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WHAT MAKES A DOCUMENTARY A DOCUMENTARY?

VOICEOVER
The voiceover will usually be authoritative in some way,
encouraging the audience to think that they either have
some kind of specialist knowledge or, as in the case of
people like Michael Moore and Nick Broomfield: the right
opinions that people should pay attention to.

REAL FOOTAGE OF EVENTS


Documentary is essentially seen as nonfiction although there are debates around
this.
However, a convention of documentary is that
all events presented to us are to be seen as
real by the audience.
Documentarians often go to great lengths to
convince us that the footage is real and
unaltered in anyway, although editing and
voiceover can affect the reality we, as
viewers, see.

TECHNICALITY OF REALISM
Including natural sound and lighting (note Nick Broomfields
use of this in Biggie and Tupac when they run out of
sound!)

ARCHIVE FOOTAGE/STILLS
To aid authenticity and to add further information which the
film maker may be unable to obtain themselves.

INTERVIEWS WITH EXPERTS


Used to authenticate the views expressed in the documentary.
Sometimes, they will disagree with the message of the
documentary, although the film maker will usually disprove
them in some way.

USE OF TEXT/TITLES
Text
watch out for the use of words on screen to anchor images
in time and space. Labels, dates etc tend to be believed
unquestioningly and are a quick and cheap way of conveying
information.

SOUND
Sound
Listen out for the use of non-diegetic
sound. Has music been added? Why
what effects does it have? Is sound
used as a bridge between scenes and
if so what meanings are made?
For example look at Supersize me
how does the use of childish music
undermine McDonalds?

SET - UPS
Not just reconstructions of events that happened in the
past but also setting up 'typical' scenes. So if you want
to quickly convey 'classroom' you might ask a class to
put their hands up like there's a lesson going on and the
teacher's just asked a question. Strictly speaking what
you're showing is not 'true' the teacher didn't ask a
question, but it is a way of cheaply getting footage a
crew might have had to wait fifteen minutes for if they
had just waited for it to happen 'naturally'.
There is an issue here however because if crews make a
habit of using set ups they will only be using images of
'reality' that audiences already recognise (confirming
stereotypes perhaps) and producing fresh images/ ideas
about 'reality' will be impossible. There's a sort of
vicious cycle here. If I show you radically different
images from inside a school you may reject them as
atypical or 'unreal' but if I can only offer you a 'reality'
you already know about how can I change your opinions?

VISUAL CODING
Visual Coding
Things like mise en scene and props. Is that doctor any less
a doctor if she's not in a white coat and wearing a
stethoscope? Has someone been ambushed in the street to
make them look shifty?