“This is a very important documentary that you need to see.”
That, my friends, may be the best way to kill a conversation at a film screening or similar gathering of media professionals. It’s certainly the last way a movie publicist should ever sell a documentary to a journalist.
This is old news to most folks in the doc world, who have become hip to the notion that documentary should no longer be thought of as good medicine, but as entertainment. Michael Moore‘s recent speech at the Toronto Film Festival, in which he trumpeted the importance of nonfiction as entertainment and even advocated for the abandonment of the term documentary — “Stop making documentaries. Start making movies,” he said — is just the latest push in this direction.
I bring it up now because actually, really, there’s a very important documentary that you need to see. And I don’t want you to miss it. It’s called The Connection: Mind Your Body and it’s about the connection between the mind and physical health. Director Shannon Harvey, an Australian journalist, came down with an autoimmune disease and set out to make the film that she wished she could have seen when she was first diagnosed.
Harvey interviews experts, mostly in the United States, such as Dean Ornish and Jon Kabat-Zinn, but also in Australia, who delineate the importance of health care over sick care. They have been researching and putting into practice a host of remedies that include meditation, exercise, healthy diet and better living that are far more powerful and far less expensive than the after-the-fact remedies like drugs and surgery.
The Connection has already been screening and it is available starting today (October 15, 2014). You can even host your own screening. The documentary isn’t the kind of film that wins awards at festivals or even warrants being seen in a theater. I mean, it’s good. It’s very well done. The production value is solid and the editing is good and it delivers the message, but that’s fundamentally what it is: a message documentary. It’s a talking head film with B-roll shots of people “acting natural.” You know, when an expert describes some uplifting science, there are images of people looking happy and the music score drills the point home with uplifting notes. That sort of thing.
That’s my opinion. I recommend you check it out yourself and let me know what you think in the comments section below. To me, The Connection doesn’t seer the facts into your consciousness, say, the way Harlan County, USA did about the plight of coal miners. It doesn’t rip your heart out, like The Act of Killing, so that you’ll never forget what happened (and is still happening) in Indonesia. It doesn’t grab and jiggle your gut, so that you’ll never look the golden arches the same way again, as Super Size Me did. And it doesn’t scare you straight, the way An Inconvenient Truth did when it featured the devastation of climate change. (That last one comes with a caveat, which I’ll be getting back to in a bit.)
Sure, it may not be fair to fault a documentary for not starting a revolution. It’s similar to suggesting a book is a failure because it’s not the great American novel. But I write this as a reflection of my frustration with the documentary world for not yet producing a film that will move audiences to the core in this subject. There’s a void, and I want to see it filled.
I’m going to leave you with that cliffhanger. I will next dig in deeper about The Connection and my interviews with Harvey and Ornish. I’m also going to reveal, with the help of Dr. Ornish, why An Inconvenient Truth, despite all of its outrageous success, may not actually be the best model for how a documentary can start a revolution.
The Connection is now available on VOD and DVD. Find out more at theconnection.tv.