Thursday, July 29, 2004

Behind the rise of the documentary - National -

Behind the rise of the documentary - National - "Last Saturday, just three days after the Melbourne International Film Festival started its 18-day run, the sessions for Control Room, Jehane Noujaim's 86-minute documentary about the Arab news network al-Jazeera, had sold out. The 'House Full' signs were up again on Tuesday for Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott's The Corporation, a 145-minute Canadian documentary offering a scathing analysis of the practices of large companies. Also sold out was Letters to Ali, Clara Law's account of a Melbourne family's cross-country journey to visit an Afghan asylum-seeker.

At the same time, Michael Moore's controversial Cannes award-winner, Fahrenheit 9/11, was filling cinemas around Australia and breaking box-office records for a documentary.

Early this week, before it had officially opened, Moore's character assassination of President George Bush was sitting at No. 3 in the national Top 10 films. Even though the sneak-preview strategy is a marketing stunt, the fact remains that Moore's film was happily wedged between King Arthur and The Stepford Wives on the Top 10 list, well on its way to becoming the highest-grossing documentary ever to screen in Australia.

In a sense, it's surprising that this hunger comes in an era when we appear to be well-serviced, even over-serviced, for television news and current affairs.

Although television news coverage appears both intensive and extensive, there are still gaping holes. TV news may offer immediacy, but it isn't nearly as proficient when it comes to context. It wants raw information and pictures, and it wants them fast. It doesn't allow for the considered analysis. That takes time. And by then, the news gatherers have moved on to the next big story.

People flocking to see Fahrenheit 9/11 know it's partisan. Michael Moore has produced a film he hopes will help remove George Bush from the White House, and he's made no secret of it. But film-goers are still keen to see how he makes his case."

By Debi Enker
The Age


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