Most TV documentaries follow the expository
model. This type of documentary has often been
criticised because of the deliberate way it tries
to influence the audience.
‘Voice of God commentary and poetic perspectives sought to
disclose information about the historical world itself and to see
that world afresh, even if these views came to seem romantic
and didactic’ (Nichols, 1991, p.32-33)
Uses voice-over and have straight forward show and tell
structure (with graphics, interviews, footage) where the
viewer is guided through the material.
E.g. Hoop Dreams (James et al, 1994), Spellbound (Blitz,
NEGATIVE: OVERLY DIDACTIC
The filmmaker producing the observational
documentary should (in theory) record the action
and package it for the audience without letting
his own opinions influence the decisions made in
‘… to record unobtrusively what people did when they were
not explicitly addressing the camera… but it limited the
filmmaker to the present moment and required disciplined
detachment from the events themselves’ (Grierson)
The filmmaker takes a step back from the material and takes a
‘neutral’ stance on the subject matter.
However, this could open up debates about selection of material,
lack of voice over and editing devices.
E.g. Être et Avoir (Philibert, 2002) Sleep Furiously (Gideon
NEGATIVE: LACKS HISTORICAL CONTEXT
The filmmaker becomes the star in the interactive
documentary, and we often see or hear them. They
actively engage with the material. There is no
attempt to hide personal perspectives, and the
opinion of the filmmaker will often be clear from
the beginning of the film.
‘Interactive documentary arose from the desire to make
the filmmaker’s perspective more evident. Interview styles
and interventionist tactics arose, allowing the filmmaker to
participate more actively in the events’
E.g. Nick Broomfield, Michael Moore, Morgan
Some overlap with other modes, e.g. Performative,
NEGATIVE: EXCESSIVE FAITH IN HISTORY, TOO INTRUSIVE
The reflexive documentary plays with the
conventions of all of the previous types. The
filmmaker will not attempt to push a particular
position on the audience, but draw attention to
the devices used in the documentary.
‘Reflexive documentary arose from the desire to make the
conventions of representations themselves more apparent
and challenge the impression of reality which the other
three models normally conveyed unproblematically’
This mode raises interesting points about objectivity,
techniques, realism and ‘truth’.
There seems to be a personal ‘voice’ emerging from these
E.g. Capturing the Friedmans (Jarecki, 2005), Touching
the Void (McDonald, 2002), Joy Division (Grant Gee, 2008)
NEGATIVE: TOO ABSTRACT, LOSES SIGHT OF ACTUAL ISSUES
Codes emphasise visual associations, tonal or
rhythmic qualities, descriptive passages, and
favours mood, tone and texture. Art or avant-
garde are good examples.
Uses associative editing to create mood or tone without
making an explicit arguments about a subject.
E.g. Leni Riefenstahl's Olympia (1938) presents a glorified view
of (Aryan) athletes during the 1936 Olympic Games
Robert Flaherty's Man of Aran (1934) - dramatic framing of
material presents mythic image of man in harmony with nature
NEGATIVE: LACK OF SPECIFICS
The poetic mode of documentary moves away from the
"objective" reality of a given situation or people to grasp at
an inner "truth" that can only be grasped by poetical
Where the interactive mode engages the filmmaker
to the story but attempts to constructs truths,
the performative mode engages the filmmaker to
the story but constructs subjective truths that
are significant to the filmmaker him or herself.
Deeply personal, the performative mode is particularly well-
suited to telling the stories of filmmakers from marginalized
social groups, offering the chance to air unique perspectives
without having to argue the validity of their experiences.
May "mix" elements of various documentary modes to achieve
link between subjective knowledge/understanding of the
world, and more general understandings, i.e. historical
e.g. Night and Fog (haunting personal commentary as well
as expository, it’s a film about memory.)
NEGATIVE: TOO SUBJECTIVE