Friday, October 12, 2007


David described our footage as 'elegaic' in class the other day. He said there was something about the composition, the shots, the tones, etc - that gave the piece a kind of poetic, reflective feel.

His comment made me remember the beginning of the semester and the theoretical grounding of documentary it concerned.

Bill Nichols' ‘genre-categorization’ for documentaries is a particularly useful way to teach students how to understand the sub-genres of documentaries and how they are put together.

His modes can be divided into the following groups:
Expository Documentaries; Observational Documentaries; Interactive Documentaries; Reflexive Documentaries
and the less commonly used (not necessarily his):
Performative Documentaries; Poetic Documentaries

I would have to say that ours is a blend of both expository and poetic. Expository documentaries tend to carry an ethical burden due to its nature to expose people’s lives. As such, they are highly constructed, with a well thought-out storyline that frequently addresses the viewer. They usually propound a strong argument or point of view, via the use of voice-over, narration or titles. From a stylistic perspective, they can be both informative and descriptive (this could apply to the ways in which Amazon describes what he does and how he does it, and recounts his experiences). The narrative itself is then carried forth by a rhetoric that forces an audience to read the images in a certain aesthetic fashion.

Poetic documentaries, on the other hand, are much more abstract in nature, with form taking precedence over content. Paradoxically, this format emerged as a response to the heavily content driven and rhetorical documentaries that were far too reliant upon continuity and the lineal structure of time and space. Coherence was abandoned in favour of more fragmented elements of form, color, and movement, making them far more impressionistic and lyrical in nature than their predecessors.

I think that having a project which corsses and blurs boundaries makes for far more compelling viewing than one that sticks within the limitations of a specific format. Documentary is forumlaic by nature and if it weren't for the innovators and pioneers of the past, it would not be possible for all these different kinds of documentaries to exist. Even with the more recent phenomenon of 'docu-drama' reality TV, this kind of viewing would not be made possible if filmmakers had not taken it upon themselves to appropriate different elements from both genres into the one production. If there is one positive thing to emerge from Big Brother et al, it is the gateway of possibilities that we are now posed with when we go to craft our own works.

No comments: