Are there too many documentaries?
Documentaries right now are in a boom period.
There is no clear figure on how many documentaries are currently available on Netflix, but there are potentially hundreds, if not thousands, available in their library at any one time. On Amazon Prime, the website lists around 40,000 people who meet their definition of the category – although not all of them are available here in Ireland. Disney + has an entire part of its library devoted solely to National Geographic.
Every week, the Streaming Wars produce a new documentary – series now more often than a movie – that grabs the audience’s attention before it goes extinct. Netflix has been dominant in this area for quite some time. “Making A Murderer” twisted two entire seasons in the bizarre case of Steven Avery and his nephew, Brendan Dassey. ‘Tiger King’, a hit at the start of the pandemic, is now responsible for two other television projects – one featuring Nicolas Cage as the titular feline monarch, and the other with the alum of ‘ SNL ” Kate McKinnon as Carole Baskin.
Since the dawn of CNN and late-night television, documentaries have moved from delicate subjects and in-depth projects to darker and salacious subjects. Serial killers and manhunts are extremely popular with Netflix. Over 100 documentaries have focused on the murders and disappearances, such as Madeline McCann, the Yorkshire Ripper and Ted Bundy. Piers Morgan’s efforts on the ground are also available on Netflix, and feature the ex-tabloid reporter recounting murder scenes and investigations with his usual blossoming.
“Ancient Aliens,” a documentary series created by the History Channel, also airs on Netflix. Although the series spanned 16 seasons in the United States, only a selection of episodes are available on Netflix. The first episode is titled “ Aliens and the Old West ” and, over the course of 43 minutes, postulates that the aliens could have potentially visited Native American tribes and, later, American settlers and settlers. The series is best known in internet culture for a still image of Giorgio Tsoukalos, whose theories about ancient astronauts are covered extensively in the series.
While this may be on the looser end of the market, documentaries are fast becoming big business. Netflix is funneling more and more money to production companies and increasing budgets, hoping for the next big show. Documentary has always had the potential to create more impact than traditional fiction, but what is happening now is that producers and directors are aiming for serial storytelling. Where a case or event would have been covered in a feature film documentary, it is now broken down into episodes.
Netflix, of course, doesn’t give audience data or audience figures. Neither Amazon Prime nor Disney +. It can be inferred, however, that their documentary arms race means people are watching them. What was once a relatively siled segment of filmmaking is now attracting interest from Hollywood A-listers and Oscar-winning directors. Darren Aronofsky, who has directed films like “Black Swan”, “Mother!” And “The Wrestler,” is working on a 10-part series for National Geographic with Will Smith recounting. Oliver Stone has turned to documentaries for the past two decades, directing films like “Persona Non Grata” for HBO and “South of the Border”.
Much like podcasts, documentaries are now reaching mainstream audiences and more independent voices are being pushed aside. While documentaries like “ Titicut Follies, ” Werner Herzog’s “ Grizzly Man, ” or “ The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On ” were considered ambitious and influential in the genre, the likes of “ Wild Wild Country and “ The Staircase ” now lead him down a path of tabloid values and topics generated from the All-Seeing Audience Algorithm.
Yet despite all of this, audiences don’t seem to get enough of documentaries. A 2018 study by Hot Docs Film Festival found that 72% of its respondents watch at least two documentaries per month, while 55% said they watched more documentaries than before, with Netflix consistently leading the way. list of available sources.
Like any boom, a collapse must surely follow. With the push for streaming services to attract more talent, more money, and produce more documentaries, what was once almost esoteric is now mainstream. The question is: will people always be interested?