Back to reality II: Beautiful truths

Posted October 23

Dramatic films are designed to have maximum emotional power over an audience. 

A fictional world is created, in which every element - story, characters, dialogue, sets, wardrobe, sound, lighting, framing, pacing, music, special effects - is constructed and finely tuned to manipulate the way you feel. 

These films are, in a sense, beautiful lies. 

A documentary film, on the other hand, captures elements beyond the control of its director. There is a raw and wild element to them. 

The difference between a drama and a documentary is the difference between seeing a lion at a zoo and meeting one in the jungle. 

While the production may not be as slick, the characters uncostumed, their lines unrehearsed, the power of a documentary lies in its reality. 

A drama presents us with a falsehood which falls apart under closer scrutiny. Its emotional impact drains away through holes in its plot and the fabric of its "reality". 

The emotional impact of a documentary, on the other hand, is charged by the power of its reality. 

There are many documentaries which have affected me on a far deeper level than any drama. Their impact can last for days, weeks, and even months, as I find myself turning the stories and characters over in my mind, observing the ways in which their realities affect my own. 

I return to them again and again, always discovering something new. They become a part of me, influencing the way I see and interact with the world around me.  

Some of my favourite documentaries are simple, touching stories focused on remarkable human beings. 

Searching For Sugar Man, by the late Malik Bendjelloul, is the story of Rodriguez, a working-class labourer from Detroit who unwittingly becomes an international musical sensation, 25 years too late. 

While the story that surrounds him is almost too fantastic to be true, the real charm lies in Rodriguez himself, who accepts the strange twists of fortune with serenity, humility and grace. 


Jodorowsky's Dune, by Frank Pavich, focuses on one of history's strangest and most ambitious film projects, which drew together Orson Welles, Salvador Dali, Pink Floyd, Mick Jagger and H.R. Giger, amongst others. 

The undeniable star of the show is Jodorowsky himself, around whose irrepressible passion for creativity and life the project was constructed, and ultimately collapsed. 

I've never read Dune, nor have I seen any of Jodorowky's films - yet I've returned to this one perhaps more than any other. 


Marwencol is a much smaller story, and a real delight. It revolves around Mark, a seemingly unremarkable man who is left physically, emotionally and mentally damaged after a brutal assault. 

Mark constructs a miniature world in his backyard, an outer manifestation of his  inner demons and desires. He digs through the past for clues to his former identity, while courageously determining a new future for himself. 


Thanks to Marwencol, Mark's story is currently being fictionalised as a drama by Robert Zemeckis, director of Forrest Gump

(Zemeckis' latest film The Walk, released this month, is also an adaptation of a story previously told via documentary, James Marsh's award-winning Man On Wire). 

I have the impression that in making Marwencol, director Jeff Malmberg stumbled on something much more powerful than anticipated. In some ways, it reminds me of Sisters For Sale, the feature-length documentary I'm currently working on. 

I'm now seeking funds to complete the post-production of Sisters For Sale. Any contributions are greatly appreciated and can be made via The Human, Earth Project's website

A huge thank you to those of you who have already contributed to this campaign, and helped to make Sisters For Sale a reality: 

Michelle Imison, Tracey Smith, Amanda Robertson, Julie Steinbach, John Bardos, Emily Christie, Lisa Holland, Belinda Warfield, Sammantha Mavin, Franziska Riechert, Nicholas Howden, Jo Dance, Jude and Ted Cooper, Rami and Ivana Shaafi, and my mother, Susan Randall. 

See the Sisters For Sale trailer below, and pre-order the film here.


Over the coming weeks, I'll be sharing more of my favourite documentaries. I'd love to hear your thoughts on any of the films I've mentioned, or on your own favourite documentaries. 

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