Master of New Media

S&I Assessment 3: Introduction to Documentary


When it comes to documentary, the fist thing comes to my mind is the film Oceans (2009), which is a nature documentary film directed by Jacques Perrin.  When I saw such a magnificent marine life, I was shocked, and my impression of the documentary was completely changed thanks for the film Oceans.  Until now I have a deeper understanding of the documentary by reading Bill Nichol’s seminal book Introduction to Documentary.  From this book I learned that the documentary is divided into six different models, I think the participatory mode is the common one, and I have done this in-depth study.

‘When we view participatory documentaries we expect to witness the historical world as represented by someone who actively engages with others, rather than unobtrusively observing, poetically reconfiguring, or argumentatively assembling what others say and do’ (Nichols 2010, p. 182).

The main feature of the participatory model is that the filmmaker will directly contact the person or thing in the same historical arena as the film’s subjects, and the filmmaker’s act and respond is also part of the record.  Nichols (2010) explains that ‘The possibilities of serving as mentor, critic, interrogator, collaborator, or provocateur arise’.  Kurt and Courtney (1998) as an example investigates the situation surrounding Cobain’s death and the theory which sprung up afterwards.  The filmmaker is involved as an interrogator.

Through interviews with different people, filmmakers want to introduce a broader perspective. The source of these materials is often through the interview and the collection of archives to tell a story, and filmmakers will ask the event-related people or ordinary people’s experience for the event.

‘The interview stands as one of the most common forms of encounter between filmmaker and subject in participatory documentary’ (Nichols 2010, p. 189).

An interview is a unique form of social interaction, it is different from an ordinary conversation because the process of the interview will be more direct and deep gradually.  As a result, In-Depth Interviewing is indispensable in the project.  Gubrium and Holstein (2001, p. 103) point out ‘They commonly involve one-on-one, face-to-face interaction between an interviewer and an informant, and seek to build the kind of intimacy that is common for mutual self-disclosure’.  In my opinion, In-Depth Interviewing is the most exciting part of the content and it tends to be of relatively long duration.  According to Nichols (2010, p. 194), ‘The articulateness and emotional directness of those who speak gives films of testimony such as this a highly compelling quality’.  With the deepening of the topic, the contents of the interview will be more sensitive and subjective, this is a direct feedback to the audience and is extremely authentic to some extent.  The following clip of Living with Michael Jackson (2004) proves my perspective, like Gubrium and Holstein (2001, p. 103) state that ‘In-depth interviewing offers great advantages, but it also entails some risks and dangers as well as some distinct ethical considerations’.


Gubrium, JF & Holstein, JA 2001, ‘In-depth interviewing’, in Handbook of interview research, SAGE Publications, Inc, pp. 103-119.

Nichols, B 2010, Introduction to documentary, 2nd edn, Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Video resources

isaac clarke 2014, kurt and courtney (1998) parte 1 de 10(documental sin censura musical), YouTube, 10 Sep, viewed 3 Jun 2017, < >.

michael tedder 2017, Living With Michael Jackson, YouTube, 10 Sep, viewed 3 Jun 2017, < >.

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