Why do we watch movies? To enjoy a couple of hours of gripping drama or adrenaline-fueled action? For the scares or for the laughs? How about because we want to make the world a better place?
Sounds cheesy, I know. Nonetheless, cinema and documentary film in particular has the potential to inspire change… real, after the credits have rolled, change.
Take Blackfish for example. Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s gripping and heartbreaking documentary has forced SeaWorld and other marine parks to reconsider their treatment of orcas.
Water of a different kind is examined in Josh Fox’s Gasland. His powerful documentary investigates the often shocking impact of hydraulic fracturing on the environment. It’s a must watch.
Laura Poitras’s CitizenFour is also unmissable. Her suspenseful film revealed just what it was like to sit with Edward Snowdon in the moments before he went public about US government surveillance. Thanks in large part to this documentary, we are all better informed about the issues surrounding our right to privacy.
Meanwhile, Charles Ferguson's Inside Job explored another disturbing and devastating event in recent history - the global financial crisis. In his documentary, the director examines the incestuous relationship between governments, financial institutions and academia.
In 1988, Errol Morris highlighted the elusive nature of truth and memory and the danger of death row in his iconic documentary, The Thin Blue Line. Morris’s film also changed the way we look at and make documentaries, inspiring many future documentary filmmakers (such as Kevin Macdonald and Joe Berlinger).
In addition, Restrepo, Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger’s stunning and important war documentary, shows us a glimpse of what it was like to experience combat, boredom and fear through the eyes of soldiers in Afghanistan.
However, documentaries that change the world don’t have to focus on global situations such as war and shady government activities. They can also tell intimate tales that make a huge difference to hundreds of people.
Jennifer Brea’s brilliant documentary, Unrest, is one example. Unrest documents Brea’s experience of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) / Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) while also providing many thought-provoking and inspiring insights into life and its value.
Her film has helped so many people who have suffered with similar symptoms and, by raising awareness about her devastating illness, Brea has been instrumental in changing the medical profession’s attitude towards ME.
Documentaries can change the world... and here's the proof:
There are many other documentaries that have changed the world. For example, Dear Zachary, Food Inc., Bowling For Columbine and An Inconvenient Truth.
Do you have any filmmaking documentaries that you would like to recommend? If so, do let us know in the comments section below or over on Twitter. You can find me @500DaysOfFilm.