I appreciate a good documentary. The problem is, what exactly is a good documentary? What I think makes a good doc might not necessarily be what someone else thinks is good. So how should we think about docs?

  1. Should a documentary be entertaining? A few years ago I saw a doc Three Identical Strangers about triplets who were separated at birth as part of a social experiment trying to solve the whole nature/nurture dilemma. I thought this was a highly entertaining, and mind blowing, film. I was all in for the ride of these men. It made me like and recommend the film to others. It did not get nominated for an Oscar even though it did well in the theaters. Does making it entertaining detract from the seriousness of the subject matter?
  2. Should a documentary take a side/stance or should it flat out tell a story as down the middle as possible? When I go to a doc, I want to learn about something, or look at a different perspective of something. Should a doc present more than one side to a story? If it only shows one side, is it more of a propaganda piece?
  3. Should the maker of the doc be present in the doc? I recently saw All That Breathes. ATB is on the shortlist for an Oscar nod, and has received much critical acclaim. The style is the fly on the wall, wherein the filmmaker just documents the people he is filming- no directorial interaction. Though an interesting story, I came out not learning as much as I would have liked because the subjects were often mum- Should the director have jumped in with some questions? Conversely, in From Where They Stood, the documentarian was very present, asking questions, and this got to be distracting. What is the line the filmmaker should be taking?
  4. How narrowly focused should a doc be? Should a doc include the entire timeline of something, or should it focus specifically on a small piece? How do you make the decision as to how much to include?
  5. How long should a doc be? I find that long docs get to be tedious. But does a director need a lot of space to tell the story properly? Moonage Daydream is 2h14m. As this is basically a collage of David Bowie, I thought the story should have been capped out at 90 minutes because I felt it got repetitive. But was there a need for it to be this long?

Your turn:

Do you like documentaries? Why or why not?

What do you think makes a good doc?

Do you have a favorite documentary?

Discuss

38 thoughts on “Documenting

  1. I rarely watch them unless I run across one that focuses on a social issue I’m rather passionate about. I don’t like the idea of extended movie length docs. I take issue with the way movie times have lengthened as it is. If your documentary needs to be lengthy then perhaps it should be a 3 part mini series rather than stand alone. Same with movies actually, now that I think about it! Let’s label our entertainment choices accurately so the consumer knows what to expect 😉

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I absolutely agree. I love a good movie but why make them so long? I want to relax my mind not concentrate on extra footage after a long day at work. The Transformers for example .. way to long and now they are making the superhero movies even longer .

        Liked by 1 person

  2. My wife absolutely loves documentaries so I get to watch a lot, whether I want too. Anyway, Just watched a good one called “The Heart of Nuba.” I feel a documentary should be entertaining, otherwise it has failed to draw attention to the subject (who wants to watch a text book – right?). I feel any production it is hard to not take a side (one reason why you cannot trust the news). I dont care to see the director or if the documentary is the entire life time of the topic. As for length 90-120 mins max. Anything more needs to be a miniseries.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I get your point about taking a side, however…I worry that we only watch things that agree with our pov and we don’t try to find the other side. I’m mixed on this

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The documentaries that I like all focus on music and musicians. I loved “Three Feet from Stardom” that I saw when it came out in 2013. Ever since then, I look for music documentaries on Netflix or Prime.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I watch documentaries to learn about topics. I really like docuseries because they seem to be historical/factual, yet are more interesting to watch than ones that seems to be mostly lecture.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. The entertaining the better, i don’t much like talking head documentaries. Those are tedious. Young at heart is a great doc following the year in the life of an elderly choir who specialize in singing pop songs, its a very engaging film because death enters at one point and what was supposed to ge a duo singing Coldplays Fix You, becomes a very emotional solo.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Documentaries can be fabulous or they can be tedious. It just depends. I think the presentation has to be creatively executed in order to keep my interest.(Or the interest of the public viewer). It just depends on the specific topic whether or not I like it. I don’t usually gravitate toward documentaries and yet I have often been enthralled with some about historical events, well known writers, musicians, you name it. I enjoy learning and will often watch them. But like anything else, the way it’s presented is everything!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I like them, almost said love them, but some of them can be boring like Lesley said. I think it’s okay if there are different styles and types. I just watched Madoff: Monster of Wall Street. I would consider that a documentary, would you? I found it extremely interesting, disturbing, and sad.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hmmm, you made me think. I don’t believe I look for a documentary to be entertaining. Engaging, interesting and informative are what I seek. Although I guess it could become entertaining if the subject were to be amusing, as it’s hard not to be entertained in those circumstances 🙂

    That documentary about the triplets sounds really interesting – I’ll see if Himself can track it down for us to watch. Thanks LA 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. #1: I saw that one, too. Loved it.
    #2: I don’t think any piece of media is not biased; even when they try, there seems to be some slant.

    I think documentaries should be entertaining. They have to capture my attention in some way, either with the “characters” or the story itself.

    Liked by 1 person

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