6 Modes of Documentaries


Bill Nichols, an Americain Documentary theorist suggested that the forms of presenting information and arguments in documentaries dictate what type of documentary it can be considered. The six types of documentaries where as follows:

Expositional- Constructs a specific argument. The format mostly used in informative documentaries such as productions by the National Geographic, The History Channel and such. The documentary would normally have a single narrator delivering the information and arguments.

Poetic-Loosely defined this model usually uses methods like juxtaposing imagery. The model can focus on giving the audience an inclination of a way of seeing an argument rather than simply presenting the argument directly. In theory, a documentary in the poetic model could use no speech at all and present imagery singularly.

The participatory-the model allows the audience to interact with the interviewee vicariously through the filmmaker/interviewer Micheal Moore’s documentaries usually have him personally interviewing someone. Which usually leads to interesting responses due to the persona he has cultivated of himself.

Reflexive-Usually made in response to a specific view people may hold on something. Reflexive documentaries don’t necessarily need to follow a format but should present a contrasting idea of a topic or subject to be considered reflexive.

Performative-A mode that can mix easily into participatory or reflexive performative usually holds a more personal argument. Catfish The Movie comes to mind.

Observational-Complete contrast to Participatory the model supports a detached viewing of an argument for the audience to observe it somewhat objectively.

Documentary structures


The structure of documentaries vary slightly depending on the mode of the documentary but it is widely accepted that, like a narrative film, documentaries follow a three arc structure. The first being there to ask a question and grab the audience’s attention. In the Todorov narrative theory, this would be the introduction of the equilibrium and be 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 whether 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 tend to conform strongly to any rules of documentary. It tends to be led strongly by an artist’s 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 sometimes see an overlapping with the expository mode to ease the workload of the crew and to fill in a narrative gap in the plot of the documentary.

The observational mode of documentary finds the audience viewing the world as if there was no camera theirs 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 filmmaker’s 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 performative piece tends to have more focus specifically on the filmmakers own involvement rather than anything else.

Types of Animation


Traditional animation

Traditional animation utilises semi-transparent paper and the hand-drawn images sequentially presented to create the illusion of movement. Early Disney animated movies used this method of animation since it’s first production “steamboat willie” to 2011’s Winnie the Pooh.[1] The traditional animation timeline can be considered very linear compared to other animation types.winnie-the-pooh-characters.jpg

2D Vector based animation

Vector based animation uses digitally drawn images as opposed to being physically drawn on paper. Programs like Adobe Flash and After Effects allow the team to do all the processes of traditional animation in a digital format. With that comes more freedom to make adjustments later down the timeline of production.giphy.gif

3D computer animation

Three Dimensional animation entails the use of digitally modelled and textured figures on screen being essentially puppeteered in digital space. The mixture of lighting and compositing can create visuals that are inseparable from real life. In recent times the use of motion capture has also seen use. Motion capture uses the data collected from an actor’s body and facial movements and puppeteers the digital models.Known uses would be Happy Feet[2] to make animated penguins tap dance and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.[3]


Motion graphics

Motion graphics is less a specific method of animation and more a way of using digital animation. Digital animation being 2D animation and/or 3D animation. Motion graphics normally utilise a logo or piece of text being manipulated digitally usually for an advert or piece of promotional material. Here’s an example of a piece of motion graphic I created using adobe after effects.[4]Cinema-Central-v3.gif

Stop motion

Stop motion is reminiscent of the traditional form of animation but instead of drawings being captured sequentially photographs are taken to create the illusion of motion. Use could enlist paper cutouts, claymation figurines or actual people. One of my favourite stop motion films, Coraline mixes claymation and figurines in the same medium to ensure characters have consistent facial features.[5]79cb224416cae65dedac4d1f6dd050db.jpg








Bellow is the questionnaire I emailed to a collection of associates and friends that are part of my target audience.

How old are you?

  1. Younger than 16 years old
  2. 16 – 25 years old
  3. 26 – 40 years old
  4. Older than 40 years old

What gender are you?

  1. Female
  2. Male
  3. Other
  4. Prefer not to say

Have you heard of dyslexia before?

  1. Yes
  2. No
  3. I think so

Are you aware of the symptoms of dyslexia?

  1. If yes please write them below
  2. No
  3. I think so

Would you say there is a stigma surrounding dyslexia?

  1. Yes
  2. No
  3. I don’t know

The results showed that a large majority of people knew had heard of dyslexia but were not aware of the symptoms people who have it experience. Additionally, people over the age of 25 didn’t think there was a stigma surrounding the disorder but people younger did.

Life inside ‘Islamic State’


This short documentary web series published on the BBC Radio 4 youtube channel follows the story of a man living in the city Raqqa as a brutal jihadist group sweep through and takes control.

While it could be possible that the animator used the traditional method of animation to create the visuals the use of 2D digital animation seems more plausible. Due to the nature of the media, being a youtube video in a digital format traditionally animation would not present any major benefits over 2D animation. The documentary uses a series of transitions to follow the narrator’s story. OKKK.gifHURT.gif


I hope to incorporate animation in a similar way in my own project but also mix in footage of the interviewee. I think this will give the audience a brief pause in-between topics in the project.

Cont. Life inside ‘Islamic State’


After further research into the Life Inside series,  I’ve come across the animator’s website [1] The artist explains that he uses a hand-painted animation technique but stays vague as to whether or not it’s digitally painted or painted in a physical medium. John Neal was the Today producer of the project. The project was made for the BBC Radio 4 Today website. The Today branch focuses on creating a conversation on current events that affect the UK globally. Reaching more than seven million listeners through online/ FM radio and TV [2]additionally with 572,000 followers on twitter[3] this platform would be ideal to target my project at.