Today: February 22, 2024

Documentaries

From Katy Perry rock-dock, Part Of Me (3D), to Marina Abramovic’s performance-art feature, The Artist Is Present, this month’s releases include a deluge of documentaries to delight and bemuse. In celebration, Dan Clay, takes a look at some of those which prove that the art form once viewed as the movie businesses’ little brother has grown up and learnt to think big.

From
Katy Perry rock-dock, Part Of Me (3D)
(Main Picture), to Marina Abramovic’s performance-art
feature, The Artist Is Present, this month’s releases include a deluge of
documentaries to delight and bemuse. In celebration, Dan Clay, takes a look at
some of those which prove that the art form once viewed as the movie
businesses’ little brother has grown up and learnt to think big.

These days the modern documentary has
freed itself from the low-budget shackles of the past and made some issues and
controversial topics the surprising blockbusters of the year. Of course the
likes of Michael Moore’s Bowling For
Columbine
and Fahrenheit 9/11, Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me and Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth may
have deservedly stolen the limelight, but take a look among the recent crop of
documentaries and you’ll find plenty that like to think big on the big screen.

Those
That Make You Think …
Charles
Ferguson’s
near-vitriolic Inside Job justifiably won the Academy Award in 2011. A scathing
indictment of what caused the 2008 credit crunch, it remains one of the most
compelling, reasoned and detailed accounts of what shapes our world today.

God Delusion fans were also given a
more entertaining, if watered-down take on the sanity of the atheist viewpoint
thanks to Borat director Larry Charles and comedian Bill Maher. Religulous presents a relatively comic but compelling argument for
what counts as, in their eyes, ‘the absurdity of religion’.

Staying on a religious note, the largely
unseen but thoroughly fascinating Jesus
Camp
from 2006 raised important questions on the way America’s children
were being ‘brainwashed’ with evangelical methodology. Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady
showed the sometimes fairly damaging lengths the camp’s leaders went to in
order to preach their message to a generation unable to comprehend the full
complexities of the issue.



Those
That Inspire You …

Few documentaries can be more
inspirational than 2003’s Touching The
Void
, chronicling the remarkable story of climbers Joe Simpson and Simon Yates in the Andes. Combining stunning
cinematography and vivid, stomach-churning details of what became a
life-defining trip, Touching The Void, really showed that documentaries deserve
their place on the big screen.

Similarly, American director Steve James has made waves with two
amazing documentaries in recent decades. While 1994’s Hoop Dreams, focused on the poignant journey of two
African-American college basketball players, aiming for the big leagues, last
year’s The Interrupters showcased
the extraordinary work done by a team of Chicago street workers to diffuse
violence and restore peace in the city. Both set the bar high.



Those
That Entertain You …

While it was scandalous that Asif
Kapadia’s Senna
never even earned an
Oscar nomination, it didn’t stop his biopic of motor racing’s greatest talent
from thrilling audiences around the world with its compelling yet utterly devastating
use of race footage and interview tapes.

Something completely
different, but just as entertaining emerged in Errol Morris’ Tabloid late in 2011. The bizarre story of a former
beauty pageant girl who ‘kidnapped’ a Mormon missionary, it made Joyce McKinney (the former) one of the most compelling and
captivating screen presences all year.

Those
That Shock You …

Some documentaries explore an issue
that can only be termed ‘controversial’. 2003’s Capturing The Friedmans did it with child abuse, Werner Herzog did it in this year’s Death Row doc Into The Abyss and the late Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger did it with 2010’s
harrowing war doc Restrepo, set in
Afghanistan. All deserve your attention, highlighting, however uncomfortably,
the true nature and dark side of humanity.

One
To Watch …

So, given such an extensive list,
where’s the next big documentary going to come from? Moore’s last few haven’t
really lit any fires and while Spurlock’s The
Greatest Movie Ever Sold
was a clever take on product placement, it
entertained rather than truly informed.

It looks as if this year’s Oscar winner Undefeated (Out August 3rd)
might just do the trick. Telling the story of an underprivileged American
Football team under the inspirational leadership of coach Bill Courtney, it
could be the documentary that inspires, shocks, entertains and informs you all
in one go. Now, that would be a
touchdown.

Also keep an eye out for the following
documentaries all coming to screens near you soon.
Ping Pong – 6th July
Salute – 13th July
Something From Nothing: The Art Of Rap –
20th July
Revenge Of The Electric Car – 20th
July

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