Friday, 8 April 2011

Do documentaries make a difference?

It’s a bit like the lyrics of a song…’Woke up this morning and didn’t know where I was…’. Well. the tone of the tour has switched from classical music screenings (after a relatively poorly attended one in Michigan three nights ago) to The Boy Mir – Ten Years in Afghanistan. Yesterday was a presentation in Pittsburgh of the first film The Boy who Plays on the Buddhas of Bamiyan to a university class of under-graduates studying international relations. A very interesting day in a fascinating town. It’s striking to me how fresh the film is even though it was finished back in 2003. I guess its universal themes of childhood, poverty, education and so on prevent it from becoming dated. Similarly the question of how documentaries can reflect, even affect, the world remain constant. Do documentaries make a difference? I naturally believe in their power and possibility but I know many broadcasters that don’t care too much about that anymore. To me it’s an abandonment of public service principle if a broadcaster retreats to a insular view of the world and frequently one toploaded with game shows, youth culture and the promotion of acquisition: food, houses, clothes, etc. I flicked through 40 channels of American TV in my hotel room last night: in those 60 seconds I saw a reality show singer discussing her shoes, a photo of a woman beaten to death in her garage, two kids kissing in a high-school drama, a tattooed man beating on a door, 4 talk shows, 3 music shows and my favourite: a panel discussion deciding if Britney Spears ‘pooped’ before a flight or during (I kid you not!)…OK, you get the idea. What wasn’t there? World news, art, any serious documentaries at all, intelligent discussion, classical music, opera, foreign languages (except Spanish soap opera). It’s more than a shame, it’s is undermining a nation. Despite ten years of war and huge expense in Afghanistan I still meet folk here who don’t know where it is. That’s why I have to work to ensure people see the film. If not on TV, then in the cinemas, internet, DVD… Tomorrow, here now in New York, I have an important screening with the UN agency that deals with education and poverty. Maybe they’re will only be 200 people there but with blogs, Facebook, general chit-chat, word spreads. And who knows who’ll be there and what they’ll do. Someone I met yesterday is going to try and get the film into the White House….I would LOVE to imagine Michelle calling in the kids to sit on the sofa while Dad prepares the popcorn and then, as a family, they watch Mir’s story… Then of course, in my dreamworld, I get a call…. Hey, you can but hope.

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