It wasn't that long ago that documentaries carried the stigma of being educational first and entertaining second. As with foreign-language fare, an audience for them lingered on the fringe, and an industry was willing to offer them their very own awards, but they really weren't terribly high-profile box-office prospects... that is, until the '04-'05 summer successes of Fahrenheit 9/11 and March of the Penguins made it seem perfectly okay for audiences to see, and for studios to market, a film without so much as one measly explosion in it.
But then along comes American Teen: a film openly marketed as - and arugably assembled to be - anything but a documentary that finds itself underperforming in its current limited runs (it goes wide this Friday). Last May, I witnessed a group of young women leaving whatever indie they caught at Washington D.C's Landmark E Street Cinema as they approached the film's poster and wondered aloud if someone was remaking The Breakfast Club, with a tone that suggested neither horror nor concern, nor any great interest in the big, fat what-if scenario placed before them.
What I wonder now is, at what point did we begin to craft documentary filmmaking specifically to the masses, and then what happens when the masses simply don't show?