In the book `Introduction to Documentary´ (2010) Nichols list Some specific qualities of the observational documentary mode. It´s limited by what occurs in from of the camera, for example, it would be hard to represent historical events. The observational mode documentary attempts to observe aspects of the historical world as they happen.
This mode typically has no voice over, no supplementary sound or music, no re-enactments, no interviews or no behaviour repeated for the camera. As a filmmaker, you give up full control of sound to record what is said and heard in a given situation. This type of documentary is character driven and should simply be scene after scene of raw footage strung together.
Nichols (2010) mentions some good historical examples in his book. Gimme Shelter (1970), about the Rolling Stones´infamous concert at Altamont, California, where a man´s death at the hands of the Hell´s Angels is partially caught on-camera. Another one for the history books would be Monterey Pop (1969), about a music festival featuring legends such as Otis Redding, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, The Jefferson Airplane, and others.
One of the reasons observational documentary filmmaking is so appealing to me is because, as Nichols write; “In fiction, scenes are specifically contrived for us to oversee and overhear, whereas documentary scenes represent the lived experience of actual people that we happen to witness” (2010).
What immediately popped into my head while reading about the observational mode was music. My childhood dream was to be a music journalist, more specific; A Rock N´ Roll journalist. 15 years later I´m still keen on the idea. I would absolutely love to make performance-based documentaries AKA Rockumentaries. For example, follow a band on tour to capture a more intimate side, not only as performing artists but also as people.
Nichols, B (2010). Introduction to Documentary. 2nd ed. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. 172-179.