Documentary structures

The structure of documentaries vary slightly depending on the mode of documentary but it is widely accepted that, like narrative film, documentaries follow a three arc structure. The first being there to ask a question and grab the audiences attention. In the Todorov narrative theory this would be the introduction of the equilibrium and working towards the disruption of the equilibrium. The second is the main body of the documentary, introducing multiple views and stories informing the audience additionally aiding the sculpting of their opinions on the subject matter in some cases.The third documentary is the rounding up of all that has been considered in the piece and coming to some form of conclusion wether it be solid or the recognition that one view simply can’t be correct.

The Expository Mode can be found all over News broadcasting this tends to contain a collection of clips that illustrate that which is being conveyed by the narrator. This mode

The poetic mode of documentary doesn’t tent to conform strongly to any rules of documentary. It tends to be led strongly by an artists views and will jump in and out of multiple modes to convey a specific message or in some cases be so expressionistic that it will leave the viewer the job of forming their own views contrasting the expository mode.

In the participatory mode of documentary the audience has their hand held by the filmmaker and is introduced to the subject matter vicariously through the filmmaker. As Louis Theroux does in most of his documentaries the audience lives through him only to be ripped out and forced to look at the subject from some form of an unbiased nature when Theroux says something outrageous or partially offensive that in some cases may not conform to the audiences sociopolitical views. Additionally in this mode you’ll some times see an overlapping with the expository mode to ease the work load of the crew and to fill in a narrative gap in the plot of the documentary.

The observational mode of documentary find the audience viewing the world as if there was no camera their in their place. No narrator. No music. No supplementary aspects to the production. The catfish movie is a good example of this Nev completely ignores the camera for a large majority of the film simply talking to his friend about what is happening.

The reflexive mode of documentary is focusing more on the topic rather than the execution of the piece. It can dip into other modes to emphasise the filmmakers opinion. This mode is used frequently in response to an event or a popular social view.

A performative documentary can easily fit into a poetic or reflexive documentary as the three tend to use similar techniques but a perforative piece tends to have more focus specifically on the filmmakers own involvement rather than anything else.


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