When watching a documentary, what matters more to you; the caliber of which the video was created, or the content of which the video contains? There are documentaries that are made with both a high quality and a great story. Not every project necessarily has the budget to use top of the line equipment but if there is a powerful story, sometimes that is all you need.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love sitting back and watching a professionally produced, high caliber documentary with an impacting story. But there is something about a filmmaker who can develop a concept that documents a story. There is also something about a film that engages with it’s audience in a new, and different form. The two films that come to mind when I am thinking of this comparison are “Searching for West” by Helio Collective and “LIMBO” by Eliot Rausch.
“Searching for West” is a documentary about a man and his lifestyle. The film is shot by a professional production company using top of the line gear and equipment to achieve any shot you could imagine. There is everything from helicopter shots to slow motion sliding shots. The production value is top notch and allows for a very smooth and easy watch for any viewer. Having this production value ables the viewer to really engage in each shot, the beauty and the content of everything being portrayed. The story is clear and powerful, and easy to follow along, a wonderful documentary indeed. I don’t think there is anything negative to say about the film.
On the other hand, “LIMBO” is a film that documents the lives of three different undocumented young adults from Central America living in Los Angeles. The basis of the film is that the three people were each given a small hand-held camera, taught how to use it in a few hours, and set off to document their lives as they fight for their freedom, help support their families, and go about their daily lives. The video footage is shaky, not exposed correctly, out of focus a lot of times, and the composition isn’t always considered. That’s because this is being created by the viewer, by the user, not a professional filmmaker. Some viewers might be distracted by all of the flaws of the video, they might be turned off by the fact that you can’t easily focus on the content. Personally, I feel that this technique and concept is very powerful, and allows me to feel like I am truly a part of the video, as if I were actually there experiencing what they are going through. The fact that the people filming are also telling the story ables us as the viewer to witness this documentary from their eyes, as they would see it, without any sort of professionalism or production value.
These are just two examples of many documentaries that tell a story in a vastly different way, but tell a story well. Everyone is different and everyone engages with a video differently. Every story is different and there is a perfect way to tell every story. Concept is everything and can change the way a viewer interacts with a film and it’s story.