A long-held favorite in cinematic history, documentary films are often a great way for entry-level filmmakers or video production starters to get started.
First, you need to learn the different kinds of documentary films out there. Some of them you might have encountered before, while others you might be unfamiliar with. Here’s a quick primer you can check out.
Expository Documentary Films
One of the most familiar and popular types of documentary is Expository Documentaries. These are designed to help convince, inform or persuade viewers. It uses a narrator throughout the film and often presents an argument for what is right or wrong. It addresses a particular issue and throws light on what’s happening. The goal is to convince and influence the minds of the viewer. Topics used in these documentaries are usually historical or important events.
Participatory Documentary Films
Another common type of documentary filmmaking, the participatory mode involves the subject and filmmaker together. This usually includes interviews, conversations and maybe the exchange of experiences. In this, the filmmaker becomes a character in the film, and thus part of the events that happen. You can see this form in talk shows, witness statements or interviews. Another name this might be called is an Interactive documentary.
Poetic Documentary Films
First started in the 1920s, these types of documentaries showcase the true meaning of the film in an indirect way. Most of the time, they use dramatization or other forms of visual/audio associations or juxtapositions to help lead the viewer to the hidden meaning. Oftentimes, it doesn’t contain characters and doesn’t even have continuity in its editing. Instead, it is often fragmentary and impressionistic in communicating the story or the meaning.
Observational Documentary Films
Described as a “window to the world,” it basically presents the viewer a chance to see something in its purest and natural form. This is often the case with nature or animal documentaries. This first became popular in the 50s and 60s and become a popular Cinema Movement. When featuring actors, it usually doesn’t involve a script, location or screenplay and everything is spontaneous. The main goal is to showcase life in real situations, capturing the actors’ actions and reactions.
Performative Documentary Films
This type involves a personal connection to a historical or political event. Oftentimes, these are purely subjective and offer a personal touch. Many performative documentaries are autobiographical and often include re-enactments using the point of view of the subject. Think of how Michael Moore does his documentaries. He weaves his personal stories as a way to present or construct a social truth without needing to validate the experience as absolute.
Reflexive Documentary Films
Dubbed as an “expose on documentaries,” they make the audience aware that there is an actual film crew getting the shot, coordinating everything, etc. This type often draws attention to the fact that not all documentaries offer the truth. Most of the time they are carefully constructed and packaged the best way possible. Like the Observational Documentary, this also involves the filmmaker within the documentary itself.
Filmmaking by its nature is purely subjective. As a documentary filmmaker, you need to keep in mind there are various ways you can express and communicate your story. While there are general rules, you have absolute freedom to bend them and make them work for you. This is true for documentaries as well. Within these six offer a whole range of freedom to create, explore and ultimately communicate with your audience.