For our final micro lecture, we looked at the ‘reflexive’ and ‘performative’ modes, both steering towards the more experimental and radical end of the scale, developed around the 1980s. Whereas most documentary modes (such as expository) try to present facts in a way that can be easily understood by the viewer, these two modes prefer to construct reality and present facts in a way that can be confusing to watch for the viewer.
The reflexive mode breaks realist conventions of documentary by encouraging us to participate in the filmmaking process, watching the documentary being formed inside of a documentary. As seen in the other modes such as poetic and observational, the camera is distant and as far away as possible, whereas in reflexive, the camera is involved in the action. Similarly, the subjects break the fourth wall, something that goes against the distant nature of typical documentary. It also encourages the viewer to actively think about the construction of representation and the filmmaking process, building conversations between the viewer and the filmmaker.
With the performative mode, the filmmakers’ intentions are subjective and affective, raising questions about knowledge itself and how it is presented, with a stronger emphasis on the filmmaker’s own perspective and personal experience whereas other documentaries are more distant and often objective (especially the expository mode). The effect of the filmmaker adding their own experiences and perspectives creates emotional complexity within the film, creating a deeper and personal connection between the issues presented, the filmmaker and the viewer.
The performative mode is also focused on experiencing things in life from the filmmaker’s perspective, in a way that is more explicit and less distant than types such as the participatory mode.
A major aspect of both reflexive and performative documentaries is that they experiment with boundaries between fiction and non-fiction, causing the audience to constantly reassess their assumptions and expectations of the film. The performative mode in particular uses unconventional narrative structures to achieve this, creating further complexity to the presentation of events within the films.