Can you have too many facts?
An article in Miller-McCune magazine about the documentary “Bag It,” which tells us what happens to all those plastic bags we either throw away or recycle, has a curious passage worth considering by documentary filmmakers.
Michael Todd writes of Suzan Beraza’s documentary,
Bag It suffers a malady shared by so many well-meaning documentaries — a mission creep that requires just one more fact on top of the heap already making your brain hurt.
Todd continues by praising the light touch the film takes, and notes its audience-choice awards in several Midwestern film festivals. But he also notes there are some good books on the topic as well.
It strikes us that many people are taking the documentary route instead of doing books these days, and really understanding what each offers in strengths is worthwhile. Fact-laden documentaries can suffocate themselves. Books, conversely, can effectively load in all manner of detail but miss the emotion. A magazine article can effectively detail more facts than Morgan Spurlock was able to list in “Supersize Me,” but print can’t quite capture the surreal moment when Spurlock, loaded up with another McDonald’s lunch, vomits out his car window onto the parking lot.
Todd is right – you can have too many facts. Often that seems a function of documentarians wanting to be seen as experts; sometimes it’s that they become so in love with their topic they’re like a dinner guest going on and on about some arcane interest. Balancing facts with action, emotion and story line is what makes for a good documentary.