What is a documentary?

CJ 393- Blog personal blog post. Week 3.

Ever since I was kid, I have loved watching documentaries. From animals, to news, to scary stuff and sad stuff, I watch them all. I have recently come to the conclusion that I want to make my own, due to my profound love for learning through visuals. But when I start to explain this to people, I have run into the question- what types of documentaries are you going to do?

That struck me- I have no idea. I like all of them, but what’s my approach? Do I do different types? Do I have a narrator? Do I have the interviewers coincide with each other until a story is narrated? Will I use to entertain, inform, or create a social change?

I’ve decided to do a little research on my little hobby. The different types and the different results to the public vary.

So, what is a documentary? 



1. a movie or a television or radio program that provides a factual record or report.

A documentary is a broad term to describe a non-fiction movie that in some way “documents” or captures reality. Documentaries are often used to reveal an unusual, interesting or unknown angle of a particular scene. Topics are limited only by one’s imagination or theme of the piece.

Now, there are also types documentaries

  1. Poetic- moves away from the ‘objective’ reality of a given situation or people, to grasp at an “inner truth” that can only be grasped by poetical manipulation
  2. Expository- speak directly to the viewer, often in the form of an authoritative commentary employing voiceover or titles, proposing a strong argument and point of view
  3. Observational-meant to observe and film a particular scene without any interference.
  4. participatory- the opposite of observational, they do what they can to portray the best view of the scene without affecting the variable.
  5. Reflexive- where the viewer is just as interested about how the film is constructed as they are the actual content.
  6. Performative-They are intense documentaries and might include hypothetical enactments of events designed to make us experience what it might be like for us to possess a certain specific perspective on the world that is not our own.

After finding all these, I have realized that a lot of my favorite films involve multiple types. I feel like that’s okay, but it doesn’t help me with figuring out which type is my favorite.

I am hoping that during this semester, I will actually analyze all forms of documentaries to try and find out which kind I want to pursue. I have taken a documentary film course in the past, but we did not cover this topic as much as I’d like to. This gives me a perfect opportunity to explore and analyze rather than to watch and be entertained. I am excited to see how this will roll out during the semester!


Here are my sources.




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