Modes of Documentary

“Each Mode of Documentary has its own relationship to truth”


According to the information I’ve gathered from both lecturers and online papers, each mode of documentary has its own relationship to truth. Through this blog I wish to delve deeper and discover exactly what that relationship is.


Personally, I believe this mode is the most common form of documentary filmmaking. It’s factual based and has a very close relationship to truth, you cannot tackle an expository documentary without a severe amount of research behind you. A reliable tool of the expository filmmaker is that of Archive, looking through examples I discovered that out of all the modes, expository utilizes this the most effectively.

· Research

· Interview

· Interrogate


This mode soon became the most difficult for me to understand. When watching poetic documentary examples my first instinct was, why are we trying to define someone’s poetic art? Categorizing one film as poetic and another as an observational seems uneducated, I believe there are levels of poeticism in all forms of filmmaking. However, if I was discussing this mode’s relationship to truth I would define it as this, my interpretations and meanings that I draw from the film are as truthful as the creators.

· Rhythmic

· Meaning

· Abstract


I’ve been told that observational is the purest form of documentary filmmaking and that documentaries have an asset above narrative storytelling. That the audience unquestionably believe what they are watching are real events, unfictionalized. Observational documentaries have a unique ability to convey this because other than editing, we see no physical manipulation of the story and therefore believe exactly what we are seeing.

· Witness

· Life

· Places


Participatory filmmaking surprisingly sits very close to that of basic narrative storytelling, both have one very clear similarity, that of the protagonist. Most participatory films have one person on a journey of discovery and this is where I believe it’s relationship to truth is the strongest. As filmmakers, we mostly make films for specific reasons, some may make them for money or fame, however others make them for the truth. A common thread among these types of films are the creators themselves venturing for answers.

· Protagonist


· Discovery


Personally, I love filmmaker Louis Theroux, one of the most famous and commercially known documentarians. His work is almost fully participatory with his films often centred around him understanding all different, unique human beings. I chose to discuss Louis Theroux’s documentary ‘Under the Knife’ because I believe it raises so many questions about truth. He’s come under fire for his perceived ‘fake’ persona because people believe it’s not the real him. He’s been accused of acting dumb in many of his films and patronizing his subjects. However, I believe Louis does this to ascertain certain truths. He sits so on the fence that it allows the subject to truly express themselves and become the main focus, his work then becomes almost observational.

The reason I chose to discuss his film ‘Under the Knife’ is because I believe it documents Louis’s unwavering search for the truth. Over his career he has put himself in countless dangerous and uncomfortable positions to attain his goals. However, in Under the Knife he goes as far as getting a surgical procedure to understand what his subjects are going through, to better give to his audience a sense of truth.


Each mode has its own unique signifiers from camera techniques to basic narrative structure. However, what I’ve discovered is that the nature of documentary is constantly changing and along with that, so are the modes. Through my analysis I’ve started discovering films that use a whole host of tools from all the different modes and therefore find it extremely difficult to define them.