Most often, the effect movies have on people are either temporary, lasting as little time as the length of the movie itself, or if they are more enduring, affect us in a way that we’re not entirely aware of. We see how movies and TV can have subtle impacts on the gradual shifts in cultural attitudes towards groups and issues after many years. It’s harder to identify precisely how movies have changed who we are as people, or what we believe and what values we hold dear. Part of this is because most movies deal with these things indirectly, in varied layers of abstraction, and so finding specific linkages between these abstract concepts and precise details of our lives is a nearly impossible feat.
Documentaries are interesting in this regard, though, because they most often deal with subjects and stories in a far more direct manner. They’re meant to be taken as non-fiction, and are thus awarded with the literal nature with which we tend to treat anything deemed as true to life or real world stories.
This doesn’t mean they are incapable of misleading, but that they tend to feel more immediate. We see far more documentaries that are drive by causes, with the stated intention of moving people toward action, often with instructions on action to take being presented in text on the screen at the film’s conclusion.
Sometimes it’s more simple even than this. Some documentaries just have a way of blowing our minds that fictional stories aren’t quite able to achieve. It’s comparing the revelation of a new way of conceiving the world to the revelation of new facts about the world, perhaps. To illustrate the level of impact documentaries can have on viewers, I present 6 examples of docs that have affected me rather deeply, and I suspect have a broad effect on the way people who see them think about the world around them afterwards.