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The “Fully Narrated” subgenre is a very traditional form
of documentary which is known for it’s use of “Voice of
God” narration as a key feature to carry and develop the
plot lines of the film; it is also used to explain the visuals
that go along with it. This type of commentary can be
very influential, meaning the audience will often believe
what the narrator is saying, even if it is not entirely true.
This subgenre is usually associated with wildlife and
historical documentaries to provide the audience with the
factual information that gives a sense of realism and
truth. An example of this is the BBC nature documentary
series, Frozen Planet.
This type of documentary, also known as
“Observational”, uses “Cinéma Vérité”; a style inspired
by Robert Flaherty’s films, which combines improvisation
with the use of camera to unveil truth and give a sense
of verisimilitude. It achieves this by capturing a
seemingly natural setting which is unaffected by the
filmmakers. However with the use of mise en scene and
subtle editing to create realism, what the audience is
shown can be manipulated to convey a certain
impression or opinion.
There is little commentary in this type of documentary,
as it attempts to remain somewhat objective and during
interviews we do not hear questions; we are shown
“talking heads” which tell all in apparent “real time”. An
example of this is the award-winning 2012 documentary
A mixed documentary uses a combination of features
such as observation and voiceover commentary, to create
and project an argument onto the audience. This form
uses interviews with journalists and experts, whose
voices are often played over visuals and images to
advance the argument. The filmmakers link these aspects
together to construct narrative and sometimes uses
archive materials when relating to a certain event or
issue. Modern documentaries are commonly mixed for
example Bruno Mars’ Coming Home documentary.
The subject of this style of documentary, usually the film
maker, acknowledges the camera and purposely talks to
it as if they are directly talking to the audience to provide
narrative. This has been criticised as it focuses more on
the documentary maker than the content or issue of the
The film maker of the reflexive style is often unsure of
the outcome of the documentary and can be associated
with experimental documentary film makers; where the
viewer is just as interested about how the film is
constructed as they are the actual subject matter. For
example Louis Theroux, a British journalist and
broadcaster, is known for his controversial method of
reflective film making.
A docudrama uses re-enactment and reconstruction of
real life events often combined with fictional narrative.
Although docudramas claim to reveal fact, critics have
said that “they can only deliver a shaped version of the
truth” as it unlikely that the film makers know exactly
what it was like at the event. They can also be
misleading and dangerous as the audience can take
them to be truthful. Nevertheless docudramas usually
take their information from eyewitnesses and experts to
increase accuracy of the film,
An example of this form of documentary is the 1996 TV
film, Hillsborough, starring Christopher Eccleston and
Ricky Tomlinson, telling the story of the Hillsborough
Docufiction, as it’s name suggests, combines documentary
with fiction; it attempts to capture reality such as it is, often
through the use of “Cinéma Vérité”, however also
introducing unreal elements or fictional situations in the
narrative. Much like a docudrama, docufiction uses
reconstruction to give the impression of the truth. However
whereas the docudrama is usually based on real life
events, a docufiction can be entirely fictional. An example
of this is the popular 2012 documentary aired on Animal
Planet, Mermaids: The Body Found.
A docusoap is a type of documentary that follows a group
of people in a particular occupation or location over a
period of time. This type of documentary is usually linked
with Reality TV to create shows that attempt to mimic the
soap opera style, for example Made in Chelsea and The
Only Way is Essex.
There has been lots of dispute over whether a docusoap is
actually a type of documentary or not, however this
subgenre is very popular with both audience and
documentary makers and are fairly cheap to create,
Examples of this are: My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and One
Born Every Minute.
A mockumentary is a subgenre of documentary in which
fictional events are presented in the style of documentary
to mock or create a parody. These are often used to
comment on current events or issues however by using a
completely fictional setting and narrative. Comedic
mockumentaries are the most common form of this style.
Come Fly With Me is a popular British mockumentary
television series, that uses documentary features, such as
talking heads, voice of God and fly-on-the-wall
observation. It is a spoof series based on the British
documentaries Airline and Airport.
Steven Barnett’s theory of “Disneyfication” looked at the need
for television companies to broadcast things that receive the
highest ratings possible instead of more deeper and more
serious documentaries. He said that documentaries have been
'dumbed down' for audiences as this is what people have
become accustomed to. There are claims that this shows
television being 'cheap' and being more concerned about
obtaining high 'ratings' instead showing useful or more