Documentary genres. Criteria and dominant theories

Ioannis Skopeteas

The most popular genres in the documentary film theory today are the ones proposed by Bill Nichols (2010) who introduced six modes of representation: poetic, expository, participatory, observational, reflexive, and performative. These six modes “establish a loose framework of affiliation within which individuals may work; they set up conventions that a given film may adopt; and they provide specific expectations viewers anticipate having fulfilled”. However, is this division capable to cover all the elements of a documentary film and therefore construct fixed categories that can serve all the needs of theorists, practitioners and audience? This paper will support that the genre classification by Bill Nichols is only based on representation and its relation with the voice of the narrator. However, there are several other issues within the documentary film that may lead to other classifications. To name some of them, the theme and the subject of the documentary, the narrative structure and the actuality depicted.  In such a way, a full table of documentary genres will be provided at the end of the paper, which will cover all the aspects of this type of film.

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