The non-linear narrative in documentary

What’s the difference between them?

I believe a lot of people might be familiar with the linear narrative, no matter in the films, games or books, which is the story move from the beginning, the middle to the end in the preset sequence, such as the most of Hollywood films. When comes to non-linear storytelling, I remembered some flashback scenes belong to it. But in Sinyard’s blog (2011), he said some are chronological and linear flashbacks, which can’t be regarded as non-linear, and he insists a non-linear film should be more than just cut-and-paste scenes in different order.

After the class presentation, I got a more clear idea of the types of non-linear story, branching, multilinear and emergent stories, and they are all widely used in the game. But how about in the film? In my opinion, branching story is too complicated to keep every storyline engaging, because each story is irrelevant. And Emergent story even doesn’t have the sequence, which seems impossible to suit the typical view mode. The only multilinear structure is used commonly in film, a lot of famous movies used the way, such as two of my favorite Memento(2000) and Pulp Fiction(1994), it breaks the narrative mode of time and space, but all the plots are connected in some certain points.

Can the non-linear narrative be used in the documentary film?

As a person who is passionate about the documentary, I’m curious how to use a non-linear way to present a film. A filmmaker Thalhofer, he argues the opinion of ‘nonlinear story is a contradiction in the documentary’, and insists on breaking away the traditional narrative to engage more people to share their experiences. In his project, he built the platform to deliver a different kind of stories that he wanted to tell. Even some of them can’t be called a story because it’s just an observation without an end and a moral. And also, he opens this software to other filmmakers for free sharing. In this way, he can gain more short clips, and make them become ‘data’ that can organize in different ways(Young 2014).

There is some experimental documentaries use non-linear editing. The director Jaw discuss the impact of it, he said the non-linear editing provides him greater freedom to experiment with different ways of cutting a sequence at any time, but he needs to make a balance of the trimmed materials to make sense of them (1999). In my views, it’s good for the filmmaker to try different new ways to present a story, but the critical point is to make sure it does help the plot because the content is the key. Otherwise, it’s just unnecessary.



Sinyard, A 2011, Top 10 Best Nonlinear Films, blog, view 10 March 2018, <>

Young, J 2014, A champion of nonlinear narratives: An interview with documentary filmmaker Florian Thalhofer, blog, view 10 March 2018, <>

Cails, C 2011, The rebirth of data – between database and narrative, blog, view 18 March 2018, <>

Starker, R 2016, Storytelling: Narrative, Database, and Big Data, blog, view 18 March 2018, <>


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