Plain and simple, the overall aim of a documentary is to tell a story. The facts and details of the story are scattered and “documented” in different forms of media, and the goal of the film producer is to “un-document” these nuggets of truth and insight and arrange them in a meaningful way. I literally imagine the verb “un-document” to be a person pulling a paragraph from a document, or a soundbite, or a videoclip, and presenting it creatively. When combined together in a chronological order, the story begins to unfold and you have and “un-fold-umentary” (trademark Lippert enterprises). Some of the techniques used to present these nuggets of truth and perspective are described here:
One of my favorite forms of presentation described here is called “reflexive.” It prescribes active participation of the filmmaker in the piece. As best said in the description, “[The] filmmaker engages in metacommentary about the process of representation.” That’s to say, the filmmaker is an integral part to the progression of the story and injects his own views about what is being represented in the documentary. I believe this helps to guide the film and make it more cohesive. My biggest pet-peeve of a documentary is when it hints at grossly polemic issues, but never actually presents a strong viewpoint or attempts to offer a solution or “where we should go from here?” type of conclusion.
Archival clip addition is a technique discussed in the reading below:
This technique involves using supplementary footage that does not necessarily pertain to the theme of the documentary, but is used for a metaphorical purpose. For example, Michael Moore used a bowling clip in “Bowling for Colombine” to create an “American portrait,” which I take to mean giving a sense of simple and honest American values in the past. Archivial footage can be very effective in giving the film dimension and credibility because it allows the piece to transcend a simple progression of logic and reach out to metaphors to convey a powerful message.