Seventh Art Blog

I am forever in awe of the quality and breadth and power of documentaries

by: Phil Grabsky

16th January 2023

It is possible that, once or twice, I’ve had a moan in my blogs about the state of documentary filmmaking or the distribution channels open to films or the paltry licence fees broadcasters pay for films. I’ve certainly said publicly many times that I consider the documentary film industry to be, if not structurally flawed, then certainly far from sound. How can I spend years on a film and be offered a few thousand dollars for it by a national broadcaster?  The same national broadcaster that will spend millions on a Saturday night game show or a game of football?  So I am forever in awe of the quality and breadth and power of the many documentaries that somehow do get made.  Right now I am watching (as a BAFTA voter) the documentaries that have been entered in the BAFTA film awards. It is slightly confusing but you have a documentary award in the film awards and a Best Single Documentary award in the TV awards.  (That’s the one we won last year).  In theory this is distinguishing between those films made for the cinema and those for TV but most docs made for the cinema are made with TV money and for TV ultimately.  I guess one thing that distinguishes them is that the Film Award docs tend to be 90’-ish and the TV docs 30’ or 60’ though some -like mine – are 90’.  Anyway, in the Film Awards this year there were 56 films entered and, overall, they were far more interesting than many of the fiction films.  I rarely saw a bad documentary whereas over the past few weeks I have watched plenty of truly feeble fiction films.  Nothing really beats real life – whether it is the life of British artist Ravillious, or the treatment in Saudi Arabia of repatriated Guantanamo prisoners, or a small film-makers’ club in Bradford.  With the horrors ongoing in Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen and of course poor Ukraine – to name just a few – I don’t really want to watch poorly made Hollywood nonsense when I can watch brilliantly made docs about real people and real situations.  So here follows the list of the 10 docs that have made the longlist – I recommend them all. I have my couple of favourites but obviously can’t reveal that. Whichever one ultimately wins, it’s a bit of bunfight, but it will reflect a filmmaking community that somehow – really, how are you all doing it? Is it just Netflix and Apple monies?? – is in good shape.  If only the world’s politicians would watch them and act accordingly!!

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