Golden age of documentaries?


Associated Press

NEW YORK

You’re on the couch. The remote control is in your hand. What can you watch?

There’s that new CNN documentary series on the pope. Or maybe you’re more in the mood for some sinners in “Girls Incarcerated” on Netflix? There are cute critters on Hulu’s “March of the Penguins 2: The Next Step” or you could watch former slugger David Ortiz as he figures out his next career step on Fusion.

Keep scrolling? Sure. What about a new three-part documentary about Silicon Valley on Science? Or the series about gangsters on Reelz? What about some David Bowie or Elvis on HBO?

If you’re looking for documentaries these days, they’re hard to miss. Once considered more medicinal than entertaining and consigned to high-brow places such as PBS and art-house theaters, documentaries are scattered across the film and TV spectrum, as well as online portals such as Facebook Watch or YouTube Red and on video streaming apps such as go90.

“It feels like the golden age of documentary right now,” says Josh Koury, a professor at Pratt Institute and a documentary filmmaker. “It’s an amazing time to be making documentary stories.”

Starz, which last fall began offering new documentaries for the first time, has doubled down by adding four original docuseries to its summer schedule, exploring everything from the criminal justice system to the legacy of hip-hop.

Jeffrey Hirsch, chief operating officer for Starz, says the boom owes a large part to technology, which has allowed filmmakers access to relatively inexpensive high-quality cameras and editing equipment. What has emerged for content-hungry platforms is often a cheaper alternative to scripted films and series.

“The cost of creating these stories has come down, I think. The ability to travel and to actually be your own investigative journalist has become possible. And the world has gotten smaller through technology,” he said. “So I think the opportunity to relive or retell some of these stories has become a lot more accessible.”

No wonder recent documentaries have lately found themselves at the center of popular culture, including Ava DuVernay’s “13” on the American prison system, the Oscar-winning “O.J.: Made in America,” “The Jinx” about Robert Durst, and “Blackfish,” for treatment of orcas. Netflix scored its first Oscar this year with the documentary “Icarus.”

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