In the past few years, documentaries have been experiencing a widespread golden age. Filmmakers are producing more of these movies than ever before, and Netflix has invested substantially in the genre. However, there’s a specific type of documentary that seems surprisingly popular. These are films that broach dark and difficult topics, such as true crime and historical tragedies. For many, this phenomenon is something of a mystery. So, here are five reasons why intense documentaries have grown in popularity recently.
1. Understanding Real Problems
Most of these intense documentaries focus on real world topics that are often ignored. This ignorance of the subject is what tends to inspire these films in the first place. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to fully grasp the implications of something from the news. Such programs may occasionally analyze a topic, but it isn’t often given ample exploratory time. Nor do many people, particularly in the younger generations, often watch the news regularly. This is because it doesn’t tend to provide immediate information on a desired subject. This is where documentaries come into play. Giving a half-an-hour or more to examining a complex subject is fulfilling on a deeper level. It can explore the meaning behind certain events and what actions should be taken. For instance, in 2019’s “Hate Among Us”, director and producer David Mckenzie explores antisemitism in the modern age. He is able to analyze it further to a troubling degree by making a parallel with the 1930’s Nazi rise in power.
2. Finding the Truth
One of the greatest lures of a severe documentary is discovering a hidden truth. Several of these films have succeeded partially by uncovering shocking secrets that were previously unknown. Sometimes this can even lead to a renewed investigation of the event. In other cases, the targeted organization may begin to suffer financially. Protests have broken out globally in response to many exposing films. Documentaries with such an eye-opening effect tend to be centered around intense subjects, as there’s little to hide about lighthearted ones. These films don’t even have to be uncovering a scandal. It’s still surprising to watch previously unpublicized details about an extreme affair. The same holds true for drawing disturbing connections and implications from a known event.
3. Morbid Curiosity
One of the clearest explanations for people wanting to watch dark documentaries is morbid curiosity (an interest in violence or death). Contrary to what many believe, this form of curiosity is fairly normal and not necessarily immoral. It usually isn’t an indicator of psychological disturbance unless the obsession becomes unhealthy. It also isn’t often a disrespectful way to gain pleasure from the pain of others. Many regular people simply enjoy engaging with difficult stories. These recollections are, after all, far more intense than the average Western life experience. Extreme documentaries aren’t necessarily an escape, but most provide awe-inspiring emotions and intrigue.
4. Rising Quality
One reason documentaries as a whole have risen in popularity is an increase in quality. Older documentaries tended to spend several minutes holding on a single photo with narration. This isn’t all that visually engaging. Nowadays, these films have the ability to acquire real footage and make realistic recreations. If the film is being made about recent events, there’s more likely to be usable film or pictures of the relevant individuals. New technologies can even create simulations of un-filmed moments, like the sinking of the Titanic. This is particularly helpful for documentaries with extreme topics. It’s hard to fully convey the scope of an intense story if a picture is all that’s available.
5. Confronting Fear
Everyone has fears that live in the back of the mind. While some of the more obvious ones are supernatural clowns and ghouls, the true scares are those that exist in real life. These are terrors that many share, like kidnapping and hate crimes. Unless one’s exposed to these fears daily, it can be difficult to get rid of each one. This is why several people turn to documentaries. Films that recount stories about these fears in explicit detail can act as exposure therapy, but without the actual risk. People may not see watching a documentary as therapy, but it offers a chance to confront terrors. Similar to a magician’s trick, fear is often diminished when the mechanics and reasonings behind it are revealed.
While documentaries may not have the allure of fictional escapism, the movie genre provides an eye-opening view of real life. Its ability to convey multitudes of facts and hidden meanings is practically unparalleled. Even though watching documentaries on extreme topics can be arduous, it also has the potential to be life-changing. One can discover a newfound purpose or cause by the end credits. After all, while art may sometimes be difficult to consume, it has the ability to change the world.