Michael Moore and Docs in the Multiplex

May 8, 2009 § Leave a comment

Seven or eight years ago, I attended an IDA (International Documentary Association) function at which Michael Moore called on each multiplex in the country to devote one screen to  documentary films. The crowd roared its approval, but  Moore’s idea seemed fantastical at the time.

Even a decade ago, documentaries rarely hit the theaters; the lucky ones were shown on TV or screened occasionally at colleges and art house theaters in large cities, while the rest were seen in festivals, if at all. Except in Los Angeles and New York, where documentary series were shown in museums and guild theaters, moviegoers simply didn’t have the chance to see documentaries, including the ones that won Academy Awards.

How times have changed! A few years ago, I saw “The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill” in a packed house and realized the audience that used to see serious American dramas and daring foreign films–a large, well-educated group no longer served by Hollywood or even Europe–now watches documentaries instead.  As for Moore’s challenge, Arclight Cinemas in Hollywood is currently  showing “Tyson” and “Every Little Step” on two of its fourteen screens. In fact, it’s rare that Arclight isn’t showing at least one documentary. While it certainly isn’t a typical multiplex, this commitment bodes well for other theater chains that follow Arclight’s lead.

We have Michael Moore to thank for much of the increasing popularity of non-fiction films. Even though his own films aren’t actually documentaries, he has been a vocal and tireless champion of the form. The next time you see a documentary on the big screen, you’ll know whom to credit.

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