Observational Documentary - Coggle Diagram
Features and Characteristics
Mostly long takes without cuts are used. Again, this is to create a sense of reality. The takes are organic, simply following the flow of events.
By this moment, you probably understand that observational documentary tries to show objective truth and reality from all sides, without having a specific opinion on the topic. The observational mode just observes, without providing any narratives. This allows the viewers to find their conclusion from the movie.
There are no interviews and no voiceovers - everything is as if you were watching events happen in real-time. The filmmaker is "not" there. Everything should be happening organically.
The equipment is usually minimalistic, so it is not disturbing the mood.The smaller equipment is what allowed the development of the observation documentary. Since filmmakers did not have to use tripods and massive, hard to maneuver cameras, they could follow events more naturally. Handheld cameras are the go-to in observation cinema.
Filmmakers try to get as close to the subjects as possible without interrupting the events. This is a challenge - since the closer you get, the more you influence your environment.
The camera works as if a human eye was watching the circumstances happening. Unlike the classic "Hollywood" camera style, it is not a third-person POV with special effects. You can compare the camera in an observational documentary to a ghost. It follows the environment, unnoticed and unobstructed.
Unlike classic filmmaking, Observational filmmaking thrives on randomness. There is little to no preparation and planning. What is filmed is dependent on the specific circumstances of the environment. Unexpected events may happen, either disrupting the filming or changing the direction of the movie. Now you should have a pretty clear picture of what is an observational documentary and how it works. Let us look at our list of the most outstanding observational documentaries ever.
Story of four door-to-door salesmen selling luxury, ornate bibles on the road. They face rejection, constant travel, and endless grind. The film won Cinema Eye Honors Award 3 times in a row.
Young Plato (2021)
Set in Belfast, Ireland, this film follows the lives of marginalized working-class schoolkids. The story shows how their visionary Headmaster tries to encourage and educate the children. He tries to improve their lives and challenge their thinking through lessons in philosophy, mythology, and history. This film won Special Jury Award at the Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival in 2023.
Rough Aunties (2008)
Rough Aunties is about a group of 5 women fighting for their neglected children in South Africa. This movie is both tragic and empowering, showcasing the harsh everyday life but also the compassionate spirits of the Aunties.
Chronicle of a Summer (1961)
This observation documentary focuses on the everyday lives of Parisians. Today, it offers a fascinating look at life in the very 1970s. People in the movie discuss politics, society, and other evergreen topics. Do you think their ideals and principles were much different back then?
Become better creators — together. (2022). Observational Documentary Explained + 13 Top Films | Wedio. [online] Available at:
[Accessed 2 Feb. 2023].