Alaska's Fragile Environment Threatened by a $500 Billion Gold Mine (Full Documentary).
Documentaries have for many decades inhabited the schedules of public broadcasters. They have chronicled the lives and institutions of western democracies. In the past two decades, however, documentaries have become recognised as an innovative cultural form. Instead of being exclusively funded by television channels, documentaries receive money from a number of sources, including film funds, private investors and foundations.
Rather than observing, documentaries are now thought capable of changing the world.
Documentaries have changed a lot of other people’s lives, too, and now more than ever. In fact, we’re in a Golden Age for docs, with more distribution outlets, more box office success, more public attention and more talented directors making more meaningful, impactful projects than ever before.The best documentaries illuminate a person, an event or an issue in powerful ways, giving thousands or even millions of people a chance to better understand something they knew little or nothing about.
Documentaries are the perfect place for young filmmakers to begin learning their craft. That’s because fiction film is about re-creating a version of reality, tuned to the story’s dramatic necessities. Documentaries, by contrast, require only that students choose the subject matter and capture what is already there. Documentaries shine a light on some of the darkest corners of our planet, and by doing that and engaging audiences they can truly make a difference and prompt real change.
You lose count of the number of times you hear documentaries trashed. The argument is as old as the documentary, and it goes like this. Docs manipulate reality, over-relying on effects such as music. They aren't really journalistic at all. Maybe one should think of them as drama without actors, cheaply made and with few pretensions to seriousness. Shamelessly, they pander to our worst voyeuristic impulses. Under the guise of telling the truth, docs entertain us with lies. It would be more accurate to say that documentaries are among the most valuable, neglected cultural forms of our time. They aren't all good, to be sure, but the best are unusual, persuasive, seductive. And their success has something to do with the way they are taken for granted, casually watched. Few old things have flourished in the cultural chaos of this century, but docs have steadily consolidated their hold on a small portion of the contemporary consciousness. Film stars want to make or sponsor them. Sometimes, if you squint hard enough, they really do seem like the new rock'n'roll.
"Documentary," says the dictionary. "Noun. Based on or recreating an actual event, era, life story, that purports to be factually accurate and contains no fictional elements." This is useful, but a trifle over-cautious. Why shouldn't non-fiction contain elements of fiction? And why should something only "purport" to be factually accurate? It reeks of the old charges that docs are unreliable because they are filmed. When you describe anything, it is altered. The act of seeing modifies what is seen. Most people who watch docs understand this.No body of theory exists to legitimise docs and I'm grateful for this. They have come to subsist at a crossroads of contemporary culture, somewhere between journalism, film narrative and television entertainment. They appear to thrive on contradictions, between the stubborn reality they purport to capture and their necessarily limited means, between the impositions of storytelling and the desire to interpret or analyse. They aren't fictional, ever, but they can seem in their attractiveness more real than reality.