Perspective of the Persuasive

Documentary filmmaking has evolved in a number of significant ways. One such way is through the development of the various modes that the genre can embody. From rhythmically poetic documentaries to detached observational documentaries and more, the filmmaking style takes many forms. There is one particular mode, however, that remarkably navigates the complexities of both appearing objective and yet still subtly proposing a persuasive argument or perspective. This mode is the expository mode. Ultimately, it is the style’s very impression of being objective that gives the expository mode its persuasive success.

Documentaries that fall within the classification of the expository mode are known for possessing calculated clarity. As a result, many expository mode documentaries give the impression of an objective perspective supported by compelling evidence. As Bill Nichols highlights in his book, Introduction to Documentary, it is the expository mode that “emphasizes the impression of objectivity and a well-supported perspective…it has the capacity to judge actions in the historical world without being caught up in them. (123)” By way of narrator, whose authoritative, informed, voice-of-God-like commentary guides the content, expository documentaries are able to lay out their positions clearly. The filmmakers themselves regularly voice the dialogue and are able to succinctly articulate the arguments.

The examples of how a film gives the impression of being objective through its coherent narration are many. In Zana Briski’s Born into Brothels, for example, it is through her dialogue and narration that the audience gains a sense of how familiar she is with the situation of the children living in Calcutta. Briski, who lived for a number of years with the children teaching them photography, repeatedly refers to them as her students. She knows their families, is invested in their wellbeing, and even expresses concern for their futures. All of this places her as an informed, authoritative figure who likewise happens to be narrating within the film and guiding its commentary. Another—albeit somewhat removed—narrator that guides the argument of an expository documentary is the never-seen, omniscient voice in The Corporation. This voice illustrates an authoritative, steady, collected presence throughout the film, which ultimately gives it the impression of being objective. Whether the narration is seen or not, it is through its eloquent and intelligent commentary that expository films appear objective.

Due to the fact expository documentary films lead with their narration, the visuals of the films are left with the task of conveying the meaning of the dialogue. The Corporation is a prime example of how imagery mirrors what is being expressed. Within this film, as the narrator discusses how pervasive “the corporation” has become in our society today, a rapid succession of logos flash before the screen. When an interviewee mentions the comparison of the corporation to being a jigsaw puzzle, an animated depiction of a jigsaw puzzle appears. The visuals within expository films do not guide the narrative. Instead, they supply the illustrative evidence that makes the filmmaker’s perspective appear objective and valid.

The expository mode of documentary filmmaking successfully gives the impression of being objective in its educated commentary as its arguments are delivered through authoritative, well-versed narrators. With imagery that strictly supports what is being said, the expository mode has evolved to become remarkably effective in its persuasion. By giving the impression that it remains objective, this documentary mode garners a sense of credibility, which is ultimately how it is so successful in its argumentation.

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Works Cited

Nichols, Bill. Introduction to Documentary. Bloomington Ind: Indiana University Press, 2001. Print.

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