Exploring Documentary Ideas

As our first project this year we have to make a documentary. The documentary has to be about campaigns for social change. This is of course a very broad subject. Personally I can think of a lot of social issues that I’d like to change and I’d love to do a documentary on a lot of them because I’m passionate about a lot of social issues. There’s so many subjects I can focus on to make a documentary about, therefore right now I’m having a hard time trying to find something that I am both passionate about but is also manageable for me to do. I am only a student do I still have a lot to learn. I tried to make a documentary last year but my final product didn’t come out as I had planned to. I think the reason for this was because of my lack of research into documentaries. This year in order to try and successfully make a documentary I will spent a lot more time doing research on different types of documentaries, styles, structure etc.

To start getting an idea of documentaries, we watched a lot of different types to give us an idea of how documentaries are constructed, the documentaries we looked at were:

Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the politics of Fear is a BBC television documentary by Adam Curtis released 20th October 2004. It compares the rise of Neoconservative movement in the US and the radical Islamist movement.

Bowling For Columbine: is a documentary by Michael Moore. It’s about what Moore thinks is the main cause for the Columbine High School Massacre and other acts of violence with guns. It was released October 11th, 2002.

The Seven Sins of England: is a documentary about real life people delivering texts from the 11th and 17th century which deals with viewpoints similar to their own. It was released on the 8th of may 2007. It’s directed by Joseph Bullman. Personally I wasn’t very interested in this documentary because I didn’t like the style of it.

Walmart – The High Cost of low prices: is a documentary by Robert Greenwald. It’s about the effect Walmart has on small businesses. It was released on november 4th 2005.

Murdered By My Boyfriend: is a documentary by Paul Andrew Williams. It’s a drama documentary based on a true story about what happens to a teenage girl when she falls in love with the wrong man. I found this style of documentary really good as it’s very interesting to watch.

We didn’t watch these documentaries fully. We watched about 20 minutes of each one every lesson and spent the rest of the time analysing the documentary trying to understand the different conventions they used in each documentary and how these different conventions helped the documentary be effective to the audience.

I also watched 2 documentaries on my own when I had time. The documentaries I watched were:

The Square: A documentary about the on going Egyptian crisis. It’s directed by Jehane Noujaim. It was released January 18th, 2013.

Salam Neighbour: This documentary is about Syrian refugees in Jordan. It was directed by Chris Temple and Zach Ingrasci and it was released June 15th, 2015.

Before we started watching documentaries we were asked to think of social issues that we would like to make a documentary about. We had to explore a lot of different ideas and try and narrow it down to one small subject we can focus on and is manageable for us to do. Below is a couple of ideas that I came up with:

  • Syria: One of my ideas that I was interested in doing a documentary about was Syria. Which is why I decided to watch Salam Neighbour. I watched it to see how they handled the subject and how I maybe could take something from it and apply it to a documentary that I would make. It’s something I’m passionate about since I myself am from Syria and I have family over there. I thought I could maybe do some interviews through Skype with my family, get their opinions on the situation (I’d have to translate it for the documentary of course) and also get the publics view of people here from London.
  • Another idea I had was to make a documentary about freedom of speech. I was thinking that I could try and find out if people think there’s a line, and maybe find out their opinions on it and see if they’re aware of how different freedom of speech is here compared to different countries.
  • Another idea I’m thinking about doing is a documentary about how diverse Asia is. I’ve realised that a lot of people only think of a certain group of people when they think of Asia. For example, in America, when they think of Asia they mainly think of east Asia (China, Hong Kong,Japan and so on), but in the UK people mainly think of south Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and so on). Many people don’t realise how diverse Asia is and how much culture it has, so I was thinking of focusing on that and the goal of the documentary was to show how diverse it is. I’m also thinking of focusing on diversity in hollywood.

After coming up with a lot of different ideas we were asked to settle on one once we decide and try and think of an angle we can come at it that’s manageable for us. A lot of the ideas everyone came up with were very broad and would take a lot of research, time and resources to make. We of course have a deadline so we should try and focus on a subject but go at a specific angle of it. For example, if I want to make a documentary about Syria, it would be hard to talk about all of Syria because it is a very complicated subject. So instead of talking about everything happening in Syria, my documentary could focus on the living situation of people in Syria.


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