Documentaries make better movies


Ben Alter, Photographer

In the last six months of 2018, the entertainment industry saw an increase in the number of documentaries making big screen appearances. Usually shown only in small film festivals, documentaries like The Dawn Wall and Free Solo started popping up in several movie theatres. These two are just examples of how documentaries are starting to make a more common appearance in the entertainment business, and subsequently are entertaining people more than the fiction that’s shown on the big screen.

This trend possibly started with the documentary named Icarus. Icarus, produced in 2017 by Netflix, follows the filmmaker Bryan Fogel on his journey to “cheat” the system of drug tests in cycling races. Unintentionally, Fogel uncovers the truths of Russian doping in the Olympics through a Russian scientist by the name of Grigory Rodchenkov. Icarus’s fame lead to its immense success of which earned it the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

The removal of an overbearing fictional element allows for the viewer to feel more involved with the film. Free Solo is a perfect example of a film where viewers can experience this very thing. Free Solo follows professional rock climber Alex Honnold and his journey to conquer El Capitan, a 3,000 foot granite wall in Yosemite National Park. As Honnold moves up the wall with incredible speed and no ropes attaching him to anything, the watcher becomes white knuckled with concern of whether or not Honnold would make it to the top or fall to his death trying.

Both of the above documentaries won Best Documentary at the Academy Awards, and for good reason. They have all the aspects of a good movie, but they are also real.

Both of these documentaries really take the viewer through the ropes of emotional attachment to the movie. The takeaway from the documentaries tends to be the same, just to learn from these epic feats or deep deep lows that the subjects speak about. Even during the documentary Free Solo, the subject, Alex Honnold left a message for the audience. “Right now there’s some kid who just watched this and is wondering, “Whats bigger, what’s better?”.

I truly believe, especially after watching a handful of really well-done documentaries, that they are better than most fictional films that often take over the theatres and movie platforms. Of course I’ll always love the classic action packed movie, or an aesthetically pleasing Wes Anderson film but, to be honest, I’d much rather spend my rainy days watching documentaries like Free Solo or The Dawn Wall then watching something that 21st Century Fox produced.