North America’s biggest documentary film festival Hot Docs opened with Alison Klayman’s Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, about world renowned Chinese artist provocateur Ai Weiwei. The festival’s new director of programming, Charlotte Cook, said that the moment she saw the film, she knew that it would be perfect for Opening Night. For Cook, the film was an appropriate choice for inviting the documentary community to discuss not only the ways in which documentaries can bespeak activism but also exist as a form of resistance.
This year’s Hot Docs lineup, with a compelling selection of 189 titles from 51 countries, has only reinforced this theme, giving added relevance to the argument that documentaries have a greater role to play as a social force.
What can documentaries do to make a difference? How can social and political change become reality through documentary films? How effective are documentaries in raising awareness and rousing the masses? A starting point here could be to change the definition of the term documentary itself, to which Cook refers in her first person interview on Indiewire: “Whether I’m down the rabbit hole with my unabated love for this art form, I cannot comprehend the notion that documentary could ever be thought of as niche or a genre. Documentary is everything.”
At a time when the boundaries between fiction and non-fiction continue to blur and documentary filmmakers are constantly searching for new and innovative ways to tell their stories, the assertion that the documentary film is more than just a genre elevates non-fiction films to a level in which they become effective generators of real impact in society.