Should all feature-length documentaries have a Heart?
Alan B. asked: I see a lot of feature length documentaries that have a heart but some others do not have or maybe I am not being fully aware of the fact that there is a heart also there. Take Soundcity or The Sound of Muscle Shoal musical documentaries, probably in both documentaries the owners of those recording studios were the hearts of the story. Maybe there is always a heart although sometimes is not that evident?
While both of those examples have a Heart, (think Rick Hall in Muscle Shoals here) you will find that there are many documentaries out there that don't have one. Off the top of my head, I'm struggling to remember the last documentary I saw without one, and I'd say this attests to the difference between documentaries that have a Heart vs. those that don't.
Consider our documentary #standwithme. What if, instead of following a story about a super empathetic 9-year-old girl, and her personal journey to free 100 kids from child slavery through selling lemonade, we simply had experts talk about the issue of child slavery. Instead of seeing the photo that affected a little girl's big heart, and learning more about her cause as we root for her to achieve her dream, we were simply told the numbers of how prevalent child slavery, and given a narration about the atrocities so many people endured.
Which of these films would you tell your friends about? The 9-year-old girl changing the world through lemonade, or the documentary about child slavery? And which do you think you would be more receptive to?
The takeaway here is that documentaries without a Heart typically lead with Purpose. They show you facts, statistics, and interviews with experts in the field. But the problem is that people aren't emotionally moved by statistics. It's not relatable to them personally. And they certainly don't want to be bombarded by numbers and told how to think or what to do.
But people do love and remember a good story. They may not remember the exact number of child slaves in the world, but they will remember the amazing story of a 9-year-old-girl and her dream to help other 9-year-olds in the world. With a strong Heart, you can create a story people truly connect to, a story they care about and want to share with others. And through their journey with this character, they can reach the purpose of your story themselves, which allows them to take ownership of that purpose as their own realization, not something they were told to think or do. It's much more authentic this way, much more lasting, and much more impactful.