Documentary films tell important, often unknown stories and bring awareness to a wider audience, and are some of the best resources for information, inspiration and entertainment. They have also become core elements and prompters of social issue campaigns.”
By: GUEST BLOGGER 20 December 2016

In today’s “post-truth” world, educating ourselves about important issues and finding varied and reliable information sources is as critical as ever. Recent events across the globe coupled with how we obtain, share, and replicate news of these events demands we step up and seek out quality sources of information about our world and what is happening in it.

Documentary films are an in-depth and informative resource which are a perfect platform to create dialogue. They serve as powerful tools that bring important topics to the table in a captivating way that also sparks conversation, and sometimes even social movements. Character-driven, feature-length documentaries focused on the stories of real people put a human face on global issues that might otherwise seem distant or unrelatable. Hearing and seeing these real experiences through the dedicated work of documentary filmmakers helps us put ourselves in the shoes of others, building bridges of empathy in a world that desperately needs our engagement and compassion.Not only do documentaries provide an opportunity to understand and connect with the world, they are also a great way to gather together with friends to watch and engage around the important issues of our times. Watching more documentaries is important, but talking about them together in person is equally important. With social media channels at our fingertips 24/7, we often miss out on face-to-face conversations, yet these conversations are needed. They remind us of the real people on the opposite side of an issue, the complexity and nuances of the different conditions in which we live, and the importance of honest and earnest discussions.

Like theatre, crafting a documentary film takes tremendous commitment, patience and passion.

- Dori Berinstein

Why are Documentaries Important?

There are many ways that documentaries demonstrate their importance and purpose in the present day, but influential BBC producer and documentarian Parminder Vir said it best:

“Documentary films tell important, often unknown stories and bring awareness to a wider audience, and are some of the best resources for information, inspiration and entertainment. They have also become core elements and prompters of social issue campaigns.”

Documentaries give the average person access to crucial information about global, social and political issues they might not otherwise be exposed to. For individuals, it’s important to constantly challenge your own perspective and to find inspiration to make the world around you a better place for everyone.At a more micro-level, documentaries and documentary-style video content is a valid and growing way to debut brands and products in a way that feels genuine. A company could find value in explaining their unique process with branded storytelling or introduce their Founder in a single-character documentary style.

So why does documentary make such an impact?

Aside from the emotional stuff, documentaries also do what they say on the tin – they offer evidence by literally documenting the issue. Documentary is a form of (arguably trustworthy) journalism, and ideally presents information from a primary source. Documentaries can be the definitive account of an issue and the final word on a subject.

However, we know that facts don’t necessarily change minds. That’s why modern documentaries use storytelling and narrative devices. Documentarians can take lessons from film and use those techniques and structure to engage the audience and elicit emotional reactions.

And finally, sometimes documentaries make an impact by being upfront. While some include calls to action and some don’t, every social impact documentary sits on a sliding scale of wearing its agenda on its sleeve.

For a start, we like human faces. We want to see the real, raw feeling move across a person’s features. We want to see and hear the actual people involved in an issue, and to be invited into the story. Whether it’s a Seaworld trainer in tears or Morgan Spurlock as he vomits up his umpteenth Big Mac, we are right there with them, building a relationship. This intimacy creates a real emotional and physical connection and builds empathy. In a broader context, documentary is the next best thing to being in that situation yourself. Authenticity is key to creating a sense of ownership of the issue and being in the ‘in’ group. If a documentary can successfully attach itself to a person’s sense of identity and values, it will go a long way towards change.

Documentary film is the one place that our people can speak for themselves. I feel that the documentaries that I've been working on have been very valuable for the people, for our people to look at ourselves, at the situations, really facing it, and through that being able to make changes that really count for the future of our children to come.

Alanis Obomsawin