Documentary As Agitprop

Scott Tobias criticizes formulaic documentary filmmaking, which uses “a hearty gruel of talking heads and archival footage, spooned out as artlessly as the school lunches A Place At The Table criticizes so vociferously”:

[A Place At The Table is] pure propaganda—well-meaning propaganda, and at times crudely effective propaganda, but nonetheless a form of cinematic activism where art is of secondary concern. For the makers of A Place At The Table, that may not matter: They want to call attention to an urgent issue, and if it takes the battering ram of statistics and testimonials to do it, all the better.

Why that excuse isn’t good enough:

Indifferent filmmaking shouldn’t be tolerated in any form, but documentaries tend to get a pass, perhaps because the information they provide is considered more valuable than the way they provide it. But accepting documentaries made in tired, cut-and-paste formats only encourages more like them, and even undermines the legitimacy of films that try different things. It wasn’t that long ago that Errol Morris’ The Thin Blue Line, with its then-radical use of staged reenactments, was disqualified from competing for a Best Documentary Oscar; he won one 15 years later with The Fog Of War.