Documentaries seem to be everywhere these days. I love documentary film. In fact, much of my coursework in film school was focused in the documentary genre. I love how docs help us take a deep dive into our world and the people in it. I love the investigative true crime ones and the ones that make us fall in love with quirky individuals and amazing stories. I love the impact and social change potential of these films. And most of all, I love seeing, through these stories, that there’s so much to the human story that we have left to explore.
I remember the first time I saw a documentary film — it was Super Size Me — in the eighth grade. My history class had a substitute teacher, who, in lieu of a lecture, popped in the DVD for the class to watch. Back then, documentaries were probably considered boring or nerdy by my age set. Maybe they were considered so by the teachers, too. The fact that the teacher chose a doc to keep a group of rowdy pre-teens at bay speaks volumes. It wasn’t a lecture, but it wasn’t too fun, either — they could make the argument that a non-fictional film was at least semi-educational. But I remember watching the film and loving it. Being impacted by it. I completely changed my diet in the following years because of that movie. And I sought out more docs on topics and figures that were amazing and heartbreaking and shocking. My parents even learned to like documentaries because I had gotten into them.
Today, docs are no longer considered fare for the buttoned-up and square set. Audiences have truly embraced these real-life stories and they have made them a regular part of their media consumption. Documentaries today are mainstream cool. Documentary filmmakers continue to push boundaries in their storytelling style. Today’s documentaries are not the “talking head” pics of the past; they are vibrant and creatively using animation, reenactment, strong artistic style, and unique forms of subject participation to craft wildly inventive and engaging films. They are telling diverse stories and giving storytellers from different backgrounds agency in the interpretation of the world around them. From the competing profile films on the disastrous Fyre Festival to the absolutely bonkers story covering Elizabeth Holmes and the Theranos scandal to Ava DuVernay’s examination of race and the prison system in America, docs are finally part of the wider public conversation. And that’s cool.