Documentaries ring in new year as latest trend

With Netflix dropping two now-trending documentary series, “Killer Mind: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez” and “Cheer,” documentaries seem to be getting more of the hype nowadays.

Documentaries serve as non-fiction, informational programs that tackle topics that many people may not fully understand. Documentaries have gained more popularity in the last several as they cover the wrongdoings of famous celebrities or big corporations.

DePaul University film professor  Susanne Suffredin discusses in detail why the genre is experiencing a boost in popularity and why it’s important.

“Documentaries have adapted to the viewing tastes of people and people have become more sophisticated to their ability to view media beyond what is most middle of the road,” Suffredin said.

As someone with three decades of experience making documentaries, Suffredin enjoys working in the genre as it allows her into the life of someone that she might not know. She finds it appealing to tell someone’s story, especially that of someone who’s often marginalized or misrepresented.

James Choi, another film professor at DePaul, also enjoys documentaries as they are “a great way to learn.” Choi said that documentaries not only tell us stories that are broad, but they introduce us to cultures and ideas that are far and wide. He argued the fact that film is one of the most important art forms of the 21st century.

“If you want to say something, a documentary is a really great way to express your thoughts,” Choi said. 

DePaul student Madison Chidster believes that documentaries are gaining popularity because the genre’s popularity among social media influencers. Chidster believes that documentaries get a similar amount of attention as reality television, but are classier. 

DePaul sophomore Esther Ayayi expresses the importance of documentaries: they tell the truth of people or events the general public doesn’t know.

According to a February 2019 article from NPR, documentaries were doing well in the box office. “Knock Down the House” – a documentary that follows the 2018 campaigns of four female congressional candidates – broke the Sundance Film Festival documentary sales record last year.

Within the same article, Sheila Nevins, who ran HBO Documentary Films for almost four decades, is quoted in saying how 2018 was the year for documentaries making money. 

“RBG,” a documentary that serves as a portrait of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, not only earned $14 million at the box office, it was a front-runner for the documentary feature Oscar. “Free Solo,” a National Geographic documentary about a rock climber who intends to perform a free solo climb in Yosemite National Park, made more than $10 million at the box office, according to Digiday.

Even marketers are taking notice of the genre’s increasing popularity. Marketers are more interested in funding documentaries, which comes at a good time since filmmakers are pushed to produce high quality films. According to Digiday, Thalia Mavros, founder of documentary production studio The Front, states that getting a documentary produced “used to be a $200,000 to $300,000 proposition. Now you need $1 million to provide something competitive.”

Streaming services like Hulu and Netflix, along with regular television channels like Lifetime and A&E, have been churning out original documentaries that the general public actively enjoys. Documentaries, especially those that involve scandals, celebrities, or even injustices against a marginalized group of people have made people tune in to the genre in the last couple of years.