Film is a powerful medium that can potentially change people’s perspective on certain issues. A documentary is an even more influential type of film that focuses on a viewpoint and presents information that sometimes is eye-opening and revolutionary. Over the past few decades, there have been many well-made documentaries that have led to an awareness of a problem and eventually systemic change. Here are some of the most powerful documentary films that have made a difference in the world.
In 2013, Gabriela Cowperthwaite introduced the documentary Blackfish to the world. The film focused on amusement park company SeaWorld and its practices of keeping killer whales in captivity for performances and their branding. It chronicled the problems SeaWorld faced with holding a killer whale, Tilikum, in captivity for its theme park. The whale was involved in incidents that led to three trainers being killed. After exposing the realities of keeping these animals in captivity, the impact was almost immediate. SeaWorld experienced revenue losses from the film’s message and the company eventually agreed to end its killer whale captivity program.
An Inconvenient Truth
Another documentary that changed the world was 2006’s An Inconvenient Truth. Davis Guggenheim directed this film that featured former Vice President Al Gore detailing the environmental crisis facing the world. The film was based on Gore’s slideshow presentation to audiences. The film was one of the top-grossing documentaries of all time and brought awareness of the urgent need to address climate change. Viewers of the film started to change their daily habits after learning about the crisis and corporations pledged to adopt a greener, more sustainable strategy to help the planet after the huge impact of this movie.
Hate Among Us
The issue of anti-Semitism and hate has recently become more important due to rising incidences of violence and hate crimes. Producer David McKenzie made the documentary Hate Among Us in 2019 to address these important developments and explore ways to stop this disturbing trend. His efforts led to a Daytime Emmy award for the film and more awareness of how hate has transformed the national culture. Shining a light on situations like alt-right marches in Charlottesville, Virginia and the shootings in a synagogue in Pittsburgh may help combat this behavior and lead to more actions against hate groups.
Morgan Spurlock’s Supersize Me documentary in 2004 had a huge impact on how people viewed fast food and its impact on their health. In the movie, Spurlock documented his own health as he ate a diet of nothing but fast food for 30 days. Viewers saw first hand the harmful impact of eating like this as Spurlock was shown gaining 24 pounds in a month and experiencing harmful effects on his body. Because of the film, fast-food giant McDonald’s eliminated its jumbo-sized supersize offerings from its menu and started to introduce healthier options for customers.
Bowling for Columbine
Gun violence is put in the spotlight in Michael Moore’s 2002 documentary Bowling for Columbine. The film was made as a response to the 1999 devastating school shooting at Columbine High School. The documentary explored the origins of gun violence in America and why it was becoming even more prevalent throughout society. Moore ended up winning an Academy Award for the documentary and brought more light to the abnormally high amount of gun deaths in America.
The issue of fracking was turned into an informative documentary with the groundbreaking Gasland. The film was produced in 2010 and directed by Josh Fox. Fox’s own family land was targeted by natural gas companies looking to drill for gas. Fox follows several rural families and shows links to fracking and health problems. Gasland sought to expose the harmful effects of natural gas drilling on a community and provide awareness of how this practice may not be as beneficial as the oil companies describe it. The film put fracking on the table as an important issue needing more investigation.
Michael Moore was at it again with his 2004 documentary Fahrenheit 9/11. This time, his filmmaking focused on the 2003 invasion of Iraq by American forces. The film aimed to expose how powerful families, such as the Bushes, were deeply connected to some of the richest people in the world in Saudi Arabia. It detailed the connection between the 2000 presidential election, the September 2001 terror attacks, and the issues surrounding the invasion of Iraq in 2003. After the documentary was released, more people started to see the controversy of the Iraq war and the flawed reasoning behind it.
Documentary films have the power to change minds and force lawmakers and communities into action about important issues. These impactful documentaries told stories about the harmful effects of fast food, the devastation of gun violence, the issues with keeping wild animals in captivity, and more. Thought-provoking filmmaking like these documentaries helps audiences learn more about hidden issues and make more informed choices.
Image Credits: Tom Raftery