Documentary Film: Understanding Reflexive Documentary Mode
by eguaogie-eghosa Feb 03, 2022 Views (3.3K)

Documentaries are divided into six genres, each with its unique style and cinematic characteristics. Expository mode, participative mode, performative mode, poetic mode, reflexive mode, and observational documentary mode are the different kinds of documentaries, according to American cinema critic Bill Nichols. The self-reflexive documentary examines the documentary-making process. 

Reflexive Documentary: What Is It?

The reflexive documentary method focuses on the filmmaker-audience relationship, encouraging viewers to reconsider their perceptions and rethink their understanding of truth. Unlike an explanatory documentary, the reflective method focuses on the documentary-making process rather than the outside subject matter.

The reflexive documentary does not seek to elicit strong emotional responses from the audience but rather invites careful reflection on the topic. A cinematographer will shoot behind-the-scenes videos of the whole film production process, including editing, interviews, and post-production because the subject matter is frequently the process of documentary filmmaking itself.

What Do Reflexive Documentaries Look Like?

In that both reflect the filmmaker's engagement and usually make the cameraman and camera part of the film, the reflexive documentary method is related to the participatory documentary mode (also known as an interactive documentary). In a nonfiction style, the reflective documentary mode poses questions and tackles themes with ambiguity, giving a version of the truth.

In which the director acknowledges their presence — they are in front of the camera – and provides narrative direction. Extra information: To assist the audience in developing a sophisticated and critical attitude by assisting them in their comprehension of the filmmaking process.

Reflexive documentaries frequently show the camera or production team to highlight filmmaking standards and to demonstrate self-awareness to reduce biases concerning the film's substance or aim.

Reflexive Documentary: Three Case Studies

The following are a few instances of the reflexive documentary:

1. Man With A Movie Camera (1929).

With its actor-free portrayal of everyday Soviet life, Dziga Vertov's reflexive documentary changed history. The film emphasizes the many various parts of filmmaking, such as shots, edits, and perspectives, which become part of the story. This act of self-awareness is intended to make the viewer wonder about the process and how it affects their overall impressions of the film.

2. Chronicles of a Summer (1961).

This French film (Chronique dun été) by filmmaker and anthropologist Jean Rouch and sociologist Edgar Morin follows actual people as they explore happiness and French society in the working class throughout the summer. The producers talk about their planning process with their subject at the beginning of the film, which makes viewers wonder which moments are organic and which are all part of the film's creation. The audience is left to draw their conclusions on how documentary video is assembled and how truthful it can be.

3. Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends (1998).

This documentary series follows documentary filmmaker Louis Theroux as he travels to different locations and chronicles his encounters with "strange" events—interactions with subcultures or groups that some viewers may not come across in their daily life. Religious radicals, infomercial stars, survivalists, separatists, and swingers all make appearances in the series. Theroux uses these subjects to question the audience's preconceived assumptions about these groups, providing more context for how these people live their lives through explanations of their beliefs and habits.

What is the audience's reaction to reflexive documentaries? It allows the spectator to witness how the film is made and the pressures that these documentarians face while working on these projects. It also makes you aware of the difficulties that a documentary filmmaker faces. Because reflexive documentaries are usually about real-life events, they are accurate. There are no special effects or editing in this video; it is simply a documentary of real life.

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