It is safe to say that controversy and documentaries go hand in hand. Ever since the first documentary was made, the medium has enjoyed its fair share of controversy. A lot of documentaries need to deal with censorship because their depiction of reality can be too gruesome for many. On the other hand, some documentaries choose to use artifice and deception, which can cause a lot of controversies as well. It is hard to determine what can be shown on film since documentaries deal with realistic themes and should not have fictional elements.
Can documentaries show death on screen? Can we consider that art, or are documentaries something that should not be presented as art at all? Are they meant to be informative and nothing else? If so, they should be able to show everything, right? It is hard to answer these questions, but they go to show just how controversial some documentaries can be. This article will name several of the more important ones that are controversial in various ways.
7. Titicut Follies
Titicut Follies is a documentary from 1967, directed by Frederick Wiseman that delves into the lives of patients in the Bridgewater State Hospital in Massachusetts. The movie manages to capture the everyday abuse and awful living conditions of these criminally insane patients, and what it shows is extremely graphic and shocking. The things shown in this movie manage to horrify anyone who sees it, there is no debate about that.
Some of the acts of patient mistreatment shown include misdiagnosis, coerced feedings, and doctors forcing them to strip naked. This documentary was the first and only American movie that was banned by the government, the reason being national security. They forcibly tried to hide everything the film was shedding light on. Titicut Follies was not released until 1991 when people finally managed to see everything that went on inside the hospital.
This documentary is controversial for what it shows, not that much what it tries to argue. Earthlings is directed by Shaun Monson, and it came out in 2005. It is a documentary that deals with the cruel treatment of animals. Monson decided to show gruesome footage from many large industries that exploit animals in horrible ways. It is hard to tell more about this documentary without delving into the descriptions of what is shown.
You will have to trust us when we say it is not for the faint-hearted. Some of the footage is extremely horrific and shows just how cruel humans can be. Naturally, this did not sit well with many people, so they called for a boycott, and accused the director of trying to promote his vegan lifestyle. However, the film only shows what actually happens, something every documentary should strive to do.
5. Capturing The Friedmans
The original goal of filmmaker Andrew Jarecki was to make a documentary that focused on a professional clown named David Friedman. However, while filming, he discovered that Friedman’s brother and father were convicted of child sexual abuse, and decided to explore these events further.
He began interviewing witnesses, people involved with the case, and made it seem as if the Friedmans possibly were not guilty of the crimes they were accused of. Even though the evidence during the original trial made it seem as if there was no chance of them being innocent, this documentary made a lot of people suspect otherwise. This is the reason for the controversy, making people feel sympathetic about child molesters, which did not sit well with a lot of critics.
4. The Thin Blue Line
The Thin Blue Line is often lauded as the first movie that actually solved a murder. The documentary deals with a problematic murder case from 1976, and Errol Morris directs it. He was formerly a private investigator and decided to use the documentary to explore further the case of Randall Adams, who was accused of killing a police officer.
By reconstructing the event and exploring the witness reports, Morris managed to make another suspect confirm that Adams (who was serving time in jail) was innocent. This interview was used to reverse the original verdict, and Randall Adams was set free. This movie proved the immense power that documentaries can have, and the controversy surrounding it is a positive one.
3. Bowling For Columbine
Two high schoolers shot and killed thirteen people at Columbine High School in 1999. Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore decided to film a documentary about it and named it Bowling for Columbine. It is widely recognized as one of the most influential documentaries ever made, winning an Academy Award in 2002.
Moore’s goal was to show how easy it is to obtain a firearm in the United States legally, and through that, he critiques the political and social conditions that allow it. The United States of America is the country with the highest amount of gun-related murders in the world. His critique of the country was met with controversy throughout the United States. However, some celebrated his attempt to explore the darker side of the country.
2. The Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco is considered to be one of the most popular suicide destinations in the world. However, chilling that statement may be, it inspired filmmaker Eric Steel to make a documentary about it. The Bridge, his film from 2006, aims to discover why Golden Gate Bridge is such a common suicide destination while also showing people trying to commit suicide, and in some instances, those that succeeded.
The team that filmed this documentary managed to capture 23 suicides on camera. It is not hard to see why this would cause controversy; however, Steel claimed he wanted to expose how no measures are being taken to prevent these suicides. He also tried shedding some light on suicides in general, since it was often considered a taboo topic. However, some claimed that this movie only encouraged people to commit suicide since it normalized the act itself.
1. Nanook Of The North
Nanook is widely recognized as the first full-length documentary ever made, which makes it extremely significant. It came out in 1922, and it shows the life of an Inuk man named Nanook, while also portraying the lifestyle of Inuit people in general. The movie presented modern audiences with a lifestyle they could not believe still existed, especially when compared with their comfortable lives. It was directed by Robert J. Flaherty.
However, the documentary faced severe allegations. Upon the film’s release, many historians and critics accused the director of staging certain events in the film, as well as for lying about certain characters’ relationships. However, some believed this did not diminish the value of the film at all, but only improved it and helped the director tell a realistic story. The controversy was big, and the debate on whether what Flaherty did was bad still lives on.
What is the first and only American made movie ever banned by the U.S. government?
Titicut Follies is the first and only American made movie ever banned by the U.S. government, the reason being national security.
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