Documentaries were historically dry informative and well-meaning educational videos, with a few rare exceptions. But in the last number of years, given the global access, we have seen this genre came to the fore, in the streaming services.
Documents have over the last 20 years changed in tone and political weight. One of the first to raise awareness of issues in American contemporary culture, and some might say very subjective political insights was Michael Moore. With Farenheit 9/11, (the first documentary ever to win a Palm D’or in 2004). More recently he flips the switch with Farenheit 11/9 where he looks into the impact of the Trump presidency. And why is Peter Jackson, a celebrated Film Director, creating over 70 hours of footage. In the Beatles Documentary ‘A hard Day’s night’ series, edited and reviewed to show Seven, hourly episodes. The Documentary is traditionally a one-piece film duration of circa, 2 hours. Now the Director and Producers can break it into hours of material, and in some cases drag out the content and storylines for as long as possible.
Perhaps in these times of Fake News, and misdirection a documentary generally asks a question and sets out to answer it to the audience’s satisfaction. With the advent of the internet and the questions box open to the worldwide audience, giving us instantaneous answers. The audience demands more and is more sophisticated about the quality of research, and wants an objective view on the many sides of an issue. With the On-demand option giving convenience to the viewers. Documentaries and Docuseries are more popular than ever before:
LIST OF TOP DOCUMENTARIES IN RECENT TIMES
The March of the Penguins;
An inconvenient truth.; Man on Wire; CitizenFour
20 feet from Stardom; Irish Documentaries: The Farthest; The 8th Film
IFI@home (online streaming library)
The Last Dance
I was so caught up in the fever myself, I watched a Documentary on Basketball. Personally, I have never even seen a game, not on TV or in person, ever! But there I was, covid couch bound and engrossed in the Basketball Doc, ‘The Last Dance’. Initially I was impressed with the reviews. They were amazing, I thought I’ll watch 20 minutes at most and see what the fuss is about. Three days later I was watching the last of 10, one-hour episodes. Completely engrossing, a great documentary, with a huge amount of backroom interviews and footage, made in association with ESPN. But there had to be more to it. It made me wonder as to the huge figures for ‘The Making of a Murderer’, ‘Tiger King’. ‘Hoop Dreams’, ‘Maradona’.
Interview with Head of Film Programming, IFI
With a huge wave of interest in this genre and the uptake on the streaming platform I started looking to see how the Irish Film Industry may be affected. The IFI hosts a documentary FilmFest and I recently interviewed Sunniva O’Flynn (Head of Irish Film Programming) about Irish Documentaries. How or if they are impacted by the democratisation of the genre and highlighting the Documentary FilmFest, featured annually during September at the IFI.
Sunniva begins by answering the question on best in class or a documentary that is a benchmark for Irish Documentaries and she outlined the ground-breaking Mise Eire for Cinema made in 1959 by George Morrison and funded by Gael Linn. As well as Saoirse?, which looked at Irelands struggle for independence ‘interesting, she says but not unique, it almost exclusively draws on newsreels and actuality footage, of the struggle which wasn’t seen by those before, as it was pre-television’.
Another historic documentary is ‘Rocky Road to Dublin’ – (IFI shop) ‘a documentary, made in 1968, by Peter Lennon a correspondent for the Guardian and was an Irish man in Paris. He did a series from the point of view of the imigre, colleagues, looking at the yokes of restrictive and oppressive institutions, illuminating a critical perspective on the time of the Church, GAA, Censorship’.
Modern Irish Documentaries
‘Documentaries which are more contemporary were in the last number of years more Music Documentaries, different waves for the audience, the Damien Dempsey doc. ‘Breaking out’ and the Phil Lynott documentary. In terms of great directors Alan Gilsenan is one example – Drama and document cinema context for television, cultural figures, and literary figures, all feature.
In his documentary, The ‘Road to God Knows Where’, which takes an unromantic and realistic look at Ireland with impoverished children, it recalibrates views, makes viewers think twice look at their own complacency and challenge existing perspectives. There is perhaps a new consciousness, either slightly affecting or radically affecting viewers, with an ‘essay style’ film’.
Some other examples of directors are Pat Collins, Tadg O’Sullivan, the catalogue of work, responds to trends, economy sociology artistic of poetic, Zeitgeist, Political almost. John T. Davies an independent filmmaker on life in Northern Ireland, outlining Community religious Zealots so there is a personal aspect to his work. ‘The Uncle Jack’ a cinema architect visually rich documentary supported with archival film footage. I think that’s what a documentary does: asks probing questions, or opens up a debate.
Women film makers usually begin as producers then stepping into a more public visible role by directing short docs like Nessa Ni Channon. ‘Young Plato’, ‘Fairytale of Katmandu’, a prolific filmmaker and with a commitment to the form and shows confidence growing within that format
Supports for people making great work and stories work being told like Mise Eire, with a still interested audience. As well as a narrower focus, with whimsical work more entertaining, Nuala O’Connor’s, ‘Keepers of the flame’, documentaries approach film on different levels, creating discourse, inform and primarily it is stimulating intellectually in a sense. There is an absolute truth – a good documentary will feed life, a good story, creative. ‘The farthest’ is absolutely fabulous by Eimear Reynolds. It is about space exploration and sputnik, the probe sent into Space, capturing the wonders of space with a wealth of detail. Documentary truth is paramount, the truth balance is interesting to a savvy audience, with different choices, and as well as being an excellent piece of period drama.