaker?<br />Does it effect what they decide to leave in and take out of the film? <br />
The next two modes are linked because they both investigate the relationship between the real world and the way in which documentaries represent it. <br />Reflexive<br />Performative<br />
Reflexive Mode<br />The reflexive documentary reveals how documentaries are produced as representations based on the construction and manipulation of the image. <br />
Reflexive conventions<br />Borrows techniques from fiction film for an emotional, subjective response. <br />Emphasises the expressive nature of film; anti- realist techniques e.g. re-enactments, expressive lighting, dramatic music etc.<br />
Conventions continued<br />Voiceover (when present) is likely to be questioning and uncertain – rather than authoritative.<br />Reliance on suggestion rather than fact.<br />More iconic than indexical - move away from the documentary’s reference to the real world.<br />
Contextual factors<br />The term reflexive is used to describe this mode due to the foregrounding of film language to represent the subject matter (rather than realism).<br />The reflexive mode is characterised by the questioning of traditional definitions of knowledge and understanding and the suggestion that emotion – rather than facts – informs our view of the world.<br /> In the context of more traditional expectations of documentary, this is what makes the reflexive mode controversial. <br />
Also controversial is its explicit appeal to audience emotion and subjectivity, which raises concerns about its move away from referencing the real world – the traditional mode of documentary.<br /> ‘Most documentary production concerns itself with talking about the historical world, the reflexive mode addresses the question of how we talk about the historical world.’<br />(Nichols 1991)<br />
Performative Mode<br />The performative mode takes this idea further, explicitly challenging the idea of documentary truth, emphasising instead the process of film language itself.<br />Acknowledges the emotional and subjective aspects of documentary and presents ideas as part of a context having different meanings for different people, often autobiographic in nature.<br />e.g. Morgan Spurlock ‘ Super Size Me’<br />Michael Moore’s work <br />
Performative conventions<br />Documentary-maker and crew interact with the subject.<br />Documentary-maker comments on the process of making the documentary.<br />The documentary is often shaped into a narrative of an investigation or search, possibly without a satisfactory conclusion.<br />The audience is addressed in an emotional and direct way.<br />Subject matter often concerns identity (gender, sexuality) rather than ‘factual’ topics.<br />
These categories, are interpreted differently by different critics and should be seen as a basis for debate and argument. <br />
Documentary is often set up in opposition to ‘fiction’<br />the fictional = lies<br />the factual = truth<br />Entertainment films<br />Documentary and ‘realist’ films <br />