The united states has two new unlikely box office star – a man of 85 years of the Supreme Court of Justice and of the sons of a TELEVISION presenter who was in her mid-70s at the time of his death 15 years ago. Both are profiled in a new documentary that have been lighting up the box office of EE.UU.. why now?
The film is not going to Be My Neighbor? – a portrait of the children’s TELEVISION host Fred Rogers – has taken in more than $20 million (£14m), which is a remarkable amount for a small documentary.
RBG, which is seen in the life of a Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, has collected an impressive $13 million (£10m).
Fred Rogers, whose TV show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was on US public TELEVISION stations from 1968 until the year 2001, passionately, believed that children deserved the intelligent programming.
Morgan Neville, who directed not to Be My Neighbor, you believe Rogers and his program has a relevant message for our times.
“What the show was doing was to explain to very young children, how to behave and how to treat other people, and how to co-exist with other people,” he says.
“We live in a time where nobody is advocating for these things. If we do not take care of the things, we are in the class of the dangerous times in which we now find ourselves.”
RBG is also seen as putting the spotlight on an inspirational figure. As the documentary’s co-director Julie Cohen notes, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, is a very interesting topic.
“How could you not want to make a documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsburg?” she asks.
“She’s this totally amazing person with a long history of being a Supreme Court Justice, but also when she was a lawyer dates back to the 1970s, which fought for the rights of women. She has become in the last few years, this mega-celebrity, that millennials treat as a rock star.”
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The political factors can account for the popularity of these films. For many film buffs non-fiction to provide positive and uplifting entertainment that is an alternative to the daily routine of news in politically polarized times.
“I think the idea of having someone to advocate things such as the warmth and kindness that is desperately needed,” says Neville.
“It is a message that I think everyone can get behind. And in a day and age where the common land is a scarce resource, to find something that can really connect that way it feels optimistic to me.”
Gina Duncan, who is in charge of operations at BAMcinématek in New York, thinks that a shortage of strong role models also accounts for the success of RBG and is not going to Be My Neighbor?
“I think both RBG and Fred Rogers are very adult figures and I think that is something that does not currently have,” she says. “We don’t have people on TV that we feel are true models to follow, and RBG, and Fred Rogers is that for many people”.
Also the audiences seem to be ignoring political labels in the scope of these two films. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is well known for his liberal jurisprudence, and Fred Rogers was a Republican of a lifetime. But many of the viewers overlook his politics. It is the authenticity of the subjects in these documentaries that it seems to be the big attraction.
“This feeling of sincerity comes through with Fred Rogers and through RBG,” says Morgan Neville.
“We live in this cynical age where the cynicism permeates our comedy and our theatre, our superheroes are cynical these days. So I come across characters that are true, honest believers, that are put out there, and are vulnerable, is actually a radical act, and I think people that look for that kind of message.”
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and RBG, and are just two of the several new documentaries make an impact. Other achievements include Three Identical Strangers, in the last instance, the dark story of triplets separated at birth, then reunited as adults, and Whitney, a portrait of the late pop singer Whitney Houston.
There is talk of a renaissance in the documentary film that is being driven in part by online streaming platforms. Its strong focus on non-fiction is whetting the appetite to see the documentary not only online, but also in the cinema.
Also possibly contributes to the popularity of the documentary films are higher production standards, says Duncan.
“I think these non-fiction writers are doing a fantastic job of elevating the genre – and that combined with people who have a lot of access to very well made the movie is what is causing this rebirth now.”
Neville sees the shift towards documentaries in part as a response to Hollywood’s focus on the fantasy and the escapism.
“Hollywood no longer makes movies for adults, and especially in the summer it is difficult to find movies that the adults want to see, so documentaries have become the perfect counter-programming for that.”
Despite a renaissance, documentaries rarely coincides with business success or scope of a Hollywood blockbuster.
“I think that is good,” says Duncan. “Success to serve his purpose.”
As can be seen, the documentaries are offering something very different.
“People want real stories, they want things that are exceptionally well done, and are looking for something that might transform or help them as they process everything that is happening in the world right now.”
It is too early to tell whether the current popularity of documentaries is only a temporary phenomenon – a response to difficult times – or if it marks a change in cultural tastes into the big screen entertainment that is real and very different from the superhero blockbusters.
But now in the united states, documentaries are enjoying their moment in the sun.