Preserving the ‘little bastards’

Documentaries are just not my favourite kind of movie watching. The fact is I don't trust the little bastards. I don't trust the nature of those who think they are superior to fiction films, I don't trust their claim to have cornered the market on the truth, I don't trust their inordinately high, and entirely underserved, status of bourgeois respectability.'
Marcel Ophüls, documentary filmmaker 

These are strong words, particularly from such a master of the genre. Like Ophüls, film critics often have reservations regarding documentaries. As historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr, remarked: 'The line between the documentary and the fiction film is tenuous indeed. Both are artefacts: both are contrivances. Both are created by editing and selection. Both, wittingly or not, embody viewpoint.' A second concern is the tendency of films to lull the critical powers of viewers. Nevertheless, it is apparent that documentaries have clear potential benefits – to inform, move, inspire, promote positive social change, strengthen group identities and provide glimpses of the world beyond our knowledge. Presumably, it was a belief in such benefits that inspired Ophüls to continue making documentaries, despite his professional mistrust of the form.

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Himal Southasian