Documentaries are different from movies, but by no means should that mean they are not as beneficial or engaging. Rather, it is quite the opposite. As Sharma pointed out, documentaries acquired by Netflix are typically traditional in terms of film style and format, therefore conforming with what an average movie goer would expect from a film. This is true in the case of the documentary 13th. The cinematography style is very reminiscent to what one would expect from a documentary and a movie. Almost all of the interviews featured the subject either in the lower corners, therefore utilizing the typical rule of thirds, or feature the subject in the center of the screen. The backgrounds of the interviews were artistic to an extent without being distracting—featuring plain white brick, brown brick, an old slightly crumbling building, or a house. Occasionally the camera would show the person being interviewed from a side angle, therefore changing the background, lighting, and angle of observation for the viewer. The documentary utilized many clips of old film as well as old photography. Much of it was from the Civil Rights Era, Jim Crow, clips of Birth of a Nation, interviews with politicians, and interviews with those who were in the prison system. This use of old media was mixed in with modern film so that the viewer was never watching one clip for too long, which kept them engaged.

There was some differentiation in comparison to average media, however. Occasionally when the documentary was transitioning to a new subject, a song about the prison system would play and show only the lyrics in white text over a black screen which dramatized the words. This same technique was sometimes used for interviews. Also, there would be infographics about the amount of people in the prison system over the passage of time. While the use of infographics is not entirely out of place for a documentary or a film, it is not always used in media as it gives the video more of an artistic feel. This sometimes can be a hindrance, but I saw it as an added benefit.

Despite the fact that there are some differences, I overall agree with Sharma that documentaries typically take on more of a traditional expression of film. Without this traditional expression, people might not watch it. This way, documentaries are familiar in style, if not in content. Most people watch movies to be entertained, but most people watch documentaries in order to learn. This constant keeps people engaged and makes it less likely for them to feel as if documentaries are too foreign for them to view, benefit from, and enjoy.

The documentary 13th brought a high awareness to the issue of oppression within the prison system and how the justice system treats people of color. The interviews were with people of high credibility, such as Angela Davis and various college professors across the nation. It educated viewers on how those in poverty and those who are any race other than white are much more impacted by the prison system. For example a few statistics provided was how black men make up 6.5% of the total population within the United States but represent 40.2% of those incarcerated. Also white men have a one in seventeen chance of going to jail throughout their life, but black men have a one in three chance of going to jail throughout their life. The documentary also takes a historic stance, going throughout history starting with the ending of slavery and working up through the Civil Rights Movement and the cocaine outbreak towards modern day to show how, with the passage of time, laws and the nature of incarceration changed drastically.

Prior to watching Flint Town, I was unfamiliar with long-form documentaries, but have grown to enjoy them. I think one blatant benefit to long-form documentaries as opposed to a single movie length documentary is the amount of information which can be condensed into it. They can be much more educational because the increase in time allows for a more in depth immersion to the content. Also, in the case of Flint Town, it almost feels as if I am following the characters of Bridgett and Robert and Tim, as opposed to Bridgett and Robert and Tim, the real Flint police officers. I can almost forget that I am watching a documentary because it feels like a television show with a plot. I became very invested in the story, especially as Dion join the police force and Bridgett began wrestling with her application to the FBI, and it was this investment in the characters that made me realize it could very well be an example of reality-based programming because I felt no difference other than the added educational benefit and having to remind myself that these people are real and there are no scripts. I think both long-form documentaries and single movie length documentaries have their purposes. Some topics need more time, and others need less. Sometimes I am in the mood for a single movie and other times I want a whole show. I would not do away with one or the other, rather I would keep both styles, and utilize them when one is better than the other.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s