It’s not so very long since documentaries were essentially televisual filler. They were the kind of thing you’d watch lazily on a Saturday evening, or have
Charting The Rise Of The Documentary
Let’s start with Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, which won the Cannes Palm
More Real, More Dramatic
So why have documentaries become so popular? A big factor is, of course, the undeniable truth that documentary makers have become better at their art. The days of basically delivering a lecture over a few nice shots of your subject matter are long gone. Documentary makers are not only picking engaging subjects, they’re taking pains to pinpoint cinematic moments, using storytelling techniques, pulling the viewer into the investigation, and presenting reality in a raw, real manner which has proven very appealing to the public. New technology also offers greater investigative potential – as well as opening the genre up to a whole new swathe of up and coming filmmakers. In one way, documentaries have become slicker. Their production values are up, they’re tightly woven, they’re beautifully crafted, and they take pains to put their point across. Filmmakers have peeled back the artificial layers which used to plague the documentaries of bygone days. Interviewed people are more natural, their reactions less scripted, their emotions tangible. The whole package is simultaneously more real and more cinematic.
The Rising Appeal Of Facts
It’s also worth noting that fact-based entertainment is becoming more popular in general. Publishers are increasingly finding that people are buying factual books at a rate which simply wasn’t the case a few years ago. As with documentary making, this is partly because writers have begun to craft factual books with the same creative care that was previously reserved for fiction. However, it also seems indicative of a general shift towards fact-based entertainment. This may seem ironic, considering that we supposedly live in a ‘post-truth’ culture. However, given that many of us feel insecure and perplexed about the state of the world, and are unwilling to trust the words of politicians, it is perhaps not surprising that we’re turning to things like documentaries to try and probe beneath the surface of the world and work out (ostensibly) for ourselves what is going on. It’s perhaps no coincidence that the most popular documentaries of recent years seek to expose large political or commercial organisations, revealing lies, cruelty, and corruption at the heart of the establishment. It’s a note which strikes a chord in the modern world and one which can be played to great advantage by a skilled documentary maker.