Last week Michael Moore, at the Toronto International Film Festival Doc Conference, 25 years after his “Roger and me” (photo) was released, presented 13 rules for making documentary films. A manifesto. He stressed that documentary filmmakers should not be called documentarians but filmmakers, and ”Also, I don’t want people leaving the theater depressed after my movies. I want them angry. Depressed is a passive emotion. Anger is active. Anger will mean that maybe 5 percent, 10 percent of that audience will get up and say, “I gotta do something. I’m going to tell others about this. I’m going to go look up more about this on the Internet. I’m gonna join a group and fight this!””
His full speech is to be found on Indiewire, link below, where you will also find colleague, documentarian, sorry filmmaker Jo Berlinger’s response to Moore, as thoughtful and analytical as Moore’s contribution is entertaining and provocative. Other filmmakers are also asked to comment in the fine IndieWire articles. A long quote from Berlinger:
“Not calling ourselves “documentarians” is a very old argument that ignores the amazing expansion of the form and the pushing of boundaries that
Michael himself was huge part of ushering in. When we launched “Brother’s Keeper” at Sundance in 1992, we made it part of our press strategy to call it a “nonfiction feature film” and to avoid the word “documentary” because of the “castor oil” baggage of the word — we certainly weren’t the first and obviously not the last to make a conscious effort to not only avoid the “D” word, but to make an issue of how we were different from traditional (i.e., “boring”) documentaries… that was 23 years ago.
But, since the late 1980’s through the 1990’s generally beginning with with “The Thin Blue Line” (by using highly stylized re-creations), “Roger & Me” (by using humor and making the filmmaker an on-screen personality) and “Paris is Burning” (taking us into a world documentaries didn’t normally dare to go) and throughout the 1990’s and beyond, there has been an amazing explosion in the volume and creativity of the form, pushing the documentary into new places of cinematic expression and techniques, from artfully shot re-creations, to using documentary not just to “educate,” but also ambiguous human character portraits to, yes, the modern day advocacy film…”