REWARD: US director Joshua Oppenheimer poses with the award for documentary The Act Of Killing at the British Academy Film Awards.
REWARD: US director Joshua Oppenheimer poses with the award for documentary The Act Of Killing at the British Academy Film Awards. CARL COURT

Docos are quickly catching movies in popularity

DOCUMENTARY films are becoming increasingly more and more mainstream and popular.

Not just in the realm of cult followers, they are starting to earn big box office income giving the lower spectrum of feature films a run for their money, and the lines between them are now quite blurred.

Interestingly they are becoming less popular on free TV, however on the big screen and pay to view, the audience demand for real life drama is growing rapidly, so much so that there is a new word for them, edutainment…

In general, the main reason feature films get made is to entertain the audience; to give people an escape. Documentaries are made to inform; to confront people with reality: and sometimes to promote a point of view.

Actress Merryl Streep has thrown her star power behind a documentary that chronicles the rape and violent death of a young student on a bus in New Delhi. The Oscar-winning actress says the powerful, hour-long documentary, India's Daughter, deserves to win an Academy Award.

"I'm on the campaign now to get her nominated for best documentary," said Streep, speaking of the film's British-based director, Leslee Udwin.

"When I first saw (the film) I couldn't speak afterwards."

At the recent Travelling Film Festival at the MEC, the documentaries played a significant role in the success of the event, and from the audience feedback, these docos were stand out films in the program, particularly Women He's Undressed and My Love Don't Cross that River.

In 2013 documentaries took up 16% of the films being marketed at Cannes while only five years ago that percent was half.

The top grossing documentaries at the box office have been Fahrenheit 9/11 taking $129 million, March of the Penguins at $78 million, Never Say Never and This Is It, about Justin Bieber and Michael Jackson respectively grossed around the $73 million each, and 2016 Obama's America pulled a healthy $33 million from viewers.

This new generation of documentaries are also being made in a different way, and often contain computer graphics to illustrate chemistry, science, theory or just to enhance the facts. The new breed of documentary makers are also including uber-cool music in the layers of experience for the audience.

Technology also has a lot to answer for in this modest renaissance. The advancement of editing software and camcorders, helping documentary makers create films on small budgets, with many being crowd funded and crowd sourced.

There are now lists of top documentaries and web sites such as Netflix are providing hundreds of quality documentaries on diverse subjects for popular viewing.

One such documentary is The Act of Killing.

Documentary filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing focuses on one of the darkest chapters of the 20th century, speaking to some members of the Indonesian death squads who slaughtered hundreds of thousands of their countrymen and women in 1965 and 66. These people don't live in the shadows, though: They're treated like royalty in their native land, celebrated as heroes who helped "save" Indonesia from communism.

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