A documentary can be defined as a nonfiction motion picture the purpose of which is to highlight or document reality, provide instructions, or cover an event.
Tips for Making your First Documentary
Here are some popular genres of documentaries:
Cinema Verite: It’s a form of truthful cinema and includes filming only what happens in front of you. Your only job is to document or record what’s happening without playing a role in how it unfolds.
The Overnighters is one of the most popular documentaries to have used this style. Look at some documentaries shot by Allan King if you want to learn more about this style.
Re-Enactment or DocuDrama: This involves using actors to represent an event or happening. Your job is to present it as accurately as possible.
Errol Morris is popular for using this style of filmmaking. Most directors resort to it when they do not have access to the original footage.
You will find docudramas on television today that often add fictional elements to keep the viewers glued.
Talking Head: This isn’t a recognized category but you will see many documentaries using this style. It’s presented in the form of an interview and often involves many people talking about the same thing.
Corporation is one of the most popular documentaries to have used this style.
Expository: This involves looking into a situation and narrating an event to tell people about what happened or what you think about what happened. You will see such documentaries on the History channel.
Participatory/Performative: This is the type where the filmmaker is involved in the film and may even appear on screen.You will see this style of filmmaking in many of Michael Moore’s documentaries.
The main purpose of this style is to prove a point. Look at Finding Vivian Maier to understand how effective this style is.
Reflexive: It’s about reacting to the world around you. It doesn’t necessarily involve a story or an event. It’s only about sharing your opinion. It’s quite like the above example but it doesn’t necessarily involve an event and can be about your day to day life, i.e: v-logs.
Impressionistic: This experimental style is very non-traditional where you mix a number of styles to give the documentary its feel.
Place of Refuge by Mark Bone does full justice to this style of documentary filmmaking. It doesn’t follow the rules and often involves non linear stories.