That flick about the penguins was all well and good (yeah, we cried), but the world of documentaries goes much deeper than those birds can swim.
Summer's almost over, and with it, the blockbuster movie season. But that doesn't mean an end to great film viewing. While an empty calorie or two in film form isn't a bad thing, man cannot exist on Raisinets alone. And, over the last few years, box-office draws of a meatier variety, documentaries, have made it clear that many a moviegoer wants a little something more out of their popcorn time. ¶ "With a documentary, there's a kind of depth of engagement, a passion, an authenticity that is so often missing from [feature] films that are hoping to capitalize on a trend or an actor or just an intelligent script," says Michael Renov, professor of critical studies and associate dean of academic affairs for the School of Cinema-Television at the University of Southern California. ¶ In the past, "the common perception of documentaries was they're informative, they're good for you, but they're a little like spinach or castor oil going down," says Mark Harris, Academy Award-winning writer/director of Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport and professor in the Division of Film and Video Production, School of Cinema-Television at USC. "But now I think that perception has changed. Documentaries are seen as every bit as entertaining or engaging as feature films." ¶ This month, doc enthusiasts will gather at the Toronto International Film Festival (September 7 to 16) to watch the latest batch of films to hit the circuit. If you aren't headed to the festival, you can create your own screening room at home. We asked experts to offer recommendations of titles you should pop into your DVD player. "Part of the fun of it," says Renov, "is discovering all these different voices and these different approaches to telling stories that are based on people and events in the real world."