Documentary Modes

In his 2001 book, Introduction to Documentary (Indiana University Press), Bill Nichols defines the following six modes of documentary. Modes in this instance refers to way the documentary actually speaks to the audience this is called ‘mode of address’.
Below are the different types of documentary modes;

The Poetic Mode:
This specific 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 manipulation.

The Expository Mode:
This mode is what we most identify with the documentary, It “emphasizes verbal commentary and argumentative logic”, often using a narrator and assumes a logical argument and a “right” and “proper” answer using direct address and offering a preferred meaning.

The Observational Mode:
The observational mode is best exemplified by the Cinema Verite or Direct Cinema movement which emerged in the late 1950s/early 1960s. It attempted to capture, as accurately as possibly, objective reality with filmmaker as neutral observer.

The Participatory Mode:
Unlike the observational mode, the participatory mode welcomes direct engagement between filmmaker and subject(s). The filmmaker becomes part of the events being recorded. The filmmakers impact on the events being recorded is acknowledged and os often celebrated.

The Reflexive Mode:
The Reflexive Mode acknowledges the constructed nature of documentary and flaunts it, conveying to people that this is not necessarily “truth” but a reconstruction of it, “a” truth, not “the” truth.

The Performative Mode:
The performance mode of documentary emphasises the subjective nature of the documentarian, as well as acknowledging the subjective reading of the audience, notions of objectivity are replaced by “evocation and affect”.


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