Documentary Modes and The Badloves

So far during Trimester 4 we have delved deep into documentaries, and their different modes. Since I had never studied documentaries or ever taken a closer look, these past few weeks have opened my eyes to a type of filmmaker I was oblivious to. We began with Poetic documentaries, which can sometimes be confused for experimental films. But Poetic films don’t have a narrative but use sound and juxtapositional editing to help the view find the story for themselves. This mode utilizes visual associations and storytelling rather than telling you the story. However while this seems simple, it’s extremely difficult to pull off effectively. Detailed research is needed, along with location permits and an extensive post-production process. Sometimes the story is found in the edit suite. Examples of poetic documentaries are: Baraka, Samsara and Sans Soleil. What I found interesting from Baraka was the fact there is zero voice over or proper dialogue. Although at times it lost me, for the majority it was a different experience trying to navigate through the story.

Participatory documentaries consist of the filmmaker being the protagonist and see them take on some journey to reveal the truth or hidden mysteries. The filmmaker doesn’t necessarily need to succeed or fail in their quest, they just need to of learned something from their journey. Filmmakers like Louis Theroux and Morgan Spurlock have excelled in this mode, stepping into their roles and learning about the subject and themselves in the process. Whether than means putting themselves in potential danger, or health risks. With recent examples such as: My Scientology Movie and Super Size Me taking the filmmakers to the edge, it allows the audience to trust the protagonist as they go on their journey. I personally quite enjoy these types of documentaries because of how they ask the viewer to take the journey with the filmmaker. It invests you into the characters and amplifies the drama when stakes and tension are involved.

Observational documentaries aim to be a fly on the wall, to observe and allows viewers to draw their own conclusions. They often identify a story that’s unfolding in real life, that harness the same elements of a good drama. These types of documentaries don’t have interviews or set up shots, and rely on pure observation. It relies on the filmmaker having access to their subjects world to get to know their subject. Hoop Dreams, Armadillo, and Knuckle are all examples of popular observational documentaries.

As the name can suggest, the purpose of an Expository documentary is to propose an entertaining argument. It aims to educate the audience, which  most noticeable on the History Channel, or Animal Planet. This mode relies on interviews, recreations, archive footage or photos, or animation. In addition to narration, expository-sound design includes voice over interviews from witnesses, survivors, or expert witnesses. This mode utilizes narration as a tool to explain and making a case for the films content.Real crime stories, sports documentaries, and even the documentary on The Worlds Largest Man all aim to tell a story. Other examples include: Wait For Me, Touching The Void, Searching For The Sugar Man, and Capturing The Friedmans.

Last Saturday I was lucky enough to do camerawork for The Badloves & Eleven gig at The Satellite Lounge. It was a great experience considering it was my first live show, and seeing what went into the set up was astounding.


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