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6 Modes of
Documentary
Bill Nichols -
The Expository Mode
-voice of God-
• This mode is what we identify most with
documentaries.
• It emphasises verbal commentary – often
using a narrator.
• Addresses the spectator directly, with titles or
voices that propose a perspective, advance an
argument or recount history.
• Most associated with Television News
programming.
Expository Mode
• Images become subordinate to the voice-over
narration.
• They serve to illustrate, illuminate or act in
counterpoint to what is being said by the author.
• Editing in the expository mode serves to maintain
the continuity of the spoken argument or
perspective. - this is called evidentiary
• Examples include BBC Panorama Euro 2012:
Stadiums of Hate and all the nature
documentaries.
The Poetic Mode
-subjective, artistic, expression-
• Stresses the lyrical, rhythmic and emotional
aspect of the historical world.
• Sacrifices filmic conventions for example,
continuity editing and a situated time and
space, to explore associations between
images, objects and patterns.
• Examples of this documentary type include
Baraka, Man of Aran and Leni Riefenstahl's
‘Olympia’.
The Observational Mode
-window on the world-
• Attempt to observe aspects of the historical world as
they happen.
• Typically have no voice-over commentary, no
supplementary music or sound, no intertitles, no
historical reenactments, no behaviour repeated for the
camera and no interviews.
• Social actors behave as if no filmmakers were there.
• Examples of this documentary type include Frederick
Wiseman ‘Hospital’, and Richard Pennebacker's ‘Don't
Look Back’, My Big fat Gypsy Wedding
The Participatory Mode
• Involves an interview between filmmaker and the subject.
• This allows the filmmaker to address people who appear in
the film, formally
• This is opposed to addressing the audience through voice-
over commentary.
• Also involves some participation from the filmmaker aswell
as social actors
• This gives the audience a sense of what it is like for the
filmmaker to be in a given situation and how that situation
alters as a result.
• Martin Bashir: Michael Jackson's "Secret World" part 1
The Reflexive Mode
-awareness of the process-
• The spectator is the focus of the attention.
• Speaks not only about the historical world, but about the problems
and issues of representing it.
• From a formal perspective – reflexivity draws our attention to our
assumptions and expectations about documentary form itself.
• From a political perspective – reflexivity points towards our
assumptions and expectations about the world around us.
• Both of these rely on techniques that attempt to jar us, and sever
our engagement with the film so that we are forced to think about
filmmaking as a construct.
• Involves Expository; Voice-of-God narration; Images
• Examples of this type of documentary include and Mitchell
Block’s ’No Lies’ and A Man with Movie Camera.
The Performative Mode
-filmmaker as participant-
• These are often autobiographical. Performative mode of
documentary raises questions about what knowledge is.
• It sets out to demonstrate how the specificities of personal
experience provide entry into an understanding of the more general
processes at work in society.
• This is done by stressing the emotional complexity of experience
from the perspective of the filmmaker.
• Stresses the tone and mood, more so than arguments and
evidence.
• Films primarily address the spectator.
• Calls for an emotional responsiveness from us that acknowledges
an understanding of the event, more so that asking us to gain
knowledge from it.
• Examples of this type of documentary include Supersize Me and
Tongues Untied.

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Modes of documentry

  • 2. The Expository Mode -voice of God- • This mode is what we identify most with documentaries. • It emphasises verbal commentary – often using a narrator. • Addresses the spectator directly, with titles or voices that propose a perspective, advance an argument or recount history. • Most associated with Television News programming.
  • 3. Expository Mode • Images become subordinate to the voice-over narration. • They serve to illustrate, illuminate or act in counterpoint to what is being said by the author. • Editing in the expository mode serves to maintain the continuity of the spoken argument or perspective. - this is called evidentiary • Examples include BBC Panorama Euro 2012: Stadiums of Hate and all the nature documentaries.
  • 4. The Poetic Mode -subjective, artistic, expression- • Stresses the lyrical, rhythmic and emotional aspect of the historical world. • Sacrifices filmic conventions for example, continuity editing and a situated time and space, to explore associations between images, objects and patterns. • Examples of this documentary type include Baraka, Man of Aran and Leni Riefenstahl's ‘Olympia’.
  • 5. The Observational Mode -window on the world- • Attempt to observe aspects of the historical world as they happen. • Typically have no voice-over commentary, no supplementary music or sound, no intertitles, no historical reenactments, no behaviour repeated for the camera and no interviews. • Social actors behave as if no filmmakers were there. • Examples of this documentary type include Frederick Wiseman ‘Hospital’, and Richard Pennebacker's ‘Don't Look Back’, My Big fat Gypsy Wedding
  • 6. The Participatory Mode • Involves an interview between filmmaker and the subject. • This allows the filmmaker to address people who appear in the film, formally • This is opposed to addressing the audience through voice- over commentary. • Also involves some participation from the filmmaker aswell as social actors • This gives the audience a sense of what it is like for the filmmaker to be in a given situation and how that situation alters as a result. • Martin Bashir: Michael Jackson's "Secret World" part 1
  • 7. The Reflexive Mode -awareness of the process- • The spectator is the focus of the attention. • Speaks not only about the historical world, but about the problems and issues of representing it. • From a formal perspective – reflexivity draws our attention to our assumptions and expectations about documentary form itself. • From a political perspective – reflexivity points towards our assumptions and expectations about the world around us. • Both of these rely on techniques that attempt to jar us, and sever our engagement with the film so that we are forced to think about filmmaking as a construct. • Involves Expository; Voice-of-God narration; Images • Examples of this type of documentary include and Mitchell Block’s ’No Lies’ and A Man with Movie Camera.
  • 8. The Performative Mode -filmmaker as participant- • These are often autobiographical. Performative mode of documentary raises questions about what knowledge is. • It sets out to demonstrate how the specificities of personal experience provide entry into an understanding of the more general processes at work in society. • This is done by stressing the emotional complexity of experience from the perspective of the filmmaker. • Stresses the tone and mood, more so than arguments and evidence. • Films primarily address the spectator. • Calls for an emotional responsiveness from us that acknowledges an understanding of the event, more so that asking us to gain knowledge from it. • Examples of this type of documentary include Supersize Me and Tongues Untied.