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Over the years, documentaries have proven to be an effective strategy to inform and educate, and even to persuade people to change their attitudes towards some specific subject. Although previously documentaries were seen as having interesting in content but boring in format, today this has changed dramatically, mainly thanks to the participation of big TV networks that have turn the experience of the viewer into a passionate one. Indeed, nowadays non-fiction storytelling is considered an innovative category of entertainment as exciting, engaging, and entertaining as a feature film.
A distinct difference between the culture of feature films and the culture of non-fiction is the circle of support built into docs and independent films. In features, there’s a pressure to rely on what works, to reject risk. The lack of all that in documentary means that the surrounding communities of the medium work more holistically, collaboratively, and supportively. And risk is encouraged.
While many know Sundance for the festival, independent and documentary filmmakers have become intertwined with the Sundance Institute, which garners support through funding as well as creative support through workshops and a group dedicated to emerging technologies. The entire community of Sundance becomes an ecosystem for filmmakers outside Hollywood’s machine. There are many institutions geared toward similar supporting networks for filmmakers.
In fact, documentaries fill a much different role in the culture than films or television. A good documentary is ideally both entertaining and a learning experience, and this is why all the streaming services have a documentary presence on their servers to some extent. If you’re looking for documentaries these days, they’re hard to miss. Once considered more medicinal than entertaining and consigned to high-brow places like PBS and art house theaters, documentaries are scattered across the film and TV spectrum, as well as online portals like Facebook Watch or YouTube Red and on video streaming apps like go90.
Some automatically associate documentaries with TV. There is a sense that they are neither entertaining nor cinematic, purely an educational device and offer no more stimulating filmmaking techniques than a series of dry talking heads, or a voice over. It’s a misconception that documentaries can’t function as narrative cinema and visual art in the same way as fiction, so how do you get audiences to value documentaries as entertainment and come out to the cinema to see them?
Documentaries can be emotive, heroic and challenging. The age of Netflix makes sitting on the sofa in front of the TV an easy way to consume gripping factual content. An important consideration in reaching out to established community groups is being thoughtful and understanding of the group’s needs and what they want out of the experience. Determining a strong and well-researched outreach strategy as a way to encourage the intended target group to attend screenings will help to spark a genuine interest with a potentially new audience.

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