“Each Mode of Documentary has its own relationship to truth”
Documentary is essential telling the truth through visuals, sound and even through some recreation.However, as filmmakers, we have the power to control the story, despite being factual or fake, and move the viewers in the direction we want but do the modes of documentary helps us establish its own relationship to truth? There are 6 modes of documentary but i will be discussing Poetic, Observational, Expository and Participatory modes, as well as its relationship to the truth.
Expository documentary is the mode most identified with documentary. This mode usually addresses the audience directly with verbal commentary, often a narrator, to propose an argument, perspective, recount the past, point of view or pose a question. Expository documentary or sometimes referred to as essay films , is aimed to educate and explain things to the viewers about what they know little about. This was probably true 50 years ago,but in todays modern age where ‘GOOGLE’ had made it so easy to find out virtually anything simply and faster. This technological advancement has let a lot of audiences question the validity of certain documentaries like “Why We Fight” which were basically propaganda films commissioned by the U.S. Government. There has always been a lot of research when doing expository documentary but today the research is ten times more as filmmakers who want to make a documentary in this mode, must have a lot of facts and prove to support his film. The audience of today, who have their smartphones literally glued to their heads, will definitely do their own research to find out the truth and will a film apart on social media if found the filmmaker was biased or bluntly making facts up. This mode of documentary certainly aims at telling the truth but its relationship with the truth lies with the scripted narration the filmmakers have made.
Poetic documentary uses a non traditional way to create a story structure. Unlike most documentaries that have narration or voice overs to tell the story, Poetic documentary filmmakers arrange their footage to create a story through tone,rhythm or spatial juxtaposition. Some filmmakers use music or score or even ambience to carry their story forward just like Junktopia. This mode of documentary, as abstract it maybe, allows the audience to create their own interpretation of the truth of the film without a narrator telling them the story. This mode tends to have hidden messages, subtext or personal views that is subtly relayed to the audience to evoke a response.Nevertheless, the filmmaker still has control of what the audience views which could mislead certain viewers from the filmmakers truth. Audiences that get the message, might be persuaded by the films message but is that the right message? Poetic mode certainly gets the viewers mind stimulated when trying to digest the documentary. This mode certainly gives the audience a chance to make their own minds up and engage with others about their interpretation of the film. This is certainly one of the most complex mode for documentary filmmakers to execute but a very effective way, if done right, to deliver a message to the audience that is powerful as well as the chance to get them thinking to discover their own truth.
Observational documentary , also known as cinema vert, direct cinema or fly-on-the-wall documentary, is a mode that used ideally without any involvement of the filmmaker . In other words, the participant or social actor is captured on film as if the film crew and cameras were not around. This mode does not have no interviews, no reenactments, no non diegetic music or no voice over commentary. The film is generally arranged and edited by the filmmaker to tell the story as it is happening at that moment. This mode documentary is well used by Wiseman in his film, where there is absolutely no intervention from the film maker, “Public Housing, 1997“. Observational documentary ideally tells the truth or story undisturbed but certain filmmakers certainly play a part to re-enact daily actions or important activities that will have influence in the film and the audience. The filmmaker will definitely not change the way the participant conduct himself but defiantly get him to repeat certain actions. Personally this does not effect the truth of the film but will always leave the current technological general public questioning the amount of influence the filmmaker had and at the same time question how the camera plays on the behaviour of its participants, “The Act of Killing, 2012”. The improvement on camera lenses and sizes have contributed greatly to the advancement of this mode to help the participants of the documentary not feel he is on camera or capture certain things without the participants knowledge but this then brings about questions on ethics and morals. Nevertheless, Observational documentary certain does it very best to convey the truth of what is happening compared to the other modes.
Participatory documentary, also known as Direct Cinema, is exactly opposite to Observational documentary. Participatory mode has the filmmaker heavily in the film interact with the participants of the documentary. Michael Moore uses this style brilliantly in his films to capture the audiences attention as well as interact closely with the participants to help them relax and ignore the camera. Louis Theroux also uses the same mode in a different style to pose sensitive questions to his participants but at the same time make them feel that they are in a comfortable environment. This mode of documentary, which requires quick thinking directors, certainly explores the truth through live interaction. It also give the opportunity for the filmmaker to be part and witness what is going on while at the same the freedom to the film maker to dig deeper into the story of his participant. The relationship of truth to this mode of documentary can be biased, depending on the filmmaker, but certainly helps the filmmaker push the participants story in the direction he wants and at the same time discover new facts that could change the filmmakers outlook of the story.