Film

“Why Documentaries Matter” by Nick Fraser. A reflection.

Still from “HOOP DREAMS”, 1994

Nick Fraser is a producer, journalist, and documentary editor. Film-maker Alex Gibney describes nick in an interview with The Guardian as the person responsible for making documentaries so popular, pushing film-makers to make better work while being generous and understanding with them (Bromwich, 2018).

In the foreword to The Documentary Film Book, writing “ Why Documentaries Matter?” Fraser attempts to analyse documentaries through personal experience and by retracing the history of this medium.

Many are the possible definitions of what a documentary is, what it should depict, and how it should make the audience feel. What Fraser is really trying to find is an answer to why are we so attracted by documentaries. He does so by recalling the history of documentaries from their newborn-like status of being that genre that “never caught on in cinemas” to becoming a “recognisable cultural form”.

Broadcast television played an important role in this process, the journalist continues, in the way that it saved documentary film-makers, funding their projects and enabling those to reach large audiences. As rising trends demonstrate, documentaries are now well popular both in cinemas and online — often thanks to festivals like Sundance for putting documentaries to the forefront.

The producer’s experience with documentaries has not always been the easiest. Fraser disliked the predictability and conventionality of documentaries prior to his arrival in the BBC. However, a few years later, he was left in awe by Hoop Dreams— a 1994 American documentary film in which the lives of real characters were portrayed with such depth that, he states, made possible to think of Hoop Dreams as “something new”.

Fraser analyses the shift from documentaries being the public broadcasts’ favourite “filler” entertainment to becoming a tool against mass culture. He argues that the idea of the documentary as a binding force of society has been replaced by the idea that documentaries are made to change the world.

Despite the many attempts at depicting documentary films as fake — as artefacts mixing reality with fiction — the genre still subsists in a “crossroad of contemporary culture” (Fraser, 2012) attracting the likes of many including television entertainment, journalists, storytellers, and curious public alike.


Bibliography:

Bromwich, K. (2018). A Bafta for Nick Fraser, grandmaster of the documentary. [online] The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/may/14/nick-fraser-bafta-special-award-alex-gibney-eugene-jarecki-interviews [Accessed 3 Oct. 2018].

Fraser, N. (2012). Why Documentaries Matter. Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, University of Oxford.


Originally published at francescoimola.tumblr.com.