Have you ever noticed how the Internet sometimes acts just like its old grandpa, television? I’m thinking of how, after the cable explosion, everyone liked to say there are so many channels on TV, but nothing is on. I often feel that way about streaming documentaries on the Internet: There are so many portals and sites with more docs than you ever imagined existed, but do you really want to see a sub-par doc about sub-Saharan children?
Whether it’s Mubi or SnagFilms or lesser outlets, they’re all trying to build up their libraries to present themselves as legitimate providers of documentary film. But you have to separate the wheat from the chaff. Even Netflix’s list can be lacking. The good stuff, of course, costs them more money so we’re stuck with a fair amount of C-grade material.
I hadn’t spent much time on Hulu before this week, but Sunday’s announcement that it’s documentary channel is getting beefed up made me take notice.
They’ve been showing docs for a while, but now they’ve added 30 new titles, including some exclusively, and they’re using Amir Bar-Lev’s Re:Generation Music Project, about DJ mixologists who create mashups of classic genres, to show that they’re not messing around. Another upcoming title is Joe Berlinger’s Under African Skies, about Paul Simon’s album, Graceland.
Hulu has a strong list, including Exit Through the Gift Shop, Super Size Me, Hoop Dreams, Grey Gardens, The Times of Harvey Milk, Salesman, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired and Joy Division.
It should be noted that you have to be willing to stomach the “limited commercial interruptions,” which did annoy the purist in me. The fact that Super Size Me was preceded by a Lean Cuisine commercial made me shudder. I imagine many critical-thinking doc lovers just won’t stand for this sort of commercialization of the genre. But something’s got to pay for this content, right? (There’s also Hulu Plus, which you have to pay for monthly, and which gets you access to the best content.)
Hulu’s list is weighted toward music, and there’s plenty of good stuff there. I had a hard time tearing my eyes away from a doc about The Clash, and there was a particularly good one, Still Bill, about Bill Withers, which Bar-Lev himself directed me to.
Bar-Lev, like all doc directors out there, is no doubt happy to have yet another outlet out there to exhibit his material. I asked him why he went with Hulu, and he said in an email: “Re:Generation is a perfect fit for distribution on Hulu. Our core audience are people who are very comfortable digesting music and film digitally, and it just seemed very in line with the film to have this be something they could enjoy with a click.”
He’s right. Re:Generation is a great example of a doc that I would have missed, but it’s actually quite fascinating to watch how younger musicians steeped in electronica work with older artists and genres.
I’d recommend it. Would I have ever gone out of my way to watch it, had it not been on Hulu? No. But it was there, so I did. Which reminds me a lot of how I watch TV.