It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
There is sometimes a notion that documentaries should observe events but not influence them. The French term cinema verite ("the cinema of truth") supposes that the camera is an invisible observer at real events. The audience presumably witnesses what would have really happened even if the camera wasn't there.
A recent documentary like "Streetwise," about the street children of Seattle, creates that feeling with scenes so spontaneous we assume the camera must have been hidden, or that the participants were so accustomed to its presence that they forget it was there. Fredric Wiseman's documentaries on PBS ("High School," "Basic Training'') give the same impression.
In documentaries like "Pumping Iron II" and the gospel-music film "Say Amen, Somebody," however, the filmmakers have done their reporting first. They have identified the leading players, isolated the points of conflict and then they set up scenes in which they know more or less what is likely to happen The dialogue is spontaneous, and unexpected events do occur, but within the framework of an over-all story line.
Which kind of documentary is more "real"? Some filmmakers argue that the camera is never invisible and that it's conceit to claim it is. The word "documentary" itself is misleading, they say. A better term is "nonfiction film." John Grierson the pioneer British documentarian, provided the best definition of what is really happening when he described a documentary as "a film in which the drama is provided by facts, rather than fiction."