Project 16 – Other Narratives

Think of documentaries you have seen and try to identify which category the film falls into

Asking – The film maker goes into the project without preconceived ideas of the message or conclusion.

Telling – the film maker has a point to make or a message to convey

Pick a film from each category and try to draw a diagram of the narrative structure.

You may find there are multiple narrative strands. Can you identify the central narrative.

Telling – For this exercise I choose the beautiful Expository documentary ‘New Zealand Earths Mythical Islands’ the series episode was Wild Extremes.

Scan 40

I decided to design the diagram in a different way to the James Bond one. Instead I made a chronological list of each feature and a subject list, e.g. Wildlife, Botany, Geography. I also did a chart to monitor the pace of the documentary. As you can see it was rather calm with intermittent moments of drama but even tense moments were lightened by the narrators humour and you realised you weren’t going to see anything bad (Apart from the snails eating habits which I won’t go into as I can’t remove the image from my mind) Ironically the whole chart ended up looking like a diagram of the earths crust with mountains included.

This was clearly a telling documentary showing the viewer beautiful photography, the wildlife that lived there and stressing facts about each. The central narrative was clear, focusing on how animals, flora and people survive in some of the most extreme places of New Zealand. This was coupled by sub plots of how they raise a family in these conditions and the resourcefulness and evolution of these creatures such as the Blue duck family who’s home is the rapid and raging rivers of NewZealand.

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For the scene to analyse I chose this beautiful one of Blue ducks learning to rage the rapids of their home for the first time. When you first watch it it’s a tense scene. The scene opens with drone shots of the river while the narrator informs you of the power and threat of the water. Just as you think this is going to be a narration of waterfalls he says ‘This is no place to bring up a family’ and a family of small Blue ducks swim into view. Immediately the scene is tense. This is reinforced by the close ups of the fluffy little ducklings looking so cute and innocent you can only feel dread. Mother duck leads the way and the ducklings gather nervously before taking the plunge into the waters.

Wide angle shots highlight the extreme contrast and defencelessness of the ducklings. The music is fairly light and expresses the emotion and energy well. Then the narrator says ‘it almost looks like fun,’ it’s a gentle expression but coupled with the sudden sound of a violin it sets your hair on end. The mother duck looks to the side and it is hauntingly reminiscent of the scene in Bambi where his mother stares to one side at the danger just before he loses her. Extreme close ups of the waterfall fill the frame and the diegetic sound overwhelms the music. “Sudden storms can cause flash floods. which can dislodge boulders let alone tiny balls of feathers.” As he finishes his statement the ducklings gather fearfully staring out of the frame nervously ready to jump into the rapids. Wide angles are used again. There is a moment where a wave seems to engulf the family but they surface as the narrator says,’their giant feet ungainly on land are perfect in the torrent’ The narrator has been playing with the viewer the entire time and as the scene comes to a close the music is triumphant. The ducklings power through the water scrambling onto a rock.

The narrator continues, “Their feet are perfect in the torrent, allowing this violent river to become…their playground.” The scene ends on a stunning wide aperture shot of one of the little ducklings drying their wings off, following the rule of thirds in stunning colour.


I found it quite hard to find a documentary that was asking something. I remembered this documentary we watched about the friendship between a man, Dean and a wild orphaned dolphin, JoJo aptly titled, My Dolphin and Me.

I watched it again charting the narration and realised that throughout there was the question of what was going to happen to JoJo. I needed to structure it in a different way so drew a rectangle and filled it in. Reading it from left to right it was put under categories. Meeting JoJO. The Danger from boats. Danger from humans. Fighting to protect her and finally the conclusion of the present. It was a really nice documentary, mixed up with home videos from Dean, re-constructions and footage of Dean speaking now. Also photos were used to tell the story.

Jojo - ChloeClik

The scene I chose was the one in which JoJo the dolphin crashed the dive lesson Dean was teaching. Again I structured it in a different way this time choosing to reference what type of shot each was. As there wasn’t enough footage from Dean to create a whole programme it was mixed up with photos, interviews and recreation videos and I have noted which is used and where. The notes are read from left to right.

The central narrative of this scene is clearly narrating the story of JoJo crashing the lesson but there are underlying messages such as wondering how things will turn out with a wild dolphin interacting with people and any repercussions. Every single scene adds something to the programme and in this case the final shot motivates the next story “But when his search for human interaction went beyond Dean and his students, Grace bay suddenly became a dangerous place.”


Compare your diagrams with the other students. Do you notice any patterns? 


Our charts both tend to follow the same pattern, we both use colour and wavy lines. We both describe each scene in chronological order but I didn’t use the Three Act structure which in hindsight I should have.

I followed the narration of the animal documentary listing each category and with My Dolphin and Me mapped the friendship between Dean and JoJo, the adversity and struggle to protect him and the conclusion.

I liked how Ashley wrote about the man Pat Campbell, how he was introduced and his thoughts and feelings towards BP


It’s really interesting to see how each diagram from each student differs so much. I would say looking at mine it represents the students character. I am very artistic, I love drawing and this reflects it. Also the way in which the story was written and the many stages.

Project 16 – Documentary Research

The last exercise was to do with following the structure of Hollywood type movies or those with a three act structure. This exercise focuses on documentaries. We seem to be having a documentary week in our family as there are a lot on TV at the moment so I found myself studying and analysing at ten at night. Bizzarely my mind seems to be quite active then so I made the most of it.

There are several types of documentaries the course tell us.

True life stories – these are documentaries which often include acted reconstructions of the event such as ‘Jane was walking to work when the tsunami struck’ then showing Jane looking alarmed with a voice over. They usually focus on human interest stories.

Investigative reports – such as the Horizon programmes looking into certain topics of all genres. For instance Are E-Cigarettes more harmful than standard cigarettes? There are examples of peoples stories, clinical trials, debates and in this example the presenter even tried E-Cigarettes for several weeks to see the repercussions on his body. There never really is a final outcome though. Such as in this where they didn’t really know the answer and would have to trial it for much longer. But these reports are very informative, fascinating and contain an abundance of information.

Observational Documentary – At first I wasn’t too sure as to what this type of documentary was. I found this quote though “Observational documentaries attempt to simply and spontaneously observe lived life with a minimum of intervention…The films aimed for immediacy, intimacy, and revelation of individual human character in ordinary life situations.”  This made me think of the documentary Child of our Time, a huge project following 25 children who were all born at the turn of the century from birth onwards. “The aim of the series is to build up a coherent and scientifically accurate picture of how the genes and the environment of growing children interact to make a fully formed adult” It’s a fascinating series and would be also described as both a telling and a showing documentary but mostly showing.

After reading the course I did some research to discover other types of documentary.

It turns out the concept of types of documentaries was formed by the American Theorist Bill Nichols who created six modes of documentaries.

Poetic. Observational.Participatory. Expository. Reflexive. Performative.

The Poetic Documentary

“Instead of using traditional linear continuity to create story structure, the poetic documentary filmmaker arrives at its point by arranging footage in an order to evoke an audience association through tone, rhythm, or spatial juxtaposition.”

Poetic documentaries are usually those that have some importance to the presenter, film makers or characters.

As the name suggests, they are rather poetic creations, the photography is artistic and creative and music is used to enhance mood and emotion. There is no continuity editing. I didn’t know there was a name for this type of documentary so admit it took a bit of time watching some to determine their main features. I would say they are the equivalent of a song in film terms, showing an insight into the world in beautiful imagery and rhymic quality, there is no linear narrative but songs and poems can be used to enhance feelings.

attempt to create a feeling rather than a truth.

Observational documentaries.

These are the atypical, fly on the wall where the filmmakers react to the moment without prior planning or preparation. It often feels exactly like a fly on the wall that takes off buzzing judging by the shaky footage in scenes of motion. The viewer can feel the energy of the scene. Used in programmes such as Catfish, Big Brother and in a spin off type, The Only Way is Essex.

However it is also used in more intelligent documentaries such as nature programmes, though I wouldn’t call it unscripted, filmmakers must react to their current situation which is why it is in this category.


A documentary where the film maker engages directly with the interviewee. It feels more raw and less scripted.


Probably one of the most common documentary devices. and when one thinks of a documentary it usually is this format. The viewer is given information and the footage proves this. The viewer can form their own opinion but as the narrator is already doing this it is more often that not one to relax with.

It uses photos, films and objects  to document true life events such as in Coast. Some feel however that they only present one version of the truth and often one sided.


The film maker engages with their subjects in this type of documentary thus paving the way for the narrative.. It can be seen as a making of, a behind the scenes. In Nature documentaries it is now common to include ten minutes or so of how a certain part of the documentary was filmed. It provides an insight for behind the scenes and how it was filmed.

A powerful example is Stories We Tell


Where the film maker is the main character. My friend Patrick Corr’s movies could be classed in this mode. The film maker directly engages with the viewer and you are shown a glimpse into their world whether they are climbing a mountain or exploring incredible new worlds.

It was really fascinating investigating into all the different modes of documentary. It took quite a while to watch the videos and get a feeling of what it takes but I’m glad I did.