Recently, I’ve discovered my new favorite form of mass media: the documentary. These entertaining, yet educational films often present two sides to an issue that I’m not very familiar with, not only informing me, but allowing me to create an opinion. Last week I watched The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz (I highly recommend this), a film focusing on Internet and political activist Aaron Swartz and his court case against the U.S. government, as well as Helvetica, a documentary about the ubiquity of the font. Two totally different topics that, until watching the films, I knew nothing about.
Documentaries seem to be one of the few areas of mass media that have not yet been taken over by monetary interests. I’ve read several interviews with Laura Poitras who recently won an Oscar for Citizen Four, the documentary about Edward Snowden. She described the passion that most documentary filmmakers must have for their work because the return on investment is quite small. The lack of money in documentary filmmaking not only stems from the cost of production but the copy-making ability and piracy on the Internet. Poitras also worries that her job might become obsolete as smartphones allow everyday citizens to document their experiences.
While a bit nervous about the future of documentaries, Poitras finds the visual medium an important one. In an interview with The Atlantic, she uses the example of torture. Simply reading about the number of people tortured is not nearly as effective as providing visuals or footage. Visuals play an important role in creating an emotional response and changing perception.
I agree with her thoughts about the importance of documentary film. I hope that the industry can find a happy medium between becoming consumed with monetary gain and simply being able to financially survive. Organizations like HBO do a good job incentivizing the creation of documentaries which is crucial to getting creators to keep creating.
To anyone looking for something worthwhile to do with a free hour, I suggest a documentary.