Documentary in Review will be on hiatus for awhile. For how long, I’m not sure. I’ve lost interest in writing about documentaries, simply because I’ve lost interest in watching them. I haven’t lost interest in making them, not yet at least, but the documentary field is in a disturbing state of decline. The problems are many: rote storytelling, predictable pacing, a numbing homogeneity in subject matter, production value, style, music, narrative, and a surrender to the overbudgeted, the overfunded, the tried-and-true. A recent article in POV Magazine summed up the current condition of documentary. I refer you to that piece.
Even when I stumble across a documentary that is attempting a formal rigor in its style or a unique point-of-view, I am forced to admit that these types of documentaries–the essay films, the immersion docs–are an increasingly endangered species. And, in fact, some of these risk-taking films also share a sameness that, after seeing two or three in a row, becomes more tedious rather than engaging.
Part of my decision is related to my own work. I’ve attempted, through my book and my last two films, to make good on my hope that there is an audience among the gatekeepers for personal, deeply felt work that is as visually rich and idiosyncratic as the story being told, and that story need not have a social justice issue–or at least not an obvious one–to make it a viable, worthwhile work. It has been nothing but disappointing to have that hope dashed again and again. See my website for my latest film, Slow Revolution, to appreciate the disconnect between the praise for the film and the number of festival rejections I’ve received.
There is really nothing else to say at this point, other than I remain committed to what I wrote about in my book, that the only way to save documentary is to strip it down to its essentials: one person with a camera, telling a story that only they can tell.