Lily Shepherd

Media Team Intern, TED

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Have Documentaries or Narrative Films had a bigger impact on you?

As a film student who is also concerned with leaving the world a better place, I constantly find myself asking: What is the best way to tell a story? My question to you is, "Have documentaries or narrative films had a greater impact on your life?" Share your stories. What films have moved you and what have they moved you to do?

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    Jun 27 2012: Lily,

    Documentaries, by far, for me. A good one captures all the complexities of truth with no need for fictional constructs. Which isn't to say documentaries can't weave in non-fiction narratives.

    Here are two examples I've found profound:

    Century of the Self -- a straight-on documentary -- that documents stunning tactics that unpin culture.
    The four-part series is broken down into these segments:
    1. Happiness Machines: On Sigmund Freud and his American nephew, Edward Bernays who invented Public Relations in the 1920s to manipulate the masses for corporate gain.
    2. The Engineering of Consent: On how post-war leaders used Freudian psychology to try and control the masses.
    3. There is a Policeman Inside All of Our Heads: On how psychologists tried to undo mass psychology control and homogenization in the 60s.
    4. Eight People Sipping Wine In Kettering. On the role psychology of focus groups adapted in politics in the '80s.

    Lost Sparrow by Chris Billing -- an autobiographical documentary with a story so dramatic it seems, but sadly isn't, implausible if not fictionalized.

    It is Billing's narrative on he and his siblings' forced adoption from their South Dakota Native American family and alcoholic mother and the horrific child abuse they suffered for years after at the hands of their wealthy white adoptive family.

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    Jun 26 2012: In school I read manuals and repair books on machines for my reading pages haha. I am not a fan of fiction so my entire diet has been documentaries for some time. Though I will say they can be a bit deceiving so make sure to do your own follow up on information haha. Ive been fooled before!
    None the less they are a huge part of me not completely giving up on the world around me, and inspiring me to go to college. They held my mind interested long enough to not allow me to get so sucked up into life, jobs and money. Remembering that this place I live happens once, and to treat it like so.
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    Jun 25 2012: I watch mostly documentaries,overall they have had a bigger impact shaping my knowledge and lifestyle, for instance I went vegan after watching the documentary Earthlings, and I have now been high carb raw vegan for a year after watching a youtube video by Durianrider. Most popular narrative films are so predictable to me these days, and they have lost all value or intrigue because the plots and characters are almost the same, just with different circumstances. Though one exception to this is the striking Sigourney Weaver, she has played so many strong female roles that have inspired me, especially when I was younger she encouraged me to be myself - a girl with band-aids on her knees, valuing education, teamwork and adventure - instead of valuing shopping and trying to be a barbie.
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    Jun 23 2012: The Crying Game had really shown me early on that love can come in many shapes and forms and is still an equally valid emotion. I grew up in a very homogenous society, have not seen people of different skin colour, of very different faiths, let alone sexual orientation, so seeing a film like the Crying Game had a great part to play in teaching me that "normal" is a matter of perspective. I still don't really have friends who are very different from me - it just happens that way - so films are still the primary way for me to experience other perspectives. I can't afford to travel to the other end of the world, but films can take you everywhere!:) I love docs, especially Werner Herzog, and they are great for information, but you can't beat narrative in making you "feel" for someone else.
  • Jul 9 2012: Yes, I'm a documentary nut. Thinking back the one that made the biggest impact on helping me find my political rudder and understanding of media is the PBS documentary by Bill Moyers called "The Public Mind" (1989). If you haven't seen it, look for it on the net. Maybe you can watch it. I know you can buy it on Amazon. Perhaps they lend it at your public library.
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    Jun 29 2012: Neither. Both are produced, directed, and funded to express and achieve a goal. The goal being join us, pass the word, send money ..... I watch and I listen ... then I do my own research. As an example Al Gore serves as a spokes person for Global Warming. I looked him up and found him to be a fraud, my opinion. He has a giant carbon foot print, is know for stating "he invented the internet", and other fax pas. I there for dismiss his message and believe the Global Warming people are not serious and perhaps the danger does not exist.

    I find myself looking for the goal and missing the message, which by the way may be honest. I listened to ads and documentaries for help agencies (i.e. Red Cross). With 15 minutes research I found that the executives of almost all of these agencies are skimming big money off the top and very little of my donations go to the cause. I have three I now believe in and the rest are shams.

    Don't even start on politics. I turn them off as soon as they start. That may not be fair, however, it is my time and I feel I would be wasting it. Again I do my own research.

    I do watch National Geographic and Animal Planet.

    I also watch TED Talks. They are honest about being bias. Again I do check out all of the "facts, figures, and analysis" even from these people. I have no intention of joining the millions of "uninformed sheep". I am not always right but I can show you the reason I went there.

    All the best. Bob.
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    Jun 25 2012: Now that I have given the current media that has impacted my life, after watching these mentioned it motivated me to find out all I could about the true reality of humanity and those who are exploiting it currently. I have never been interested in the materialist aspects of our society and the current "dumbing down of america" which can been seen on youtube.... I have not watched the "Lame Stream Media" in years... I will watch PBS and Nova when possible, and read informative books as well... I am also looking to do volunteer work here in the city I live in.... My current goal is to start a movement to help children be given the real truth and help them to overcome and use their true abilities and talents to make this a better world for them and future generations.... I know this is only a dream for me but, I believe with the right support and encouragement anything is possible.....
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    Jun 21 2012: I think the answer for me is documentaries because I need to reserve my own voice of critical analysis to really believe something.
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    Jun 18 2012: I think it's a very powerful thing to tell a story from the point of view of "I".. never mind how different ur life has been to someone else's, if u break it down into simple & honest chunks from ur own point of view, people will relate.. that connection is what makes narration so powerful. I think.
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    Aja B.

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    Jun 16 2012: I always love a well-told documentary, but there's no question that narrative films have left more of an impact on me emotionally. Of course there's no one right way to make a film or tell a story, but it's always great to see films that incorporate strengths from different storytelling methods... an informative documentary with strong character arcs, a commercial narrative that elevates and inspires... Shawshank Redemption, Slumdog Millionaire, Amelie, Finding Nemo, Stalker... I've lost count of the number of times I've left a theater feeling more energized and connected to the world. Has that translated into any direct, concrete actions? It's hard to say, but I'm sure it hasn't hurt! :)
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    Gord G

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    Jun 16 2012: In essence all films are narratives. Documentaries are stories based on factual events, and are as much an autuer form as fictional films. The worst documentaries are propaganda. While the best fictional films are poignant social commentaries.

    So in regard to the question; neither and both. If it feels authentic, presents a compelling point of view and the intent is to enrich my understanding of the human condition rather than simply titillate. It has an impact on me.
    • Jun 28 2012: Thank you for saying as much. As an aspiring filmmaker, I'm producing a documentary where my own narrative is as important to the story as the perspectives I'm gathering. "Co-Nation" is a collaborative film project that shares American experiences of cooperation and community. I'll be narrating and shooting the film during a nine month cross country cycling tour- I hope this proves to be an interesting device for authentic storytelling.
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    Jul 11 2012: It's all about Akira Kurosawa. You want to learn how to make a movie, watch everything he ever did, even the mediocre ones. In general, I tend to spend more time watching documentaries than fiction, but for a real emotional impact, that changes my life, I need a story.

    "Ikiru", "I Live in Fear", "Red Beard", and "The Seven Samurai", are all masterpieces, which give you a beautiful new perspective on life.

    Almost everything I have learned in a documentary can be summed up by Toshiro Mifune's quintessential rant in "The Seven Samurai"...

    "The farmers are corrupt... The samurai are corrupt... And, of course, the bandits are corrupt. So who are any of us to expect anything different?'
  • Jul 9 2012: Films have had a great impact on my life, but no matter how well done or the subject matter I keep a large amount of skepticism until I research the subject myself.
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    Jun 27 2012: I have no wish to disavow fiction in any way. I believe that non fiction simply illuminates the truth in one situation while fiction crafts a generalized truth (or lie- not always sure which) in a compelling fashioin.
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        Jul 9 2012: Good morning/evening to you!

        I too am a nerd who adores sci fi!
        Of courae you are right on this. People do need to relate and they will often pay to see their own perspective.
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    Jun 25 2012: I'm learn better visually, So I'd say documentaries.
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    Jun 25 2012: I probably see fewer films than most people. In reading, I am extremely partial to personal essay, which falls in your documentary category, but the films that have had the most emotional impact on me have been narratives.
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    Jun 25 2012: I have had my heart-felt beliefs in myself, as well as why our planet and the current events around the world acknowledged by a number of films and documentaries which include "Thrive" , Zietgiest - "Moving Forward" and "The FDA meets Dr. Burzinski". as well as many others I have watched in the last few years. I highly recommend if you watch even one of these with an open mind and research anything in them you believe is not true, you may have a whole new outlook on what you thought was true and what the reality really is.... I have also watch the talks of J. Krishnamurti who tells you to "Question Everything" for yourself, no matter what you are told or think is true...
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    Jun 23 2012: Not being specialists in clssifying films ....can you please hlep me to understand how the two categories mentioned are defined ....?
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    Jun 22 2012: I stopped eating tuna after watching "End of the Line".
  • Jun 21 2012: Personally I like Narratives because it's the actual person talking to you (i.e. GRIZZLY MAN). Though it might have been just because he was hilarious. But Documentaries are great because they have a long lasting impact and are done professionally. Good luck :)
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    Jun 18 2012: Undoubtedly narrative feature films have bigger impact. We do not remember an equation from our high school physics book, neither do we remember a news report, but we can remember a life changing story from a fiction based on a true story.
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    Jun 18 2012: Documentaries have had a life-changing impact on me... it is the only kind of television/movies i watch (other than the news). It is a great source of information on specific issues but it is very important to note that they can be a bit biased, favoring the person or organization making the documentary.
    "Food Inc." has left the biggest impression on me; great watch if your into knowing more about factory farming, GMO's, and the everyday food we eat.
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    Jun 18 2012: Bit of a deviation from the topic (especially as I am not sure what the difference is!!)...

    Documentaries do have an impact on me, as does the news and other things that make me realise how lucky I am and how much of the world could do with a leg-up...

    What bugs me is that it is so rare for a story to have details about where to go if you really want to help!! I think these people who report on dreadful happenings should have some sort of resposibility to make it easier for people to help.

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    Jun 17 2012: Speaking about documentaries, I like the creative works well told, well made, well photographed. I think that if one works seriously and hardly on a topic, it's probable that the results -bad or good- can transmit to the people something that may capture first their attention, after their admiration, maybe. A serious work, is the best guarantee for to be successful.
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    Jun 17 2012: Yes documentaries do have impact on me...I expect information look more creative and well expressed.I have enjoyed watching Zeitgeist which helped me understand various issues be it religion or world trade center attack.

    So keep up..i will surely watch and share yours!!
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    Jun 17 2012: It's helpful if you can explain the concept of documentaries and narrative films. As an amateur, I understand documentaries films only show factual images without commentaries (?) (is it even possible?).

    Then narrative films have much bigger impact on me.
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    Jun 17 2012: Documentaries all the way! I thrive on the feeling of knowing about an issue or person/ society as it really is. There's so much power and mystery in everyday life, sometimes I think it's a shame to 'dress it up' if you know what I mean by overplaying everyday things. There's also much knowledge to be gained through docs, which is fascinating to see first hand. Saying that though, of course there are some amazing narratives out there which make for fantastic escapism into the plot etc... and sometimes that's what you really need! (I love the movie Donnie Darko for example, a movie which has had a huge impact on me and partly inspired me to choose my future profession as a psychologist!)

    You know what...this is a really tough question, the more I think about it the more I become unsure! Thanks for posting!
  • Gu E

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    Jun 16 2012: I have had great experiences with both documentaries and narrative films.

    I enjoy docs more for the educational experience, the thoughtful discussions that usually ensues at the end, the further research I may do depending on how much I have been inspired/intrigued, and the real time feel of them. My favorite and most recent documentary is Gasland. I particularly love investigative documentaries.

    I enjoy narrative films more often for the purpose of entertainment, escape and the appreciation of quality acting/cinematography etc. However, narrative films can also be educational too, especially where there is a poignant message of some sort.

    In regards to which has had a bigger impact on me, I would have to say that documentaries have made me gain more in knowledge and therefore have had a bigger impact- a longer lasting impact. However, like others have noted below, narrative films have also stuck with me emotionally- I even associate films with memories and periods in my life.
    I am capable of enjoying a big summer blockbuster and a deep film. But I do respect documentaries more than narrative films because they usually have an important goal.

    When I think of a doc, I instantly remember what I took from it and what I learned. When I think of a narrative film I instantly think of whether I enjoyed it or not. So if I were to judge from that- documentaries have had a bigger positive contribution, and thus a bigger impact.
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    Jun 15 2012: I will share about my favourites film/TV shows.
    I love the Sherwood Pictures film 'Fireproof', it teaches me that a good marriage is not a product of an accident. It takes hard work.
    I love the film 'The Grace Card', it also emphasises the importance of forgiveness without being too preachy.
    I love the TV series 'Terra Nova', 'Prison Break' and 'The Good Wife'

    The message of a film should be clear to the filmmaker(of course stories should have a message); but such should be presented with every care to creativity, societal culture and realities and narrative structure.
    Arts should immitate life, but arts should also be an instrument for positive change.
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    Jun 15 2012: Definitely, documentaries should be a way to educate children . Documentaries (Inspirational Ones) should be screened more often on movie channels so that its more visible to the larger audience . Cinemas though entertaining is not educating enough (ofcourse there are movies from which we can learn a lot).
    I watched a documentary on the evolution of Aravind Eye Hospital,Madurai,India during a leadership seminar and I was so inspired by it .I have read books on social entrepreneurship for motivation . Please suggest me some inspiring documentaries so that I can watch them when time permits
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      Jun 15 2012: I really loved Born into Brothels and all of the Joubert's films.
  • MR T

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    Jun 15 2012: Documentary films are brilliant for those who do not have the patience for books, they inspired me to become a rainforest biologist and probably taught me half of what I know.

    A particularly inspiring story is "the coconut revolution', Its free on youtube. Also the film 'home' has some amazing imagery and is also free on youtube.
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      Jun 15 2012: I'll check those out for sure! Thank you!
  • P C

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    Jun 15 2012: Watching "Blue Planet" in the Smithsonian Imax theater. The closest I've ever been to heaven. Seeing the beauty of Earth from orbit still haunts me to this day. I have a taste of what astronauts go through on their spacewalks. The best documentaries capture images that give their own narrative.
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      Jun 15 2012: I agree, I would be curious to know who builds the narrative in a documentary.
      • P C

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        Jun 16 2012: Even though the DP is given a lot of freedom in how to capture compelling pictures, the director still puts together the narrative. I wouldn't be surprised if between 100-1000x as much footage is captured (possibly more) vs what is actually used.

        Social/political/historical documentaries have a little more freedom in that if a particular shot is sub-par, you can drop in a still picture and play with it (pans, tilts, zooms, fades, cuts, etc.).
  • M D

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    Jun 14 2012: For me personally:
    A narrative will nearly always evoke greater emotion and alter your opinions or beliefs
    ... but a documentary has the power to show you something fasinating and make want to go out and discover it.
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      Jun 15 2012: I'm so torn! I feel like it varies per film, sometimes I feel more moved by a documentary and more inspired to learn/change by a narrative!
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    Jun 14 2012: The David Attenborough series are always amazing.