Is there a name for the style of documentary featuring almost entirely audio/footage of the subject?

Two recent docs I’ve watch have used this style. The Robin Williams documentary on HBO and the Netflix doc about Orson Welles last picture. There is very little narration, almost all the content is actual footage or audio recordings (much of it clear outtakes and other material that was not intended for release), cut together with interviews about the subject.

IMO its actually fairly irritating. It inevitably involves cutting together little unrelated snippets of audio and video that seem to be related to whatever the interviewee is currently saying. It makes it really hard to follow the events being described, and is IMO no more authentic to the subject matter than a traditional doc (the director has cut the audio and video together to tell the the story they want told, just as much as if it was a traditional documentary)

Does this style have a name? Is there a particular film or director that started what is apparently a bit of a trend in the documentary film community at the moment? Maybe it was done well originally and these are less well realized copies of the original?


I’ve heard that term to describe narrative film-making, but never documentaries before.

Fly-on-the-wall ? What Nichols called the Observational Mode.

Don’t think that’s really it either. Both these movies were about subjects who had passed away before the movie was made (Robin Williams and Orson Welles) so the film maker wasn’t filming/observing directly. Finding and editing old footage and audio recordings doesn’t really seem like “observing” to me.


EDIT: Not that that’s the actual term, since I suspect there may not be an actual term. But if we wanted to coin one, my vote would be “archival documentary.”


Atomic Cafe has to be one of the weirdest documentaries ever produced.

Video/audio collage?

Telling (narration) is considered diegesis and showing is considered mimesis, so I would call it mimetic. Other aspects border on epistolary and art house. Surprisingly, “non-narrative” is a different thing referring instead to a lack of linearity or coherency, and usually not considered applicable to documentaries.