The documentary has become a neglected art form. Shows depicting carnivores murdering herbivores, surreal creatures of the abyss doing their thing, and the livelier bits of history, like wars, disasters and market crashes, remain somewhat popular on television. But well-meaning work depicting the difficulties of marginal farmers, endangered weavers and brilliant but misunderstood poets is often relegated to BYOF (bring your own film) festivals, to edify other documentary-makers. Meanwhile, the world remains indifferent. It carries on watching documentaries about Operation Torch and the dietary preferences of big cats.
This is a disgrace, because there are compelling reasons to watch documentaries. They expand the mind, broaden the outlook and raise awareness in a manner that Jason Bourne cannot. And now, the most compelling reason has been discovered — the business end of a gun. In the Ukrainian town of Lutsk, a 44-year-old man with a history of extreme views and a portrait showing him cradling a sawn-off Kalashnikov, took 13 people hostage in a bus and forced them to watch Shaun Monson’s Earthlings at gunpoint. He also demanded that President Volodymyr Zelensky promote the documentary. Being a comedian by profession, the president complied, and promptly pulled the promo when the hostages were released.
Earthlings, exposing the suffering of animals in laboratories and farms, could be one of the most popular documentaries ever. IMDb reports that 91 per cent of people who watched it since it premiered 15 years ago liked it. The Ukrainian interior minister agreed that it was a good film, and a hostage drama was not required to urge people to watch it. Nevertheless, the incident draws attention to documentaries quite forcefully. We anticipate a surge of interest in this neglected genre.
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