Documentary Modes

It is interesting to consider all the different kinds of documentary styles a film maker can implement in their projects. American documentary theorist Bill Nichols describes these different styles of documentaries as modes and he categorises these as follows: the poetic mode, the expository mode, the observational mode, the reflexive mode and the performative mode.

Our nonfiction projects this semester were not created in the traditional documentary form, that is they could not simply be a short nonfiction film, they were required to utilise at least three different forms of media – including an audio piece, a visual piece (either video or image gallery) and a social media presence. We had to host our work on a website and present this as our complete piece. Considering all this it is hard to categorise our work in these modes that were envisioned with the thought of a traditional documentary film in mind, however I believe there are definitely certain elements of one or two of these modes I can see in the project Silvi and I created.

The most obvious to me would be the observational mode and the expository mode. We attempted to produce a fly on the wall type of feeling when we shot footage down in the town Tecoma; we shot imagery at the protest site and observed the protestors interacting with the security guards around the site, as well as with other people in the town who didn’t support the campaign. We even managed to capture an argument between two of the town members, one supporting the campaign against the McDonald’s and one who didn’t like the way the campaign was going about their protesting. We were present when the two men started arguing and we turned our cameras on to capture the action, the footage definitely has an observational tone to it.

We also embodied the fly on the wall type of filming at the Burger Off rally we attended, a rally held by the protestors in Fed Square, here we simply recorded all the action without interfering and let the material speak for itself. We didn’t edit in any voice over or text, we let the footage show the day as it proceeded.

There were also expository elements I would describe in our project. While we didn’t use narration, in the sequences where we were down in the town of Tecoma observing the protestors there were times when we interviewed them and asked their opinion of the controversy surrounding the McDonald’s, why they were so against the construction, what they thought the outcome of the protest would be etc. Although this wasn’t a narration it certainly guided the structure of the footage, you can certainly change the course of your documentary with the questions you ask so while this wasn’t a narration as such it was a guiding tool to steer the documentary where we wanted it to go.

With these elements and the way the project turned out in mind these are the two modes I would consider most relevant to our nonfiction project.


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