Documentary Types

THL Toolbox > Audio-Video > Creation Of Audio-video > Documentary Types

Types of Documentary Films

Contributor(s): Nelson Walker

Expository Documentary:

  • Typically address the spectators directly through an on-screen commentator or

off-screen narration.

  • Often make liberal use of interviews, b-roll, and archival footage.


  • Tend to be lyrical rather than didactic, poetic rather than argumentative.
  • Typically more self-consciously stylized and aestheticized than expository films,

but often incorporating many of the same elements.

Observational Documentary:

  • Capturing the spontaneity and uninhibited flow of life and events as they happen.
  • Often adopts the visual language of fictional film intended to articulate continuous

time and space (e.g. diverse camera angles, shot/reverse shot, close-ups, pans and tilts)

Reflexive Documentary:

  • Self-conscious or self-reflexive style addresses the process of representation

itself and often foregrounds the relationship between the filmmaker and the spectators, as well as between the filmmaker and the subjects.

  • Some reflexive films are autobiographical -- the filmmaker may appear on screen

or talk to the audience in a voice-over. Others are more formally reflexive and highlight the relationship between cinema and the world.

Experimental Documentary:

  • Documentaries that donʼt easily fit any of the other categories. Often they draw

on allied art forms (painting, dance, sculpture, photography, etc.) and can even incorporate elements of fiction.

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