Off With the Talking Documentary Head

Posted on May 20, 2007

As noted before, some classmates aren’t the biggest fans of the documentary aspect of our curriculum. Reasons vary from the lack of full creative control, non-fictional (educational) stories, or just sheer dislike for the documentary genre.

I’ll admit that prior to this past semester I hadn’t seen as many documentaries as I’d like to, so to correct that and prepare for my own venture into the documentary world I hit the documentary section on Netflix to watch some of the top rated films. Below are two films I wanted to point out that create a narrative feel yet are documenting real events, proving that a documentary doesn’t always require a narrator or interviews ((See Cinema Verite)).

The War Room

The War Room documents the 1992 Clinton presidential campaign, run by James Carville and George Stephanopoulos. There’s no narration, no formal interviews – just the filmmakers following the action at the campaign headquarters in Arkansas (which Hilary Clinton nicknamed “The War Room”). Yet the film is just as engaging and entertaining as any other political drama – maybe even more so because a documentary has “this is a true story” built right into it.

Salesman

Salesman follows four door-to-door bible salesmen in the sixties as they try to sell expensive bibles to low-income families and deal with the harsh requirements of traveling around the country to make a living. Again, no narration or interviews. The camera is right in there as the salesman are making their pitch and trying to cut any deal to make a sale.
Made by two brothers, the Criterion Collection DVD has a great interview with them explaining how there were no pre-arrangements made with the prospective customers the salesmen would visit. They would just show up with their equipment (which was pretty mammoth) and ask each person for permission to film them. Stuff like this always gives me a little motivational boost since I have the bad habit of assuming a ‘no’ before I even ask.

The main challenge in creating these types of documentaries is you’ll have one monster editing job ahead of you. Both films probably had hundreds of hours of footage to sort through in order to find the stories worth telling.

So if documentaries haven’t been your thing, you should check these two films out and give it another shot.

Written by Joey Daoud

Joey Daoud is an award-winning documentary filmmaker. His past films have appeared on Netflix, The New York Times, and National Geographic. He is also a YouTube creator across multiple channels with videos garnering millions of views. In his free time, he likes to climb mountains, scuba dive, and brew unique coffees.

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