Documentary films are one of the best ways of educating oneself. These films have a value beyond entertainment. As a nonfiction video, they can inform viewers about reality in their society. Most of these are films that also force viewers to confront reality rather than escape it, which is more the function of movies. Documentaries can be a catalyst in creating debates which can change our society. It can record information from behind the scenes to educate viewers on situations which have been crying out for change. Documentaries expose social malaise, peep into lifestyles, educate us about the environment around us and do a myriad of other things, all of which have an educational value.
Documentaries can also be used to put across a personal point of view in a very convincing manner. Political and economic issues can come to the forefront through these kinds of documentaries. Sometimes they even help to create public opinion through the facts conveyed through them. Some documentaries are of course created to create a polemic situation. These can have positive or negative effects. Viewers need to be all the more informed on both sides of an issue before making a judgment; documentaries are a good way of seeing both sides of a coin.
Many educative documentaries go on to become reference materials for students from schools and colleges. In many schools, colleges and universities, screening of documentaries is a regular affair, which increases the knowledge base of students in an interesting manner.
In depth documentaries can sometimes take decades to make. Gathering information and footage takes time as everything is shot in real time – there are no actors who can create a situation; it needs to be patiently waited for to happen in reality. For example, a documentary that tracks a life of a tiger from its cub days to adult hood can take years. But it is precisely these kinds of documentaries that are a great success – the filmmaker’s patience and endurance pays off in the form of a brilliantly chronicled life about an endangered wild animal. Documentaries are also a great hit with historians as they learn a great deal from these facts based films.
As a film maker goes about making a documentary, there is no telling how the documentary will end. In this, documentary films differ from movies, as there is no strict script one can follow. Sometimes footage s which need to be shot have not yet come into being, and the film maker may not be certain if it will ever come into being. That is the beauty of documentaries – of having shot which was totally unexpected and having not shot something which you have been waiting for months to “happen.” This aspect of documentary film making was brilliantly put by the legendary film director, Alfred Hitchcock, “In feature films the director is God; in documentary films God is the director.”
Documentary film makers normally have a confrontational attitude which works the miracle in their films. An example of this would be Michael Moore, who ventured into documentary film making by first producing a film on the downsizing of the General Motors plant in his hometown. With a budget of only $160,000, he created a master piece which went on to gross more than $6.7 million. His distinctively confrontational attitude is what sets his documentaries apart.
Documentaries can cover any subject, not necessarily heavy ones like politics and society. The “Exit through the gift shop,” which was nominated at the Oscars, relates a story about street art. Musicals, comedy, military corruption, wildlife, food wastage – the scope for documentary titles are unlimited.Educating Yourself Through Documentary Films,