Documentary: What is the Observational Mode?

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In an observational mode documentary, the filmmaker watches what happens in the world around them without interfering. The filmmaker stays out of the way while real-life events and people unfold.

Cinéma Vérité, which literally translates to “truthful cinema,” is another name for this kind of filmmaking. In observation mode, the camera follows natural events as if the director were not there. The videographer makes an effort to blend in. The lyrical form is highly allusive and emotional. Read on to learn its history, documentaries to watch, and some notable filmmakers.

The Observational mode is one of the six modes of documentary outlined by Bill Nichols.

The History

Documentaries that use an observational approach to their subject matter aim to watch their subjects in natural settings with as little interference as possible. The poetic mode was generally seen as too abstract by filmmakers working in this subgenre, whereas the explanatory mode was deemed too didactic.

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