That’s the Truth! Truth!

If you are not sure where I got the title for this post. Here is the commercial that inspired me.

“Truth is incontrovertible, malice may attack it and ignorance may deride it, but, in the end, there it is.” Sir Winston Churchill. I fondly remember in my documentary film class having the discussion of truth in documentary film. What surprised my counterculture classmates was how the Dr. started this conversation. Our professor was a child of the 1960’s and he discussed how people violently attacked his anti-war friends in college. He had my classmates in awe of all his flower power days and rightly so, those were turbulent times and to be thought of a revolutionary is a romantic notion. Well as the saying goes, “Discretion is a better part of valor,” so I sunk a little lower in my seat preparing for a long course on liberalism. Then after a screening of Michael Moore’s Roger & Me our professor described how Moore rearranged some actual events in his film to fit the narrative that he was striving for. This was not a true documentary and all those sad hipster faces in the crowd felt a little betrayed by our professor and possibly by their own ideology. They had their Matrix moment where they wake up to reality. To this day this I have nothing but respect for this professor.
This backstory will help us discuss the state of documentary film today and as a genre of film, are we getting the truth? When Michael Moore accepts the Oscar for Bowling for Columbine, a film that did not meet the requirements to be considered by the Academy Awards, truth comes into question. One of the requirements this documentary did not meet was the specific number of actual theaters it was screened in. For the 75th Academy Awards I believe it was rule 12 for documentary film. This film should have never been considered for nomination, yet it wins the Oscar. Then in typical fashion with all of Mr. Moore’s films, once people who are in his films see the final product they tend to find a lawyer and file charges for libel. And with a little bit of cinematic fairy dust, Moore’s films easily change from being under the respected description of “documentary” to your basic “fictional” genre in order to save face and charges. Yet, when you read reviews about these films it is nothing but unbridled praise as being the greatest documentary work without anyone asking is what I am seeing true? To quote Thomas Jefferson, “Question with boldness even the existence of God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear.” Our responsibility as the audience is to question what we are seeing.
Being a history buff I love watching The History Channel and they would have great shows such as Conquest where they would discuss and perform different military conquests throughout history. It had great historical value and small taste of reality thrown in. Today when you turn on The History Channel you get shows called Monster Quest and Swamp People programming that has nothing to do with history or documentary. I’m not saying these other shows are bad. I love Swamp People personally but it does not belong on this network. Even South Park used this as parody for one of their shows.

In the last five years or so, documentary films that try and uphold the pillars of truth do exist. If you don’t mind some profanity and a little nudity Penn & Teller’s Bullsh*t brings some truths to light. They are honest about who they are. Two atheist libertarians who strive to bring truths to social issues of the day. Another film which was inspired by the lack of truth in documentary film is Why Michael Moore Hates America. The filmmaker applied Michael Moore’s ambush style of interviewing to the man himself, Michael Moore.

Unfortunately, documentary films similar to Michael Moore Hates America, Indoctrinate U, and EXPELLED: No Intelligence Allowed, receive very little review or critical praise not because of their lack of truth, but because of the critics’ personal beliefs. Is this the protocol on how documentary films should be judged on?
I remember an independent documentary in college called Human Remains where the creator used stock footage of some of the most horrible dictators in history and used direct quotes as a voiceover for each one of the dictators. It was compelling and true. “Getting it from the horse’s mouth.” Always makes for the best cinema, which brings me to Dinesh D’Souza’s film 2016 the highest grossing political documentary to date. A film that has nothing bad poor reviews by most film critics and disdain throughout Hollywood.

Yet, the facts of this film hold up. Not only by using interviews and actual facts in the right order, but by using President Obama’s words verbatim. Uncut video of the president speaking is impossible to deny. Of course this film will never make it to the Academy Awards even though it will meet all of their requirements and they will not be praised by pop culture or mainstream media, but it will be a keystone holding together the genre of documentary film, Oh and the money too. “And that’s the Truth! Truth!