It is no hidden secret of mine that I adore documentaries. On the whole, I find them entertaining, informative and thought-provoking. Essentially, they tick all the boxes. But only in the last year did I realise that I was beginning to prefer them to watching a feature film.
I felt it necessary to explore this idea on my blog as I have begun to share my recommendations along with my own original content. Through my experiences and analyses, I hope to share that there is so much more to this format than might be assumed.
Perhaps when I was a lot younger, my definition of a documentary would have been somewhat skewed. With associations of “ancient” history, accompanied with feelings of boredom and tiredness, I don’t think I would have been a good advocate to say the least. But back then, neither was I really into films, nor have I ever been. To be clear, growing up I was exposed to plenty of films – I’m just not particularly knowledgeable. Embarrassingly, it’s only because of my partner that I was introduced to the Cornetto Trilogy – a genius set of films that I now utterly admire.
It was studying Creative Media at college that really led me to think more about the types of media I was consuming. At the start, I was infatuated with the role of director and could see myself directing visually demanding films. But the more I experimented through the years, I started to realise that documentary was the area in which I truly felt was best for me to develop. Some of my favourite films are “Submarine” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” because of how clever they are. They are like works of art, carefully crafted through desirable visuals and strong narrative. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel I was quite artistic enough to participate in such films and finds like those seemed to be rare. Script-writing felt like a chore and I lacked that kind of extraordinary imagination that could bring a story to life. What I liked, was the stories of ordinary people. Real life.
When my interest grew…
The primary reason for my inclination to put on a documentary in the first place was down to accessibility. Lucky for me, hundreds of documentaries had been uploaded to YouTube and it was extremely easy to find them. This probably won’t come as a surprise when I say that the more I watched, the more were being recommended. And in turn, the more I watched.
They could be about anything. I went from genre to genre, from crime to history, to social issues and back again. It didn’t phase me what or who the subject matter was: I was interested. Often the quality wasn’t too important either. They tended to be at least 10 years old which, if anything, gave them a bit of a nostalgia factor. In fact, it probably made things a lot clearer due to the simplistic style.
It was during this time also that I was on my gap year and I deeply missed the process of learning something new. I believe this factor was a motivator in the desire to expand my knowledge in some way. And they did exactly that! No matter the subject, I always took something away.
Not only was I using YouTube as a source, but I had began to search on Netflix. It didn’t take me long before discovering Louis Theroux’s documentaries and I was inspired. Even now I still go back to watch some of them for the fourth or fifth time. They made me realise that documentaries had the potential to be entertaining as well as informative. Louis’ non-threatening and reserved approach enabled the contributors to open up in great detail and this raw caption of human nature was fascinating. I’ve always enjoyed deep, philosophical and often abstract conversion and so this very much appealed to me. These documentaries left me with just as many questions as answers. I loved it.
To prefer documentaries to film is entirely my own personal opinion, however I think it’s interesting to compare them. Generally speaking, the purpose of documentaries is to inform and educate, whereas a film is to provide entertainment. That is of course not to say that a film cannot educate and a documentary cannot be entertaining. There are definitely elements that cross over.
Some examples of films that could be seen as more educational are those that surround an important historical event. Although not all the details may be accurate, a clear sense of the environment can be felt and stories are most likely based around fact. Another example of a transferable message could be those with dystopian themes. What if things went too far? Questioning our own society in this way can be just as achievable as through a modern documentary. On the opposite side, there is a great scope for visual variety when it comes to documentary styles. The use of reenactment can be used to dramatise and add emphasis to the point being made, similarly to story-telling within film. Therefore, this can heighten its entertainment value.
However, going back to the focal purposes of both media types, there are distinctions between the two. As someone who is slow at reading between the lines of films, a more direct message and concept is a lot easier for me to comprehend. Abstract ideas are really interesting to analyse but because they can be ingrained at a more deeper level within a film, they are difficult to grasp at first watch. Along with this, not all films are designed to be strictly understood at such a complex level.
A film can help you escape and get lost in another world – it’s an experience. Because of this, I find them far more enjoyable when in company, which of course it not always convenient. I get a lot of pleasure from going to the cinema with someone or, when I was little, having family “movie nights”. I do think it is also important to add here that light entertainment is absolutely necessary. To give yourself time to switch off and not think too deeply about a film but rather relax and enjoy it. It totally depends on what you feel you need more of in terms of stimulating content and something to simply unwind to.
Keeping my brain active is very important to me and so having this guarantee from documentaries is another reason why I gravitate towards them more often. Not only this but they provide opportunity to aid personal growth. They provide me with information I wouldn’t have otherwise come across and this helps to expand my knowledge. Additionally, they give new insights into different places or lifestyles that can help strengthen my own perspectives of life. This is something I value highly.
Both documentaries and films are important in different ways and there is such variety when it comes to content and style. I believe documentaries are the way forward when it comes to self-education and are able to challenge our views in a more direct way. Films have the power to help us let go and be in awe of the fantastical worlds in which we can create.
It all depends on what an individual is craving for most often in life. Is it that urge to escape from reality? Or to look at the reality we have lived and are currently living through? For me, it must be the latter. The clear and apparent messages allow us to grow from an individual stand-point and also from a societal stand-point. And from this, change can be evoked.
What’s on your mind?
Which one do you gravitate more towards? Feel free to share any recommendations in the comments below!