When someone wants to send me the name of a great documentary about our food, a political situation, or a past atrocity, I earnestly wish I wanted to see it. I do want to see it. I care about the world, people, and this is the basis of my academic career.. so why don't I watch many of them?
True, I don't have a television and DVDs don't run on my laptop, but I think there's more than pragmatics at play here.
They often terrify me; stories of torture, genocide, corruption, and greed turn my stomach. But why else?
Rather than silently beat myself up over it, I decided to make some good use of my time in the pool and I really think about it.
Here's what bubbled up... unless the topic is one in which I am working actively, I tend to just feel so saddened by seeing more of what is what "not" working. It breaks my heart and I'm not sure it needs to break more for me to care more...I'm sensitive..this pain just leaves me too sullen to be of use.
Documentaries, I think, document what IS. They often highlight vital story lines sidelined by those in power. They are a venue for marginalized narratives. They complicate our understanding and they help us wake up from the numbing master narratives. For example, no longer can the dairy industry alone tell us how to think about dairy. Michael Moore wakes us up to the mechanisms disabling healthcare. Forks over Knives has changed how many of my friends and colleagues see their plates. Documentaries are, for this reason, as vital as independent journalism. We need them as much as we need The Washington Post. We are lucky it was recently saved.
I think what's happened is that these films and independent journalism have awakened in me a desire to imagine what could be. I am ready to hear about the solutions- farfetched, creative..irreverent. Maybe the sci-fi writers could to join with the filmmakers and grapple with genocides, sex trade, pollution, massive corruption in a way that charts a way forward.
I'd like to be a part of that imagining. My contribution now, I guess, is imagining what film could do.
Could we make a compelling two-hour film about what an amazing healthcare system would look like or how Ugandan politics could look?
Documentary filmmakers often work to educate problem solvers and create them by inspiring action. What if we infused with their precious talents a desire and ability to imagine a better future or to team up with those who are?
There might be films out there that I haven't seen that do this, so please do let me know. I think I'll watch them right away.