Modes of Documentary

Bill Nichols, who is an American film critic and theoretician best known for his pioneering work as founder of the contemporary study of documentary film, describes four main modes of representation in his writing called Representing Reality (1991)  that  then upgrades to six in his later book named Introduction to Documentary (2001).

  • Expository mode: Expository mode is associated with a ‘factual’ documentation of reality. It can be argued that the expository mode arose from these inaccuracies that the poetic mode was susceptible in presenting, as well as the “distracting qualities” of fiction films. (Nichols, 1991) The mode’s goal is to educate people. Logical, chronological reality presentation came to the frontal place.
  • Observational mode
  • Participatory mode
  • Poetic mode: Poetic mode depicts a transformation of historical material into a more abstract, lyrical form. The poetic mode was introduced into documentaries in the 1920’s.Camera angles, slow motion editing, sound effects are designed to amplify the dramatic affect on spectator. After all, the poetic mode doesn’t give an accurate representation to the audience. Subjectivity of the documentarian is on the front place.   Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia (1938) is a classic example of documentary with poetic mode. Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil (1982) is another well known example.
  • Reflexive mode
  • Performative mode

Modes of Interactive Documentary