I know people have said this every year since digital video became a viable filmmaking tool, but 2007 really has been a great year for documentaries. Still, it takes more to impress me than a film about the war or the environment, and cute penguins only go so far. Most documentaries behave as if they were newspapers. They're relevant today, but tomorrow they're lining birdcages. Or at least someone is making pretty hanging mobiles out of discarded DVDs. This is not to disparage hot topic films; they serve their purpose. Though Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 failed to prevent G.W. Bush from being re-elected, it sure stirred up some discussion. And it's possible that Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth actually helped, in some small way, improve our planet's chances at a bright future. No, I ask a lot of a documentary. I ask it the toughest question of all: do I ever want to see this again?

I ask this because I'm concerned about film as an art form. Even a newspaper story has to be -- or at least should be -- well written. A great story has a hook, a way with language, and an emotional center. It's one thing to report on an amazing story, but it's another thing entirely to ask people to sit through a dull film. I have no patience for objective journalism in documentaries, mainly because there's no such thing. If a film tries to be objective, it's only pretending. I love films in which the maker throws him or herself into the very fabric of the film. What I hate most of all is films that use the same, tired old documentary format: talking heads and photos, and if we're lucky, some video clips. If you're just going to photograph someone sitting in a room and talking, why not write it as a newspaper story?

categories Columns, Cinematical