Why Documentary May29

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Why Documentary

Making documentaries comes from the instinct to be everywhere at once, to have a hundred careers, to know and be everything. I don’t think it’s just a few of us that feel this. Most of us dream in abstract hopes or deep longings for something bigger, knowing there’s so much more to the world outside our little sphere but not knowing how to touch it or exactly how to get there.

So documentary, both making and watching, can satiate some of that desire to spend your days finding new corners. At once analytical and practical, it’s digging in and seeing things for yourself, grabbing anything that might speak of new possibilities. You see things you wouldn’t normally get to see or wouldn’t have taken a second look at, and the world is rebuilt around you, reaching the rooms that you don’t normally frequent.

But beyond illuminating our surroundings and our societies, docs can also dive into that more mysterious interior, the inner world that’s so hidden, revealing some of that endless space that’s normally hidden both in ourselves and one another. As powerfully as novels or narrative films, they give us the story of our inner lives.

Because although (or perhaps because) we are social creatures, we have developed an uncanny ability to defend, rationalize, and otherwise divide ourselves from each other. We can conceptually understand another’s perspective, yet we seem designed to stick fast to our own, even as we point out this trait in others. This is one of our human absurdities – wanting to connect, but remaining inherently defensive creatures, built to maintain our own view.

The saddest part about the advent of reality television is that so much of that programming holds fast to this instinct above any other. Watching from afar, the stories seek to confirm our default views, and encourage us to watch and laugh from the periphery, never going further in. Reality shows often abridge our endlessly complex interaction with the world and each other, keeping the people we’re watching in separate small boxes like creatures we’ve dragged home as a curiosity.

Documentaries, in my wildest hopes, can be an antidote for our instincts to stay separate, finding the delicate places where we overlap. They can pull us into a new world just as strongly as narrative films, but luckily for us they take place in the same world that is already our very own.

So our experience becomes brighter and more complex, and the natural curiosity of wanting to know someone else’s story is given back to us in ways we didn’t imagine. Then we tap into the wonder of all our contradictions: the mixed heroics and banality of everyday life, giving us new ways of reaching one another.