Modern Documentaries

Must-See Movies—For What You Need to Know

Documentary is a broad category of nonfiction films that visually document reality, often for historical record or instruction.

True stories have incredible power. Even fictional drama often tries to recreate the power of a great true story.

Documentary has long been associated with concerned filmmakers attempting to have a concrete effect on the world, and since the 1960s, progressive social change has become almost synonymous with the word documentary. For the most part this has largely happened through revealing new information and points of view to audiences. Every now and then documentaries have left an memorable mark on the world.

Learning by watching documentaries is a much different experience than using only print media. So call them documentaries. To me, they are a series of “college level” education courses. We all should be learning as much as we can, especially in a democracy. You’ve heard it said before: “Knowledge is power.” The more you know and understand, the better you can put things into perspective and learn how to navigate forward.

“Documentary” is continually evolving and is without clear boundaries

Modern documentaries

These are not the boring documentaries you had to watch in school. Those were mostly talking heads explaining at boring length.

The nature of documentary films has expanded in the past 20 years, employing modern filmmaking and editing techniques that make mainstream movies so popular.

Newer documentaries are usually a mixed combination of interviews, observation, actuality footage, archive material and narration. Often a narrator links the story together, and advances the narrative. But these modern documentaries let the pictures tell most of the story (rather than talking heads explaining at length).

There is an increasing preference for story-based or issue-based documentaries.

Documentaries are increasing popular, especially with the advent of the DVD and rental services such as Netflix.

Compared to dramatic films, documentaries typically have far lower budgets, which makes them attractive to film companies because even a limited theatrical release can be highly profitable.

Documentaries have become increasingly successful in theatrical release with films such as Fahrenheit 9/11Super Size MeFood, Inc.EarthMarch of the PenguinsReligulous, and An Inconvenient Truth among the most prominent examples.

Michael Moore’s Roger & Me placed more interpretive control with the director. The director takes part in the events being recorded. The filmmaker’s impact on the events being recorded is acknowledged and sometimes celebrated. The commercial success of some modern documentaries may derive from this type of narrative shift in the documentary form.

Documentaries went from being on the fringe as news to the occasional film that would cross over to a more mainstream market. Then there was a rediscovery of documentaries on television. And suddenly with channels like Discovery and National Geographic, and with lots of network news and cable, modern documentaries have come back in a way that that few imagined; because for years documentaries had been talked about as a dying art form and irrelevant because of their niche audience and small box-office returns.

Alex Gibney in his introduction to the film Big Boys Gone Bananas!*  by Fredrik Gertten says the following: “Some documentary filmmakers give voice to people who otherwise may be ignored, offer a fresh perspective to a news story that other media may not cover, and are not afraid to disclose uncomfortable truths.” Gertten is fighting for the right of documentary filmmakers to do what they feel is right, and that is to expose bad practices of big corporations.

The movie described below features directors discussing the current state of the Art of the Documentary:

Capturing Reality: The Art of Documentary

Documentary 2008 NR 97 minutes. This film is about making documentaries. It features notable directors such as Werner Herzog, Nick Broomfield and Errol Morris discussing the art, craft and unique challenges of nonfiction filmmaking. Topics range from ethical concerns and theories about the power of images to techniques for interviewing, editing, sound design and more. Scenes from acclaimed documentaries reveal how master filmmakers put it all together. Documentary’s most important names — including Albert Mayles, Errol Morris, and Werner Herzog — discuss their craft. This spans the modern history of the genre, boasting more than 100 clips from films as disparate as Grey Gardensand Touching the Void. Plus, directors offer their insight into their efforts to document real life. The 33 documentary filmmakers discuss eighteen topics ranging from the nuts and bolts of documentary filmmaking to questions about the nature of reality and questions about its representation through documentary film. It explains both the thought process and the differing opinions among the filmmakers such as whether music is necessary and whether it’s appropriate to dramatize certain scenes. Lots of discussion about truth and objectivity, use of narration, as well as what makes for an engaging documentary. Featuring 163 film clips from classics such as The Thin Blue Line, as well as more recent films such as Darwin’s Nightmare and One Day in September. This examination of how to tell both a good story and a true story is a timely and compelling work in an age rampant with suspicion of mass media and spin. Capturing Reality has a story to tell about how documentary filmmakers reconcile artistic inspirations and a highly subjective process with objective reporting to create a story with integrity. I don’t see how this film could disappoint unless you have no interest in human beings or what we’re doing to this planet. Otherwise, you should be transfixed by the film and the directors, insights and snippets of work it sets before you. Only a normal interest in our species is required. If you love watching documentaries, this is a DVD you must-see. If you are new to the genre – maybe you have only seen hits like Hoop Dreams – consider this a starting place to explore further. After watching this film you may turn to your usual rental source to seek out some more. The 163 film clips includes are just teasers. Some of the documentaries that they are talking about may not be available from Netflix. It should be noted that this movie is produced by a Canadian group, so the filmmakers are largely from Canada, and some speak in English and others in French with English subtitles.

See also:

BEST DOCUMENTARIES

BEST DOCUDRAMAS

DOCUMENTARY ACADEMY AWARDS

Dole Corporation Attempts to Block Documentary Release

Must-See Movies—For What You Need to Know

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