Are Advocacy Documentaries More Important and/or Valuable Than Biographical/Historical Films?

Following reading chapter two of Patricia Aufderheide’s Documentary Film: A Very Short Introduction, and facing the question of whether advocacy documentaries are more important or valuable than other documentary styles or genres, or not, I find myself somewhat unsure of the answer to this and can understand both perspectives. Although advocacy documentaries are undoubtedly vital to society to challenge authority, while promoting a certain agenda, these types of films are innately biased in nature. However, despite advocacy documentaries’ main aim being to persuade, these films are undeniably important to challenge opposing opinions and can potentially act as promoters of a healthy democracy. Are they more important than biographical or historical documentaries? Not by leaps and bounds, as historical and biographical documentaries are also meant to try to provoke empathy in the audience to specific people and events, and perhaps see things from a new perspective as well. If you are to walk around Montréal today, you will likely come across the graffiti tag “la futur est antispéciste”, in English “the future is antispeciesist”, which is perhaps real world evidence of the impact the 2013 documentary film “Speciesism” has had in spurring social movements to encourage the general population to understand the obvious cruelty humans have inflicted on animals.

Ultimately, however, without advocacy documentaries to act as the most impactful prodders of opinion challenging thought, these biographical and historical films would be much harder to conceptualize and put into context. For that reason, I believe that advocacy documentaries are only slightly more important than biographical or historical documentaries. That leads to the next question, whether advocacy documentaries are more valuable than historical and biographical documentaries. This is a much harder comparison, as value is different to everyone, and I would say that advocacy documentaries that try to bring awareness to the population on particular issues that they might not have knowledge of can teach as much history as an historical documentary. However, history and biographical documentaries are perhaps more ideologically ambiguous and the majority are likely aimed to be a lot more neutral and less biased, objective rather than subjective, although I feel that the subgenres of advocacy, historical and biographical documentaries may overlap quite frequently.

To summarize, I feel as though advocacy documentaries are likely more important, however there is no difference in how valuable advocacy documentaries are in comparison to historical and biographical documentaries. One can be more influenced and challenged by advocacy documentaries, however the same person could watch a biographical or historical documentary and not be told exactly what to think, rather provided with a healthy combination of multiple perspectives combined into one. Advocacy documentaries can help people find passion and ideological morals, while historical and biographical documentaries can help to ease extremism in belief and thought and try to bring both sides of the spectrum to a relative centre by presenting the complicated messiness of life and the good and bad in everything it focuses on.

Overall, I would defend the assertion that advocacy documentaries are more important than historical and biographical documentaries, but challenge the assertion that advocacy documentaries are more valuable than historical or biographical documentaries. I am a believer in the idea that all mediums of art should disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed, but when it comes to presenting fact or an accurate display of reality, there needs to be some effort to reach a middle ground, striving for honesty and transparency of the positives and negatives of every situation, person, event and topic. Together, advocacy documentaries, along with biographical and historical documentaries are able to stand as thought provoking statements from the creator as well as constructive conversation between two opposing viewpoints, making the former slightly more important, but both forms of documentary filmmaking possessing equal value.



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