What is an Expository documentary| 3 Best Examples

Among the various types of documentaries, the expository ones are common. By the end of this article, you will have an answer as to why that is the case. Read on!

What is an expository documentary?

An expository documentary is one that has a commentator who talks over both videos and pictures to explain a specific story. Usually, it is an authoritative commentary, and vehemently proposes a particular point of view or argument.

On some occasions, the voice is an omniscient position, such as the voice of God. It speaks to the viewer directly. Equally important, the viewer will not see the narrator at any point.

An expository documentary is informative, instructional, and educative. Also, it is not only rhetorical but also persuasive. It ensures that the viewer interprets the comments, images, and videos in a certain way.

An expository documentary is also objective. It has various modes, different forms of the organization and several techniques used by the speaker to shape not only the voice but also the feelings. The documentary shows evidence supporting the argument or point of view.

In most cases, there are interviews of witnesses giving testimonies. The witnesses’ role is to contribute the evidence. However, they don’t determine the tone or perspective. As much as the images are not necessary, they play a huge role in strengthening the argument.

The voice used is usually rich as well as resonant. In fact, they are typically male voices inmost cases. In addition to voiceover, the documentaries also employ titles that support the argument or point of view.

Other than informing and persuading, an expository documentary also arouses curiosity. It evokes and gratifies one’s desire to know more about what the narrator is talking about. The voice accurately represents a certain reality.

It is also logical and has a linear structure. The two further helps in relaying the message in the best way possible. That’s why many people say that it is the spoon-feeding version of filming.

History ofExpository Documentary

An expository documentary goes way back in the late 1920sand the early 1930s. Its forefather is none other than John Grierson. According to him, it was a deviation from the then already existing poetic approach.

It aimed to avoid social propaganda associated with its counterpart. No wonder they brought in not only story-telling devices but also visual practice.

The two emphasized the rhetorical content. It also supported its goal, which is the dissemination of information and persuasion too.

Another variation from its predecessor is the narration. The voiceover explains and argues from an omnipresent, omniscient an objective aspect. That holds quite some weight and the visual information makes the documentary exciting and informative.

John Grierson used this approach to bring to light some governmental issues. They included inflation and poverty. It was through the government sponsorship that Grierson managed to get this across his audience in Britain.

Despite the genre’s criticism by the likes of film theorist Brian Winston, it has been improving over the years. In fact, rhetoric engagement and supporting visual information improves up to date. That’s why a number of television programs, news stories, and film features have adopted the same approach.

Other notable filmmakers of expository documentaries include David Attenborough, Frank Capra, Pare Lorentz, and Humphrey Jennings among others.

ExpositoryDocumentary Examples

The list is quite long. This segment discusses the three best examples.

1. The Blue Planet (2001)

The Blue Planet is a narration that guides people through life underwater. Its setting is a number of the best oceans in the world and the life that they support.

Over the already beautiful creatures, there is a use of stunning cinematography and precise sound design. The expository documentary has eight episodes.

Each one of them is 50 minutes long. The voice of David Attenborough gives it an extra magical feel. It is a high recommendation, no doubt.

2. Song of Ceylon (1934) Basil Wright

Song of Ceylon is yet another fantastic expository documentary. Its producer is John Grierson popularly known for producing quite a number of the very first Canadian and British documentaries.

In this particular one, the focus is Ceylon presently called Sri Lanka. The documentary shows its people, environment, and religious practices. The narration is by Lionel Wendt.

3. March of the Penguins (2005)

Directed by Luc Jacquet, this French documentary has a captivating story. It is about the yearly journey of penguins in search of breeding grounds up to when they find a mate and start a family, eventually.

To experience the expository aspect, you have to watch the English version. Its narrator is Morgan Freeman. On the other hand, the French version tells a story through the penguins themselves.

Pros and Cons

This genre has its good and bad sides. Let’s take a look at the two.

Pros of an Expository Documentary

  • Compared to other documentaries, this type of documentary is quite informative.
  • In addition to that, it can control the meaning of a particular topic
  • It has images, videos and interviews that support the voice further
  • Unlike most types of documentaries, they focus on facts rather than emotions and opinions. That’s why extensive research is carried out to establish facts. Nevertheless, they can also purge feelings as well as shape opinions.
  • For historical documentaries under this category, they deliver not only an account but also an interpretation of past events objectively and unproblematically. 

Cons of an Expository Documentary

  • Due to its authoritative nature, many are times that part of the audience feels alienated

List of BestExpository Documentaries

Here are other notable expository documentaries worth watching. Check them out!

  • A&E Biography; America’s Most Wanted
  • Ken Burns’ The Civil War (1990)
  • Robert Hughes’ The Shock of the New (1980)
  • John Berger’s Ways Of Seeing (1974)
  • Frank Capra’s wartime Why We Fight series
  • Pare Lorentz’s The Plow That Broke The Plains (1936).
  • Drifters (1929)
  • One Family (1930)
  • Night Mail (1936)
  • Raul Crilissi’s Sardegna Isola misteriosa (1954)
  • Risveglio di un’isola (1956)
  • Silvio Torchiani’s Sardegna terra di contrasti (1956)
  • Marcello Serra’s Sardegna quasi un continente (1961)
  • Diego Carpitella’s Cinesica culturale: Barbagia (1974)
  • An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
  • Nurettin Dilek’s Untitled Documentary (2009)
  • Wild China – BBC (2011)
  • Frozen Planet (2011) narrated by David Attenborough
  • Nanook of the North (1922) directing by Robert Flaherty

Final Words

I hope that you, the filmmaker now clearly understand what an expository documentary is. If that’s the case, it will be easy to know whether it will suit you or not.

Depending on what you want to express to your audience, it can be a good idea or otherwise. Watching some of the listed movies will also help you. In the end, you will have made the best choice.

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