Friday, 19 September 2014

Making Documentaries – Part 2

The Observational Mode (also called Cinéma Vérité and Fly on the Wall)
Objective reality focus, where the maker is behind the camera, where they do not affect the changes in the environment or influence actions/events). Often includes shaky/rough footage as the events unfold. Has become de rigeur for many documentary filmmakers (such as any reality television programme)

Follow a school team over a season and then edit so that the completed film is a snapshot of the events surrounding a year of sport. Include interviews/discussions with those involved.
Perhaps take a personal view from one pupil. If they participate in an out of school activity, ask them to film sequences and the edit together. Include interviews with participants, other than the main protagonist.
This short, from Carers Trust, is a great example of how the participants are allowed to talk about their lives
From Vimeo (a great site for documentaries) are these great examples:  or
The Participatory Mode
skateboardUnlike observational mode, the maker is often present on-screen and its will show the encounter between film-maker and subject. The film-maker actively engages with the situation they are documenting, asking questions of their subjects, sharing experiences with them, very reliant on the honesty of witnesses. The filmmaker’s impact is recorded, acknowledged and is often celebrated (such as Man on Wire - James Marsh or any Michael Moore film)
As part of ‘Takeover Day’ (, allow film crews to visit those pupils who are replacing an adult in a particular role. Film what occurs during their time ‘in charge’ and have on-screen interviews with the pupils before/afterwards.
As part of a community project, interview elderly residents looking at how the area has changed and, if possible, take them to places that have specific memories and how the environment has evolved. Perhaps look at how a village shop has an important role within a community.
When visiting a specific venue as part of a school trip arrange, prior to the visit, for some pupils to work with a curator/artist etc and see ‘a day in the life of.’
The Reflexive Mode
catfishThe maker is aware of the conventions of documenting through film but the result is not necessarily the truth but a reconstruction of it, more of ‘a’ truth rather than ‘the’ truth (resembling their own version of events rather than the actual) . The audience is made aware that editing has occurred, to both move the film forward and engage the viewer further(such as Catfish - Ariel Schulman, Henry Joost)
Pupils can use this style of documentary, a la History Channel, to look at events from the past.
The Performative Mode
supersizemeAcknowledges the emotional investment and subjective nature of the documentary maker, and presents ideas as part of a context, having different meanings for different people. The films are often autobiographical in nature and the filmmaker is a participant in the film. The documentary emphasises the emotional and social impact of the film on the audience (such as Supersize Me - Morgan Spurlock)
If you have children who are the carers of an adult at home, who has a sibling with a specific disability and who are willing to participate, then ask them to create a film about their life at home. It will provide a real insight into the life of children away from school.
The same thought could be used for children in other situations, ie ‘what it’s like to be me.’ This is about changing people’s misconceptions and may be used to show how for example: a girl completes in karting events, a boy participates at a dance competition or how a celebrations from different religions are part of children’s lives.
The examples are here as a guide, there is so much more that the pupils can achieve through their existing knowledge of what makes a ‘good’ documentary and using these as discussion points is fundamental to building on and progressing further.
Show the pupils examples, your own ideas of what constitutes a ‘good example’ may differ from mine but the opportunity to view shorts such as should inspire the pupils to make better films.
Try these films also:
And this: