Feature: The Year in Documentaries

  • IFC
By Aaron Hillis

A documentary cannot withstand the corrosion of time based on compelling subject matter alone. I learned this a few years ago while writing copy for an indie distribution label, whose acquisitions team had a rash tendency to pick up decades-old docs simply because they were Academy Award nominees. Sometimes they were still engaging under all that dust, but more often than not there were traits that dated them worse than the fashions worn within: static talking-head interviews shot practically but uninspiringly against bland or ugly backdrops, a schoolmarm's discipline for the purist limitations of vérité and an exhausting dryness that underscores how little use films are as strict conveyers of data -- of course, Wikipedia wasn't yet invented, so maybe information was enough back then?

Plenty of documentarians today still rely on the same old creative crutches, but in the year 2008, the docs that rubbed up against
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