by Candace Brasseur
Published September 3, 2018
It’s funny how more access to technology and limitless digital filmmaking in lieu of traditional analog film doesn’t necessarily translate to improved documentary storytelling. As strange as this may sound, a handful of the films submitted to the festival this year were almost too polished and prescriptive, leaving the audience member as a passive student if you will. They presented a plethora of information, but not in a constructivist way. In some circumstances they were akin to a long class lecture that is informative, but not necessarily engaging, resulting in an audience that feels no need to ascribe meaning to the content and actually remember it.
Part of the issue may stem from filmmakers wanting to include all of the information and research they can, fearing they will leave something out, going broad instead of deep. The problem with this is that clear learning objectives for these educational films were lost amidst the vast content. It’s as if the filmmakers were writing a paper without a clear thesis. Perhaps ironically, a lot of these films would have been stronger if information was removed so they could have become more focused.
Some of the longer films had great segments, but just as they got interesting they abruptly switched to a different topic or theme within the subject matter. All of the polished production value in the world will not make up for a surface level narrative in lieu of focused depth, because depth is what will elicit emotion. And at the end of the day, all of these films are about humans at one time or another, so the emotion is there- one just has to go deep to access it.
Indeed, some of the polished films convey information but lack genuine heartfelt passion, which is perhaps why some of the organic films actually have a charming, authentic allure. This said, the polished films still score extremely high on the rubric and would of course be great assets to the festival. However, their shinny production should not outshine the content of some of the films that may have scored less, but have great intrinsic appeal and value.
In a nutshell, an emphasis on engaging, rather than passive prescriptive story telling needs to happen in these types of documentaries. It’s not about sharing what you know; it’s about actually teaching what you know in an engaging matter, utilizing the medium of film and its storytelling capacity. The reality is, people have shorter attention spans these days, and these films must compete- they have the content to do so; it’s not about flashy production, it’s about appropriately structured narratives told in an engaging matter designed for the audience to think and ascribe their own meaning to, melding the content into their previous knowledge and having it become part of their own schemata as it pertains to their place in this world.
As I was watching these films, I did get excited for the future of virtual reality (that will be here sooner than we think!) which will equip archeologists and filmmakers to place the learners right in the middle of these epic times and experiences. These films are just the beginning! I look forward to seeing how technological advancements, coupled with strong efficient narratives, will help archeologists share their discoveries and the longstanding impact in a very emotive and visceral fashion.