Filming in 2015 – Modes of Documentary

Reading Bill Nichols’ modes of documentaries got me thinking about the different styles of shooting and how different they really are. I personally believe that we are really unlucky as we are here, thinking about making films in 2015. As we notice, all the modes that Bill Nichols has defined are or have been used since years and years and I believe that film-making is always bringing about a new way to bring out emotions from the audience. People are becoming smarter as they take in more and more from the media and just using a mode in particular cannot guarantee ‘authenticity’ to the telling of a story anymore. For example, I saw this movie recently called ‘Ask me anything’ which was very performative in nature and used known actors as the ‘OH SO HOT!!!’ Justin Long. Being that, it was very authentic to me as it told a story which came out of reality and ended at a very wierd place, which is how real life is. It was this ending which screamed authentic to me and pulled at my heart strings. Another example is a reality TV show like ‘Real Housewives’ which basically places cameras everywhere to be observational in nature, but the feeling at the end, other than guilty pleasure, is STAGED!! It is probably a reason why the youth today shun it even though it was the most popular thing on tele a few years back.

Coming back to how I would do things, I think I would always mix up modes instead of sticking to one. For example, ‘Samsara’ is both observational and poetic or ‘Chronicles of the summer’ is participatory but at the same time has elements of observational mode as well. I also think the topic we are making a film on also in parts dictates what modes we end up using. But again, personally I love news shows like ‘The Project’ or ‘Saturday Night Live’ which are obviously performative rather than expository.

Choosing the mode I like best is really difficult because I am still an amateur who has to play a lot before I settle on a style. Having said that, the performative mode is probably the most exciting to me right now. There are so many stories out there that we watch or see come alive but sometimes taking a more subjective mode to dictate the emotions can be more powerful in telling the story. For example, the first Indian athelete to win at the Olympics as well as Commonwealth Games was Milkha Singh in 1958 and 1960 respectively. Various documentaries have been made about him and others like him in the past, but he was truly celebrated by the entire nation in 2012 when a film ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’ came out chronicling his entire life as an athelete. The film was performative with all the bollywood jazz of music, dancing and drama, but it was a hit and for the first time all of India was able to realize what this man had achieved for the country. The fact that we can amplify actual occurences using performance and still get a message out , while entertaining is ingenious. This is how we grew up too, with stories with morals and lessons hidden in them. I also love that it gives the viewer a choice of enjoyment on the visceral level or understanding on the conceptual level.

The growing trend of using this mode of film making has taken over both Hollywood as well as Bollywood. More and more documentaries are being released in the form of feature films and are seeing a high like never before, which in turn is really challenging documentary makers all over the world. You can’t just put together five shots and call it a documentary anymore. Some really good examples of such films are ‘Exodus’ chronicling history, ‘Troy’ and ‘Haider’ which is probably my favourite. It is a retelling of life in Kashmir during the partition, through Macbeth by Shakespear. I think it’s an amazing way to pull people out and deliver something worthwhile. There is no question of authenticity as we see our audience drink it up.


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