Documentary Theory Essay

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Issues, events and actions may be represented in a variety of ways in various documentaries. Conventions take place and restrictions come into play, all factors that help ascertain cohesion among different films, to place them within the same rational configuration at a particular historical moment. Modes of Representation are a way in which documentaries can be organized in relation to certain frequent features and conventions. In documentary film there are a number or dominant organised modes: Participatory, Observational, Poetic, Expository, Performative and Reflexive. Bill Nichols states in his text, “Observational documentaries de-emphasise persuasion to give us a sense of what it is like to be in a situation without a sense of what it is like for the filmmaker to be there too. Participatory documentary gives us a sense of what it is like for the filmmaker to be in a given situation and how that situation alters as a result.” In this paper I will contend that the argument Nichols puts forward is arguably inaccurate. Like wise with participatory documentaries, observational documentaries portray a sense of interaction and influence by the filmmaker and thus candidly alter reality. As a result both documentaries become very subjective and biased, and the viewer is restrained from obtaining the whole truth of the story or event. Observational documentaries are what Erik Barnouw calls “direct cinema”. This specific mode emphasis the non-intervention of filmmakers, highlighting the lack of control the filmmakers have over events and people participating in various scenes. According to Nichols, the observational mode is in its purest form, with “voice over commentary, music, intertitles, re-enactments and interviews are completely eschewed”. This paper will question Nichol’s and various other scholar’s works, in order to highlight the contradictory notions
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