Why documentaries?



One of the greatest atrocities of modern societies is ignorance. This ignorance can either be intentional – like in the sheltered life of the suburbs or parents preventing their children from seeing conditions or ideas that contrast with their own – or unintentional – like the majority of Americans who wish to simply live their life in the secure bubble without worrying about what might’ve been if they hadn’t been born into a high standard of living. The documentary is the foil to this trend, not by calling a particular situation out and blaming whoever started it or showing a 10-hour film that covers all the bases of a subject; rather, the documentary exists to prove that the subject exists.

Documentaries must be careful in this way to demonstrate their subject without implying that it is representative of the entire subject. The films of the one of the more popularly criticized documentarists, Michael Moor, often cites big-picture facts; however, the pathos, the bulk of the film, typically follows a particular instance, like a few families or individuals, to form a story or sort of reality drama to hold the audience. After all, if a documentarist wanted to make a 10-hour non-dramatic picture, they would send that to the History channel instead of AMC theaters. While this method only features an instance of the documentary’s whole subject, the point is that the subject exists.

The raison d’être of a documentary in my opinion is to combat ignorance. Long ago, one could drive past cardboard shanty towns during the Great Depression era, and one need only leave the palace walls to see the starving peasants. In modern times, people drive over the projects on interstates and around the low-income areas on well-shaded boulevards. People simply don’t know something exists until they see it in action. The goal of a documentary filmmaker is to show an instance of the subject and that it actually exists.