Movie nights are one of my favourite things to do on a Friday evening. After a long week at work, I look forward to kicking up my feet and getting immersed in a flick. I often marvel at the power of good movies to pull me in, hook me, take me on a ride of emotions and captivate me such that I feel that I’m living in another world. Not many things can turn off those thousands of thoughts that run through my head during the day (i.e., “what do I have to get done this weekend?“, or “I need to call Sheila back”, or “the dishes need to be cleared” ) but movies can certainly achieve this; especially a good drama, a laugh-out-loud comedy, a heart-wrenching tragedy, a thrilling action or an awe-inspiring documentary. I just love the way a good movie makes me feel.
I recently watched a few documentaries at the Hot Docs film festival and the Human Rights Watch Film Festival here in Toronto and was left feeling inspired, educated and moved. What sets a documentary apart from other movies is that it aims to capture real-life. The stories are often so captivating and unbelievable that I sometimes have to remind myself that the individuals on the screen are not actors, but people currently living in those circumstances, experiencing all the sorrows, triumphs, tribulations or joys that they depict. Of course, documentaries, like any film, are edited and shot through the perspective of the director, who has a particular objective in mind, so it is important to be critical of what you are watching. That being said, they can still offer insightful experiences. If you have the opportunity to watch a documentary at a film festival, you may also be lucky enough to speak with the actors and directors, who often attend the screenings.
The movies I saw covered a range of topics, but generally speaking, they documented the lives of at-risk children here in Toronto and the lives of women and children in Africa. By closely following the experiences of a few individuals, the documentaries allowed me to immediately feel a connection with these individuals and to what they were going through–a connection far greater than what I would typically feel from reading non-fiction books or watching the news. Furthermore, I gained so much more knowledge and awareness about the societies in which they live and the political situations there. Most importantly, I was inspired to act–to contribute to causes which help the circumstances of individuals such as those in the movie and to pass on what I had learned to others.
The ability to connect an audience on an emotional and intellectual level with the stories of real people makes documentaries uniquely worthwhile, not to mention that they are an engaging, low-cost and convenient way to spend a Friday night! Whether you are moved to contribute to a cause or you simply gain greater awareness about the lives of other human beings, the impact of watching a documentary reaches far beyond your TV screen.