Sunday, June 1, 2008

Stranger than fiction

So the documentary film festival is in town this weekend.

This means that I spent a good chunk of yesterday's sunny hours in a dimly lit cinema, processing narratives of African dictators and European counterfeiters.

(As a side note, the Duke just bought me the Planet Earth/Blue Planet DVD boxset. 10 DVDs full of David Attenborough goodness? And a day long date of documentary films? I just had a geekgasm.)

In all honesty, as a whole, I wasn't blown away by the festival. Some of the work was pretentious at best, as were some of the attendees.
(A note to the fellow comparing our premier to Robert Mugabe... seriously? I mean, I agree the guy is an asshat, but cutting social funding is hardly equivalent to torturing those who oppose you. You need to drop the shock tactics, and go back to first year poli sci to learn your facts a little better.)

However, after learning about the case of Lucio Urturbia, an apparently simple bricklayer and family man, who, after being arrested for one of the largest counterfeiting scams in history, managed to negotiate with CityBank to pay him(!) to stop his scamming, I began wondering why, as a society, we're so entranced by fiction.

Sure, I enjoy escapism as much as the next person. I can admit to plans to see the Sex and the City movie one night and go to the documentary film festival the next without feeling like too much of a hypocrite.
But, really, though, aren't the stories of real people infinitely more interesting than the same old tired cliche of boy makes bet about girl, boy meets girl, some hilarity ensues, boy and girl fall in love, girl finds out the truth and freaks out, boy convinces her he loves her despite it all, and they live happily ever after?
Most of the real life stories I've seen documented on film or on paper elicit way more ideas and conversations than the average Hollywood fare, and stay with me for exponentially longer. Not to mention that I have tremendous respect for the art and effort behind such filmmaking (in fact, I am completely guilty of over-romanticizing it)-- the idea of being so passionate about a story or an issue that you feel the need to dedicate years of your life to sharing it is astounding to me.

I suspect I may be preaching to the converted, to a certain extent. While I doubt that the majority of you have watching documentaries in the bathtub as your back-up Friday night plan, the regular reading of blogs seems to me to convey a bit of fascination with real life over fiction. There is something compelling about following along with someone else's life through their words. Similarly, though I'm not one to spend much time praising the intellectual merits of reality TV, one has to wonder if the current fascination with it may be in part to the (apparently) real stories of everyday (or not so everyday) people being more provocative than the laugh track enhanced tales of the poor emasculated father in a house full of women.

I think it kind of comes down to the adage of "The more you learn, the more you realize that you don't know." And the more I realize that I don't know, the less I feel like ignoring it all for the sake of a story for which I already know the ending.


Essentially Me said...

First, I love your term "geekgasm".

Second, I agree with what you say. I enjoy the occasional documentary, but they sadden me. It seems to me (and I could be wrong), that documentaries are there to put societies injustices out in the front line ... yeah we can read about it in the news, but documentaries put them out there in such a way that will attract more people's attention to it ... in the form of a film.

I enjoy movies because no matter the shit that goes down, there is always a happy ending.

And blogs are awesome ... being let into someone's life? A voyeur's fantasy come true.

Ant said...

"I can admit to plans to watch Sex and the City one night and..."

Let me stop you right there. Is the synopsis that follows of SATC? Because judging by the trailers and the utterly self-righteous twaddle that SATC descended into after a couple of seasons, if you're using that as your fictional benchmark... then yes, I entirely agree that reality is going to be much more interesting and engaging.

However, if we're moving up a rung or two from televisual doggy-doo, then I'd suggest that it doesn't matter at all if the story is real or fake. It's how good the story is and, equally importantly, how well it's told. (Same goes for blogging.)

Anonymous said...

Can I agree to what essentially me said? Because yeah.

I think...when we watch documentaries, we're often hyperaware of the role we ourselves play in society. It can be difficult to watch a documentary and not walk out all up in arms, determined to make changes that five minutes later, we forget all about. When we watch most films, we can get completely absorbed into the lives of the characters. It's a similar thing as fiction vs. nonfiction.

Yet it is interesting that we gravitate more towards the places where we don't have to think, but find it easier to read the day-to-day blogs, rather than the introspective ones, no?


NamesAreHardToPick said...

It depends on the actual documentary, as some of them are poorly done and do not contain good material. Another problem is that some of them are overly pessimistic and don't leave the audience with much hope on things changing. However, the ones that do the opposite of the above, I could not agree more with you.

In general, I think science does teach us that the more we know the less we know. That should just be a law in science and scratch all the other ones :).

Princess of the Universe said...

I think the summary sounded more like "She's All That" :)

I love my blogs.
I'm on the fence about documentaries.
I HATE reality TV.

The Duke said...

I think there are plenty of formulaic docs out there, as much as there are romcoms. And while good documentaries may provide an example about what is magical within life, I think fiction does this as well. George Orwell, who is probably one of my favorite writers, did both fiction and non-fiction. And while I love Homage to Catalonia I doubt it will catch anyone's imagination the way Animal Farm or 1984 have, despite the amazing things that it recounts. The best fiction, I think, speaks to life in such a creative and authentic way that it would be difficult to doubt its realness. So, personally, I wouldn't trade "The Little Prince" for David Attenborough.

Princess Pointful said...

I think that I may not have been clear about what I was trying to get at here...

I'm not trying to deny the powerful fictional movies and books out there. I'm not some kind of documentary fascist who thinks non-fiction is the only way to go. I just don't understand why we run away from non-fiction so much as a culture when it can be so damn interesting. It doesn't need to be heavy-- not every film is about dying children and a world about to collapse on itself.
I've seen plenty of lighthearted films (e.g., if we are to go mainstream, "March of the Penguins") that are also non-fiction. I guess I just am a little idealistic that something real can be just as entertaining, if light, as a multimillion dollar rom-com. Plus, there are so many stories out there that deserve to be told and deserve to be heard, rather than Matthew McConaghy (sp?) making another ten million for the same story.

Erica said...

I looove documentaries. I love indie films. I love finding out about people and sharing a little piece of their world. Studying film (my undergrad degree) I had the opportunity to watch soooo many amazing movies that I will watch pretty much anything.

Sadly my fiance is extremely picky about what he will watch - I can barely look at the indie film rack at the video store! Subtitles? good gawd - the only thing he reads is WIRED. Luckily I have my dad who is very much into learning about the world through film and books.

Half-Past Kissin' Time said...

Yes, "geekgasm" is perfect! I've heard that DVD is a must-have. Guess I'll have to add it to my Netflix Queue.

Dorky Dad said...

I like good documentaries, but I've got to say that the guy who compared the Canadian premier with Robert Mugabe would have received a boot to the head. Or at least I would have wanted to do that.

rs27 said...

I like reality tv, trashy tv, trashy movies, movies that make you think, documentaries, Dateline, Nightline, the Daily Show.

I like to say I'm well rounded.

I can't read though.

Crashdummie said...

Its all abt comforting the inner geek :) Documentaries layin in the bathand film festival, now thats what I call quality time!

True, the more you learn, the more you forget. And realize how much you dont learn... hmm getting confused.

For me its more "The more i think, the more confused i get" - so just dont!

Anonymous said...

i completely agree and for a while actually thought of looking into documentary filmmaking as a career after taking a few courses in college. it is a brilliant medium when done properly and it proves that the lives of those around us are far more compelling than the ones we make up. well said :)

EF said...

Ouch, would your conscious quit poking my unconscious incompetent self? I'm quite okay when I don't realize what I don't know...

Now what is it I'm missing? :-)

Alexa said...

i'm going to the toronto film festival this year. YAY!!!!!

so stoked.

Yoda said...

You have Planet Earth on DVD? I want!!! Give??

OMG, that series is simply awesome. Someone in the family got that as a Christmas gift and we all watched it that night.

I'm super psyched, I have that on my Netflix now. Though, I realize this is something I should buy. I love, love, love documentaries.

You know what? You should check out the HBO series "The Wire". If you haven't already. I feel as though you and the Duke will enjoy it.

Katelin said...

i love the planet earth series, i've only seen a couple and i loved it.

and i can only take so many documentaries as well.

surviving myself said...

You need to watch more ALF.

Now that's good fiction!

WKC said...

Fiction is elegant because characters and events all orbit the central plot or theme. Reality is thrilling because things go in every direction at once. Life can be a romance or a tragedy or an action adventure or it can be all these things at once, though not all these simultaneous storylines will have conclusions. That's why I find blogging and reading blogs so much more entertaining now than when I and everyone I read was 17--now people have different things going instead of just that worn out one-track-mind teenager thing.

But, I don't think it's surprising that, when one wants to feel like there is some meaning and coherence in life, one often turns to literature.

On the other hand, what I know of reality TV (don't watch it; don't get cable) seems to suggest that some people's idea of reality is pretty boring indeed.