The State of Documentary Film

Friday, February 25, 2011

What's more important in a documentary: great filmmaking or great cause? Dana Stevens, Slate's film critic and co-host of the podcast Culture Gabfest, and Matt Zoller Seitz, T.V. and film critic for Salon, discuss this year's Oscar nominated documentaries and just what a documentary should be anyway.


Dana Stevens and Matt Zoller Seitz

Comments [12]

thatgirl from manhattan : makes sense, thanks for clarifying!

Feb. 25 2011 11:58 AM
Tim G from Jackson Heights

"A Piece of Work" should have been nominated. I think it really showed a different softer side of Joan Rivers.

Feb. 25 2011 11:58 AM

Dana Stevens just did yeoman's work running from the train station to the studio to make this interview. Fast talking is an expected result of an adrenaline rush!

Feb. 25 2011 11:57 AM
Ken from Soho

A documentary film requires something worth documenting. Exit Through the Gift Shop is a total waste of time and money.

Feb. 25 2011 11:52 AM
thatgirl from manhattan

soupygirl: word. i thought andrea bernstein had somehow snuck into the room for a minute there.

but we are dealing with a program segmented down enough so as to be understood by people magazine readers, so maybe the speed talk has its rationale.

Feb. 25 2011 11:52 AM
John from NYC

It's a shame these films don't get wider distribution. It seems unless you see them when they are screening in Manhattan, you can only hope these films would be shown on PBS.

Feb. 25 2011 11:51 AM

oh my god! Can this lady speak ANY FASTER???

Feb. 25 2011 11:48 AM
h l from brooklyn

"cause"? that's the wrong word. informative and factual is why i love documentaries. that's why i think youtube videos on so many news events have such an impact.

i expect the film to be done well, but if it's not, i'll still watch it. if there's a cause, then that's ok too, but then I may question the facts vs spin.

Feb. 25 2011 11:38 AM
John from Boston, MA

I think people too often automatically laud a documentary for the importance or power of its subject, rather than the importance or power of its filmmaking. Dear Zachary, for example, while there's no denying the story's tragedy, just doesn't work for me as a film. The editing style is too frantic to allow the emotions to land.

Feb. 25 2011 11:17 AM
David from Manhattan

Silly question. Lots of documentaries seek to inform about history, nature, interesting people, culture, etc., without needing a cause.

On the other hand, I love the idea of a Slate vs Salon smackdown. Let's make this a regular feature.

Feb. 25 2011 11:12 AM
Jake W from Manhattan

Why does a good documentary film need a cause? Just off the top of my head, "Dogtown and Z-Boys" and "Man On Wire" were good documentary films with no compelling causes--just interesting stories to tell.

So I hope that the answer to your question, Brian, is that a good documentary can be simply a well-made film, without an agenda.

Feb. 25 2011 11:06 AM
George from Bay Ridge

How has the Internet changed the documentary film, especially with YouTube as a means for distribution and exhibition?

Feb. 25 2011 07:05 AM

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