Documentary & Journalism pt. 2: Issue Advocacy

To the discussion of documentary and journalism, I want to add the not-for-profit communications that I discussed in a previous post. When we make videos for cause related charities – tear-jerker fundraisers and retrospectives, we use every documentary technique in the book. However, I would not call these videos documentary.

I would call them corporate non-profit videos or issue advocacy, but why?

One reason is that the agenda of the organization is paramount, and I think that a true documentary should have an independent voice.

If the best fund-raising video for an AIDS prevention organization leaves out gut-wrenching scenes of poverty and prostitution or scenes of condoms being handed out, so be it. That video has a specific purpose and a specific audience.

Does that mean that a not-for-profit can never make a documentary? No. It depends (IMHO), on the Independence of the voice making the film. Can this become a slippery slope? Of course. Are there grey areas? Of course.

Consider, a comparison between An Inconvenient Truth and The Fog of War, both winners of the Academy Award for best documentary feature. Both are well executed films, but An Inconvenient Truth is much closer to issue advocacy, where The Fog of War has much more of an independent voice.

I don’t think that either one of these hold up as journalism, but I think both are great films . . .