Documentaries have become a very popular form of television and film over the past couple of years. Especially during quarantine when people began to explore things to watch to pass the time, documentaries were a popular option to learn more about a certain person, place or other topic. Throughout the past two years, we have seen an increase in documentaries that have been released and as more people view them, more people are inspired.
One popular topic that emerged recently was documentaries following popular musical stars. Towards the end of 2020, Netflix produced a documentary titled Shawn Mendes: In Wonder, following the popular singer/song-writer Shawn Mendes. His new album “Wonder” was then released a few weeks later, giving fans insight to the process of making, recording and producing an album. Soon after, the 7-time Grammy-award winning artist Billie Eillish had a documentary titled, The World’s a Little Blurry, that was released in February of 2021 on AppleTV+. This documentary also demonstrated the writing process for artists and like the Shawn Mendes documentary, showed the artists on tour and behind the scenes action of what that is like. Opposing the up-in-coming music sensations, The Beatles Get Back is a documentary that follows the praised 60’s band The Beatles as they create their album “Let it Be” which went on to win a grammy.
Sports are also a popular subcategory for documentaries. In recent years, the wild and thrilling sport of rock climbing has come to light. Free Solo follows Alex Honnold as he attempts the first free solo climb of El Capitan’s vertical rock. The Alpinist is about a lesser-known climber, Marc-André Leclerc, who favors climbing alone without a rope, as he dares to climb some of the most dangerous faces. Athlete A breaks the silence on the US Gymnastics team doctor, Larry Nassar, and his sexual assault allegations. Multiple gymnasts bravely stepped forward and shared their story as the truth unfolded about how his actions affected the team.
Aside from these light-hearted topics, some intense documentaries have also been resurfacing as popular watches from the past year. Seaspiracy, a documentary about the environmental impact of fishing, provided watchers with multiple reasons to put a stop to fish consumption because of the negative human impacts on marine life. A few days prior to its release, Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal was put on Netflix. An interesting thing about this documentary is that it included actors and actresses to portray real scenarios describing the events of Rick Singer as he illegally helped get rich families’ children into top universities around the country.
It’s hard to write about documentaries and not discuss the critically acclaimed My Octopus Teacher which received an academy award for best feature documentary. This true story followed a nature filmmaker and naturalist who tended to an unlikely friendship with an octopus. It showed the raw connections between human and nature and the beautiful impact it had on someone who was in crisis as he found joy through this relationship.
Arguably the most popular documentary that has resurfaced is The Social Dilemma, which dives deep into the dangerous impact of social networking and how it used to constantly manipulate and influence users.
In a New York Times article, author Devika Girish wrote,“Nevertheless, “The Social Dilemma” is remarkably effective in sounding the alarm about the incursion of data mining and manipulative technology into our social lives and beyond.”
Aside from viewing pleasure, documentaries can be seen for learning purposes and as new ways to think or look at certain things. They have the power to educate individuals on important issues as they allow us to hear from multiple perspectives and credible sources. They tell a story from beginning to end and can have a strong emotional impact on those who connect with it. They have been integrated into classrooms and other learning environments as new ways to teach.
“For my entrepreneurship class we were assigned to watch The Alpinist for homework. I thought it was an innovative homework assignment and I really enjoyed the documentary!” said senior Kenzie Young.
In conclusion, documentaries are powerful tools that can be used to teach and motivate people from all walks of life. To quote producer Parminder Vir, “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.”