By Gregory Crofton
The future is here and now for documentaries and it means watching them on cable or Netflix – less and less will there be a reason to go see one in the theater.
There is loss and some gain with this change.
New documentaries that once were only to be found at art-house cinemas are now widely available on Netflix or HBO or some other cable network. This is happening because increasingly these distributors are paying to have the films produced.
If you don’t have EPIX or Showtime or HBO and you miss say “Altman,” a new doc about the filmmaker Robert Altman, on television, wait a few months and it will likely pop up on Netflix, like it did just this past week. Take a minute to watch the trailer.
A mass audience now has access to interesting documentaries that before most people never got a chance to hear about. The loss is related to the enjoyment of a cinematic experience: The sound effects, the image on a 30-foot screen, the feel of being part of an audience in large and dark room.
Cinematic effect is important for filmmakers because they created the doc and want it to enrapture the viewer. But this is less important to the general population, especially when it comes to watching documentaries. Big Hollywood productions need to be seen at full volume and in fantastic color and size. Documentaries not so much.
Documentaries capture, teach, explore, research, present, convey and track. They are, in general, a more intellectual art form than a feature film. Documentaries such as “Actress,” which I haven’t seen yet, work to evolve the form and make it more cinematic, which is admirable.
But for the documentary genre overall, what makes its motor hum, are facts. Facts with a capital “F,” the kind of facts you learn in “The Rise of ISIS,” the latest documentary from PBS’ Frontline investigative news series. It’s not important for someone to sit down and watch facts in a movie theater.
It is important to catch these movies, however it’s done. More and more it will be done at home in front of your television.