It’s generally a huge success of a documentary film crosses $10 million at the box office. Just a handful in the history of the medium have done so, which makes the success of the movie Fahrenheit 9/11 so amazing. It grossed nearly $120 million in the United States and another $100 million worldwide, making boatloads of cash for everyone involved. The movie was perfectly timed around an election and it’s political content ensured it got endless amounts of news coverage, amounting to little more than free press.
March of the Penguins gross more than $127 million in total, making it the second most successful documentary film of all time. Narrated by Morgan Freeman, it tells the tale of penguins as they struggle to care for their young and bring new life into the world in terribly harsh conditions. Other popular documentaries include Earth, Chimpanzee, An Inconvenient Truth, Bowling For Columbine, and Super Size Me.
Did you know that the vast majority of the chocolate you eat was produced in part by child slave labor? The Ivory Coast in east Africa is responsible for a huge portion of the world’s cocoa supply and they almost exclusively use child slave labor. The farmers kidnap or buy kidnapped child slaves and put them to work in horrible conditions. They sell the chocolate at cheap prices to some of the biggest manufacturers in the world and no one is the wiser. I know this because I watched The Dark Side of Chocolate, a documentary film made by a few brave souls. Others have traveled to The Ivory Coast to report on this issue and ended up murdered for their troubles. These gentlemen managed to make it out and come home with a brilliant movie that depicts this horrible atrocity. You need to see this important documentary film.
Filmmaking is a powerful medium and it’s important that documentary filmmakers continue to use it to talk about social issues, push their agendas, and more. As long as they entertain and inform us they’re doing a service, even if you happen to disagree with what the documentarian is saying. What’s important is that he or she is saying it and hopefully saying it well so that anyone can understand and get behind the point of the film.
Documentary film is one of the most important mediums for change available. The makers of television are too concerned with profit to be able to do anything of that nature and Hollywood films are all about the money over the art. Documentary films can be made cheaply so there’s less concern about turning a huge profit, thus the ability to address important issues.
If you want to get a little freaked out about what you eat and what you take into your body then watch documentary film Food Inc. It’s a sobering look at the US agricultural and food production business and it shows with excellent clarity just how compromised the whole thing is. What becomes clear is that profit is the single most important thing over any other consideration. They’ll pull back on the unhealthy stuff only if it saves the industry from losing money.
You’ll be blown away at the hidden additives that are thrown into your food and the awful effects they can have on your body. You’ll be astounded that these things are being done right under your nose. If more people saw the documentary film Food Inc there would almost certainly be a food revolution in this country.
Most often when you’re making a documentary film you have the approval of your subjects. You spend so much time with them it would be impossible for them not to know about you. The Cove is a little different though. The film is about the capture and slaughter of dolphins in a cove in Japan. The dolphins they manage to catch in the cove are sold to aquariums and other attractions around the world. Those they don’t capture or that aren’t suitable for commercial use are slaughtered in the most brutal sight you’ve ever seen and their meat sold.
The Cove is a tough documentary to watch but it’s also an amazing feat. The filmmakers had to get all their footage in secret because the town and the people that make money from slaughtering the dolphins have no interest in anyone around the world seeing what they do. It would ruin their business and the film managed to capture it all, which is just breathtaking.
Filmmaker David Guggenheim worked with Al Gore on the documentary film An Inconvenient Truth and together they helped to spark a debate about global warming and generate a tidy return at the box office. Ultimately most documentary filmmakers know that their movie isn’t going to change the world but they almost all hope to inform and raise debate when they’re dealing with controversial subjects like global warming.
For months after the movie was released the subject was talked over and it’s possible that some of the folks that were in the camp of non-believers changed their minds when they saw the movie or heard the rousing debates afterwards. With a subject as touchy as global warming all you can really hope for is to get people talking and thinking about it. Once they’re doing that minds tend to change and it’s a beautiful thing.
In 1993 three boys were killed in West Memphis, Arkansas. In 1994 three teenagers were convicted of those crimes. The convictions were protested at the time and ever since activists, celebrities, and others have gotten behind the case of the West Memphis Three, as they’re called. I bring this up because documentary films played such a critical role in seeing these young men released from prison.
Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky directed three documentary films about the West Memphis Three, all with Paradise Lost in the title. They questioned evidence, interviewed new subjects, and more. West of Memphis, directed by Amy J Berg and produced by Peter Jackson, debuted in 2012 and brought up such convincing new evidence that the West Memphis Three were released from prison. If not for the documentary films those men would still be in jail.
The trend of documentary filmmakers inserting themselves into the movie and really making it all about them has some upset but as far as I’m concerned it makes the movies better. Super Size Me, a documentary film by Morgan Spurlock, is a great example of that. The premise was simple. He was going to eat nothing but McDonald’s for 30 days and anytime they asked him if he wanted his meal supersized he would say yes.
The beauty was in the simplicity. He documented everything on a shoestring budget and the fact that he got horribly ill while doing it made the movie far more interesting. The end result is a fantastically interesting film that ended up pushing McDonald’s to change their menu. They made the sizes smaller, they offered healthier items, and they became a better company.
Michael Moore is unquestionably the most successful documentary filmmaker of all time. His movies have grossed more than the rest of the top 100 documentary films of all time combined. His filmmaking career started with Roger and Me, a 1989 documentary about the joblessness in Flint, Michigan caused by General Motors when they downsized. It earned an exceptional amount of money for the time.
Moore’s career as a documentary filmmaker didn’t truly take off until 2002 when he directed Bowling for Columbine, a film about the American obsession with guns. The inflammatory title helped market it and the movie was a success, earning $21 million. Fahrenheit 9/11 came next and it generated more press than you can even imagine and earned $220 million worldwide, cementing Michael Moore as a celebrity and documentary filmmaker the likes of which has never been seen.
There was a time when it was utterly unheard of for a documentary film to generate even a little money at the box office. That has all changed though, thanks in large part to the efforts of Michael Moore to position them more as entertainment pieces than dry, informative movies. Some might say that the only think Michael Moore documents is his own bloated ego, but he has helped popularize documentary film and that’s a good thing.
He turned his cameras on subjects he was passionate about and injected himself into the movies to generate interest. That has spurred on a new generation of documentary filmmakers, including Morgan Spurlock, a man made famous by his experiment of eating nothing but McDonald’s for 30 days and getting horribly sick. Others have followed in Moore’s footsteps and the documentary film business should be happy for that.