Introduction these three documentaries will be done, and


            The expository style is utilized in most
documentary films. Its flexible nature allows filmmakers to tell their story
using a specific genre. The versatility of this narrative style interested me
to explore how different filmmakers use this style based on different genres.

The filmmakers’ use of their creative techniques in employing this style also
interested me. In this paper, the definition expository style and it
characteristics will be discussed. There will also be a discussion of three
documentaries that are based on different genres: Nanook of the North (1922) by Robert Flaherty, An Inconvenient Truth (2006) by Davis Guggenheim, and Frozen Planet (2011) by Alastair
Fothergill. Lastly, a comparison and contrast of these three documentaries will
be done, and a very brief conclusion will also be provided.


The Expository Style of

            The expository mode of documentary is the most commonly
used documentary style. Expository documentaries use heavily researched
materials and aim to explain things most people know little about
(Beisterfield, 2015). Bill Nichols, in his book Representing Reality, defined that the expository style “addresses
the viewers directly with titles or voices that advance an argument about the
historical world” (Nichols, 1991, p. 34). Moreover, expository documentary mode
heavily utilizes narration or the “voice-of-God” to allow the reader IS1 to better understand subject
of the film (Nichols, 2017, p. 121). In most cases, the images in the film
serve to illustrate what the narrator is saying.

            One characteristic that the expository style has is
narration. The narration around the subject matter forms viewers’ perspective
and logic. The voice combines the five canons IS2 of rhetoric, namely invention,
arrangement, style, memory, and delivery (Henderson, 2013). Invention serves as
a proof for that the narrator uses to persuade the audience (University
of Arkansas, n.d.). Arrangement is used to maintain the organization of topics
and events in the film (University of Arkansas, n.d.). Style encourages the
documentary voice, which in this case is authoritative because most expository
documentaries’ purpose is to inform. Memory is used to execute talking points
(University of Arkansas, n.d.). Lastly, the delivery element is used to connect
the audience to the subject matter. These elements are crucial in expository
documentaries as it is effective in telling the story, and at times, persuading
the audience (University of Arkansas, n.d.).

            Another technique that is being used in expository mode
is the use of archival footages and reenactments. Archival footages are used to
further provide proof and talking points in the film topic. Having historical
archives incorporated in the film adds validity and legitimacy to the film
subject. The same is true with reenactments, but some critics argue that
instead of bringing in historical accuracy, they say that reenactments enhances
history and draws it away from reality (Kougell, 2015). Ethnographic director,
Robert Flaherty, argued that the reenactments used in his film, Nanook of the North, was “based on the
subject’s memories, and is truthful in spirit” (Kougell, 2015). An Academy
Award producer Allie Light also commented, “a good
reason for doing reenactments is that the past lives of most people are not
documented, so very little material exists to tell the story” (Kougell,
2015). She claims that the retelling of the story
will bore the viewers and have them watch a film with nothing to look at.

            To further explore the flexibility of the
expository style and how these characteristics are used, I have chosen three documentaries: Nanook of the North (1922), An
Inconvenient Truth (2006), and Frozen
Planet (2011). All were filmed in different decades, which will show the
differences in the graphical element of each documentary. More importantly,
these three documentaries are in different genres and will allow use to
identify the different approaches of the filmmakers on using the expository


Expository Documentary Examples

Nanook of the North (1922),
Robert Flaherty

Genre: Historical/Biographical
and Docudrama

Synopsis: Nanook
of the North looks at the life of an Inuit, named Nanook, and his family.

The film took place in the North of Canada at the Hudson’s Bay. Nanook’s band
forage for seals, walruses, and bears to feed on and to use as hides. During
the warmer months, Nanook and some of his family members travel to more
civilized areas using kayaks made of wood and seal skin to barter their goods
in exchange for knives, beads, and other goods. During the winter, they travel
with their artic foxes and sleds. Winter months are the most difficult for Nanook
and his family, as food is really hard to acquire as animal are hibernating and
a thick wall of ice separates them from their food sources (seals and

Filmmaker Details: Robert J. Flaherty is one of
the founding fathers of documentary film. He is known to make documentaries
that revolve around the theme of “humanity against the elements” (Williams,
2002). His background in exploration inspired him to incorporate his romantic
ideals of cultures in his films (Aufderheide, 2007). Although there are a few
critics that disagree with the ethical components of his work, viewers,
including the Inuits, still have great affection towards Flaherty’s work as
they allow them to know their traditions.

Documentary Review: Nanook
of the North is
very different from any documentary that I have watched. I found that despite
the lack of narration, the documentary is successful in showcasing the
lifestyle of the Inuits. The reenactments that Robert Flaherty utilized helped
me, as a viewer to visualize the Inuits’ way of living up north. Overall, the
silent featured film is interesting in a way that the presentation is very
unique, and nothing compared to the documentary we have available today. I was
able to “experience” how it is to live in the Arctic North and learn about the
Indigenous peoples’ way of life.


An Inconvenient Truth (2006),
Davis Guggenheim

Genre: Persuasive/Advocacy,
Personal and Cause & Effect

Synopsis: Politician and former vice president of
the United States, Al Gore share his passion and commitment in reversing the
effects of global warming. He became first aware of the global warming in 1970,
and has since made laws and legislation directing to the conservation of the
environment and the reversal of the effects of climate change. Filmmaker, David
Guggenheim followed Al Gore as he presents specific changes in the environment
that global warming has caused, such as melting ice caps, natural disasters,
and human and animal deaths. The documentary ended by Al Gore suggesting what
the government and the public could do to save the Earth and all the species
living in it.

Filmmaker Details: Davis Guggenheim directed and
produced the Oscar and Academy Award winning documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth” (“Davis Guggenheim,” n.d.). The filmmaker
is also known to make former US President Barack Obama’s campaign infomercials
and short films (O’Sullivan, 2015). Guggenheim is always found producing and
making documentaries that promote advocacy and awareness, such as Malala (2015), a film about Pakistani
schoolgirl that was shot because of her campaigns demanding the right to
education for girls, and Waiting for
Superman (2010), which focuses on the failures in the public school system
in America (Aftab, 2015).

Documentary Review: The film is a mix of Al Gore’s
journey into spreading awareness about the effects of climate change and a
number of scientific data and statistics to back-up his claims. The topic is
something that, for some people, might be too complicated to understand, but Al
Gore included some presentation and short entertaining clips that will help the
audience understand the issue. Overall, the documentary is personal,
informational, moving, and entertaining.


Frozen Planet – Spring (2011),
Alastair Fothergill

Genre: Observational

Synopsis: The Frozen Planet has a total of 7
episodes. The second installment of the series titled “Spring.” In this
episode, the ice melts and life returns in the Polar Region. Animals that were
in hibernation wake up and migratory animals move to the Polar Regions to feed.

For most animals, spring is their breeding season. The “Spring” episode
features the changes that is happening in the Arctic and Antarctic. It showed
how the frozen waterfall was brought back to life by the melted Arctic fresh
water river. This episode also features a polar bear hunting seals to feed her
cubs, narwhals migrating in a narrow path of water, the annual cod harvest of
sea birds and seals, the courtship of albatrosses, rivalry of elephant seals
and the wooly bear’s transformation from being a caterpillar to a being a moth.

Filmmaker (Producer) Details: Alastair Fothergill is one of
the leading producers of natural history television programs including The Blue Planet (2001) and  The
Hunt (2015). He was inspired by David Attenborough’s work, Life on Earth (1979), and from there he
studied zoology and started making wildlife films (World Film History, n.d.).

He helped pioneer a whole new contemporary format for wild life teleivision
with The Blue Planet (2001) (World
Film History, n.d.).  Planet Earth (2006), which he produced,
was the first BBC series to be shot in high-definition (World Film History,

Documentary Review: Frozen
reminded me of the documentaries that I used to watch when I was a kid. The
documentary, Frozen Planet, is very
informative. The narration really explained what is going on in the footage
being shown. While watching the film, I could only think about the art and
technique that was put in to producing and filming this film. The way they
filmed how animals live during the season. The filmmaker had managed to capture
both the graceful and aggressive movements of these animals. What interested me
the most was the technique they used in filming the polar bears and the
elephant seals because contact with both animals is really dangerous. Overall,
this documentary is very insightful and it gave me a chance to learn about
animals that I did not even know exists.



Comparison and Contrast

Topic objective

      The three documentaries that I have
discussed all aim to inform the public about the film’s subject matter. In Nanook of the North (1922), Robert
Flaherty exhibited the survival skills of the Inuits, particularly Nanook, in
the hostile winter. The featured film also showcases the traditions of the

      In Frozen
Planet (2011), the filmmaker’s goal was to inform the audience the changes
that are happening in the environment and the life that is happening in the
Arctic and Antarctic during the spring.

      Similarly, An Inconvenient Truth (2006), informs the audience the travesty
global warming and climate change had caused and will cause. Unlike Nanook of the North and Frozen Planet though, An Inconvenient Truth also has an
element of persuasiveness and advocacy as the data and accounts that Al Gore
presented aim to induce little change into the audience’s actions to help
reverse the effects of global warming.



purposely chose these three documentaries because each of them employed the
expository style differently. One of the main characteristics of documentaries
using the expository style is the narration.

      David Attenborough, the narrator in the
“Spring” episode of the Frozen Planet,
applied the typical narration style that is normally found in informational
documentaries. The narrations are engaging, it adds to the suspense of the
footage, and it has an authoritative tone that insinuates their knowledge about
the topic.

      Contrastingly, instead of using the
“voice-of-God,” Davis Guggenheim used Al Gore’s presentations to tell the
story. Just like David Attenborough, Al Gore also has an authoritative tone
while doing his presentation.

of the North does not have any narration at all. Instead, text clip was
used to introduce the scene or explain the footage. Because of the early
technology they had available back then, using text clips was the next best
thing to narration.


Background Music

      Nanook of the North is a classic “silent
documentary,” so the whole documentary was dependent on the classical music
background throughout the documentary film. Similarly, Frozen Planet uses a mix of narration and background music.  At times when there is no narration, the
volume of classical music in the background will go up.

both Nanook of the North and Frozen Planet, the filmmakers used orchestral
background music that corresponds with the footage being shown. Having more
bass sounds in more intense scenes adds more suspense and thrills. For example,
background music with heavy bass lines were used in the hunting scenes in Nanook of the North, and in elephant
seals fights and hunting scenes in Frozen

       On the other hand, An Inconvenient Truth barely used any
background music. In scene where Al Gore is presenting, there are no background
music at all, but when the scene is about Al Gore’s personal life, there would
be a faint background music during the narration. A specific example was the
scene Al Gore was talking about his son’s accident. The scene was consisted of
a montage of pictures taken when his son was recovering. While he was narrating
what happened in the accident and how he almost lost his son, a very depressing
music is being played in the background.



the video quality differs mainly because of the technology available at the
time the film was made. Nanook of the
North was completely filmed in black and white, and the images could barely
be seen. Although Nanook of the North has
a very rustic 1920’s look, Robert Flaherty had managed to showcase his artistry
in the film.

Inconvenient Truth is an example of a documentary that used a great deal of
A-rolls and B-rolls. Al Gore’s presentation was used throughout the film. In
some parts, B-rolls were used. Pictures, data sets, flowcharts, and historical
archives are used to support the A-roll. The creative use of these two kinds of
footages kept me, as a viewer, very engaged and connected to the story.

Frozen Planet videography is very
up-to-date. The whole film consists of vivid and crisp clips of the life and
the environment in the Polar Regions. It also included some time-lapses to show
the changes that were happening in the ice fields of the Arctic and Antarctic
and some slow motion clips to show the graceful movements of the animals.



      With his 75,000 feet of film, two Akeley
cameras, and the help off Allakariallak (a.k.a Nanook) and three other helpers,
Robert Flaherty was able to film Nanook
of the North (Flaherty, 1999). The
production took a long time because they have to time the scenes and get very
specific shots. He also asked Allakariallak and his family and friends to
reenact some traditional Inuit practices to be included in the film. Flaherty also
has experienced a lot of mishaps in developing the film because of the weather
in and the location of the set.

      The scenery in the two Polar Regions
astonished both David Attenborough and Alastair Fothergill. In the interview
done by Ben Beaumont-Thomas (2015), Fothergill mentioned that they have filmed
things that no one has ever filmed before. They were constricted with time and
were working at the edge of the ice as well (Beaumont-Thomas, 2015). They also
had to learn how to shoot rifles and flare guns to scare the bears away
(Beaumont-Thomas, 2015). Some of the challenges they encountered were the -40
degrees Fahrenheit temperature, getting underwater and above water shots, and
getting close-ups of the animals (McCarthy, 2012).  

      A producer, Laurie David saw Al Gore’s
presentation about global warming and was inspired to do a featured film about
it. Majority of An Inconvenient Truth was
filmed in a small theater in Los Angeles (Golson, 2006). They also included
animations, historical archives, digital stills, and black-and-white stills
that contrasted with the HD shot of Al Gore’s presentation (Frazer, 2006).







            In conclusion, I found that different genres allow for
variation for the application of the same documentary style. The variations and
techniques that Flaherty, Guggenheim, and Fothergill utilized made their
featured films really interesting, engaging, and most importantly effective. I
also learned that documentaries using the same style do not have to be
structured all the same. It all depends on the vision and creativity that the
filmmaker wants to present the audience. The version of the filmmakers’ and the
presenters’ reality are reflected in the beauty and artistry of their
documentaries. In my opinion, all of the documentaries are effective despite
the differences in the use of the documentary elements. I had an inside view of
the traditions of the Inuits through Nanook
of the North. Also, watching An
Inconvenient Truth again after a long time still managed to give me the
chills. I also have witnessed the changes in the climate, and personally
experienced natural disasters that were amplified by the warming of the Earth, all
of which Al Gore talked about in the film. Furthermore, I learned about how
life blooms during spring in the Arctic and Antarctic regions. Collectively,
the versatility of the expository style allowed Flaherty, Guggenheim, and
Fothergill to execute their individual creative strategies to deliver their
message successfully to the audience.




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