A documentary that pulls us under and slips us into the shoes of a character forms lasting imprints on our psyches and on our hearts.
Are stories more believable than the six-o’clock news? Is a well-crafted narrative more successful in forming opinions and communicating information than detached press releases? I think so. And, I reckon producers sense this too. The public definitely wants to know what is going on the international stage. But, these days the jaded relay of censored information doesn’t cut it.
For at least the past year we have been witnessing an interesting evolution in the film industry. When it comes to documentaries, both Hollywood and independent filmmakers have been performing some serious genre-bending. Projects like The Big Short, Notes on Blindness, Southside with You, Sully and most recently, Snowden have all capitalized on the story-telling aspect of the doc-genre.
There seems to be a new sub-genre of documentary films emerging. It adequately delivers stories, but focuses on bringing the viewers into that story. These releases are also time sensitive. Snowden, The Big Short and Sully do not reflect on a distant history; the viewers are contemporaries of the real-time events. These films tell incredible stories and also reveal a perspective of how life operates behind the media-curtain.
I would be delighted to see more docs move this direction—spreading stories in unforgettable ways.
What I most appreciate about these films is that they provide us–ridged, desensitized, over-stimulated Americans–with a gateway to empathy. Traditional documentaries often require a significant investment in the topic prior to viewing. Of course their spots, facts, horrors, and wonders invigorate us and compel us in new ways, but sadly the consumption of these documentaries easily digest in our steel stomachs. Recall the last time you saw a doc. Deeply moved? Now, how long did it take for you to totally forget about it? My guess is maybe a week at the longest. Documentaries that pull us under and slip us into the shoes of a character form lasting imprints on our psyches and on our hearts.