Guide Video

A Complete Guide on the 6 Types of Documentaries

Guy in the car recording with a camera

Documentaries are some of the most impactful pieces of cinematic filming that can be created and have a decorated history of creating some of the most influential pieces of video content.

You would be lying if you said you hadn’t watched a documentary that hasn’t impacted your life or the way you view a certain topic. That’s why we’re going to look at what a documentary is, the different types of documentaries and how they can be used to benefit a business.

If you’re a business owner looking to improve your brand’s visibility, credibility, and make your story heard, you may want to listen up.

What is a Documentary?

A documentary is a type of non-fiction film, motion picture, or cinematic style that is intended to ‘document’ a certain point of reality. They have the main purpose of instructing, entertaining, or educating an audience on a certain topic, issue, or real-life event in order for them to conclude how they should act regarding the documentary.

However, unlike fictional movies, documentaries are based on real life and often look at topics like history, science, politics, or culture. They use interviews, expert production, raw footage, and narration to tell a story that you can’t keep your eyes off.

Documentaries nowadays can be found on TV, streaming platforms (such as YouTube or Netflix), or in cinemas, and are known to be the longest form of non-fictional video content.


6 Types of Documentaries

Although there are many different genres, topics, people, and issues surrounding documentaries, there are only six types of documentaries that people can choose to make or watch. Let’s take a closer look at them:


1. Participatory Documentaries

A participatory documentary has the goal of having the filmmaker included within the narrative of whatever the topic may be. Their involvement can be as little or as small as they want it to be, but for it to be classified as a participatory documentary, they must be influential in the end product.

Unlike traditional documentaries, here, the subjects play an active role in shaping the narrative, offering their real-life experiences from the topic in discussion, as they’re the ones who are emotional and passionate about what is really happening in the said subject matter.

Examples to look at: ‘Bowling for Columbine’ by Michael Moore, ‘Paris Is Burning’ by Dir. Jennie Livingston, and ‘Chronicle of a Summer’ by Dir. Edgar Morin and Jean Rouch.


2. Expository Documentaries

If you think of what a documentary looks like to you, expository documentaries are probably the closest thing to what you would conjure up. The main purpose of this type of documentary is to inform people about a particular subject through a clear and compelling story.

Through expert imagery, video production, and “Voice of God” commentary over the top of it, you are able to follow along with a captivating story due to the simplicity of the structure.

Examples to look at: All David Attenborough documentaries are the perfect example of what you should think of when it comes to an expository documentary.


3. Poetic Documentaries

A poetic documentary is slightly different from all of the documentaries on this list because, rather than narration and storytelling, it focuses more on creating a feeling, mood, or emotion; instead of pinpointing the truth.

Rather than narration, poetic documentaries often showcase imagery and experiences related to a topic in a more artistic and creative way. They often don’t fit the bill as what you think is a documentary, as the structure is very loose and fluid, but instead, look into showing patterns and associations to create meaning among the audience watching.

Examples to look at: ‘Koyaanisqatsi’ by Godfrey Reggio, ‘Rain’ by Joris Ivans, and ‘World Mirror Cinema’ by Gustav Deutsch.


4. Reflexive Documentaries

Similar to a participatory documentary, the filmmaker is involved in the making of the documentary and creating a relationship with the audience. However, what makes it different is that rather than focusing on the subject of the doc, the core focus of this is to capture the behind-the-scenes footage of the main documentary instead.

Examples to look at: ‘Weird Weekends’ by Louis Theroux and ‘Man With a Movie Camera’ by Dziga Vertov.


5. Performative Documentaries

Again, similar to participatory and reflexive documentary styles, performative docs feature the filmmaker within the narrative. However, in this case, they’re a lot more present and almost the main focus, as a performative documentary is always more personal and subjective. In roundup, it is based on their own experience with the set topic, issue, or event.

Examples to look at: Tongues United by Marlon Riggs, ‘Supersize Me’ by Morgan Spurlock, and ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’ by Michael Moore.


6. Observational Documentaries

Observational documentaries, hence the name, look to observe exactly what is happening around them. Yet, this cinematic style does not contain any narration or fancy production – it purely focuses on real-life and realistic events. Essentially, the filmmaker will follow real-life events and people around with all the recording equipment without disturbing them.

Examples to look at: ‘Rough Aunties’ by Kim Longinotto, ‘Our Yorkshire Farm’ by Amanda Owen, and ‘Armadillo’ by Janus Metz.


Why Are Documentaries Important For Modern Businesses?

If you’re a business owner in the current climate, you will know that it takes a lot nowadays to grab people’s attention, but intriguing, long-form video content seems like the last hope to keep curiosity high within the modern format.

That is why documentaries are still so popular among watchers. In fact, according to one survey, at least 70% of the population watches documentaries a few times a month and 25.4% watch them at least once a week. Let’s look further into the advantages of why creating documentaries for businesses may be a great marketing opportunity.

These are just some examples of the main benefits you will see when you publish a documentary for a wider audience. Something like a documentary is extremely unique and can set you apart from the rest, along with giving you huge credibility within your field. It’s something that shouldn’t be slept on.


Getting Started With Documentaries

If you’re intrigued and feel you fit the bill for having your own documentary for your business, and want to tell the world your story, Guide Video are your media heavyweight, ready to provide you with top-notch documentary production.

We have worked with brands such as the Eurovision Song Contest, Liverpool FC, John Lewis, and many more while being fortunate enough to produce documentaries for The Birth of Beatlemania: 60 Years, the NHS, and many more.

If you feel like you have a topic, real-life event or issue you want to go into more detail about, not only because you’re passionate about it but because it’ll bring more eyes to your company, then get in touch with us today by calling 0151 702 0140, and we’d love to hear your project ideas!


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