Documentaries that strike the right chord with an audience can change people’s minds about just about anything, they can even kick-start entire movements. They are often a natural way for political issues to drift into public awareness.
One amazing thing about modern documentaries is that they can bring us into areas that were previously closed to public perception. Nowhere is this as true as it is in the documentary The Cove. This documentary is set in Taiji, Japan, and it documents the fate of dolphins that are captured and killed there for the purpose of profit. The Cove is quite visually striking. In most cases all that Rick O’Barry has to do is find a way to get his cameras into the cove where the killing takes place, and the events that occur there tend to speak for themselves.
The Cove became a rallying ground for those interested in animal rights issues. This became prevalent enough that it became known as the “Cove Effect.” This turned into organizations like the “Save Dolphins Coalition,” which tends to butt right up against the traditional Japanese dolphin hunting business in Japan. They’ve been doing this sort of thing a long time without very much protest or notice, but once The Cove came out, attention intensified and it became much more of a hard fought political issue.
You’d be hard pressed to find too many Americans, or really, people in general who haven’t heard of Michael Moore. In this documentary Moore goes after the Bush administration for using the events of 9/11 and the Two Towers to prosecute a “war on terror,” that Moore makes many accusations about. Moore alleges that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were unjust, and that Bush used the events of 9/11 to promote propaganda that manipulated the American people into prosecuting the wars on his behalf. The documentary goes into many details about the attack, including both facts and allegations regarding the Bush Administration’s actions during and after. It includes archived film footage, interviews, and general opinions, including the issue regarding whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. The documentary had the effect of reigniting an already hot button issue.
Bowling for Columbine
This documentary, also from Moore, talks about the shootings at the Columbine school. The documentary asks the question regarding why there seem to be so many firearms shootings in America, especially in school systems. Moore has a distinctly angry sense of humor, and so his documentaries, including this one tend to come across as instantly controversial. The issue of gun control in the United States has basically always been controversial, due to the debate about the Second Amendment in the United States that supporters claim protects individual’s rights to own firearms. Critics generally gave the documentary an overwhelmingly positive review, though detractors to the film tend to be very vocal as well.
One sequence in the film has Moore being handed a gun at a bank for opening an account. The bank claimed they were misled by Moore, and that the guns they provide aren’t being held on the premises. Generally, whenever gun debate ignites again after a new incident in the U.S., documentaries like Bowling for Columbine end up on the forefront of the debate.
Overall, this is the purpose for the most influential of documentaries. Their interest is measured in how well they serve as rallying cries for those who care about the issues.