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It Was a Banner Year for Documentaries

7 Dec, 2004 By: Holly J. Wagner

I'm a big fan of period pieces, historical dramas and the like. Much of this year's crop has been a big disappointment for me as far as big-budget studio historical features are concerned, but the wealth of documentaries released to capitalize on the media spending has been there to rescue the history-minded.

The slices of history that were in theaters this year (or at least part of this year) — Troy, The Alamo, Seabiscuit, Alexander and soon, The Aviator — have unleashed a torrent of documentary programming from everyone from PBS and the History Channel to Delta Entertainment.

That has worked out well for me, because I like history and docs. I like programs that tell where the feature films took license with the actual events and where they were true to history. I like the odd facts that surface when filmmakers plumb the depths of history for any tidbit we haven't already heard.

I did like King Arthur, which didn't do spectacularly well in American theaters but did great overseas. Of course, in some ways it's an easier story to do because it's all built on conflicting legends. The fewer facts available, the less anyone will notice if the story isn't exactly accurate. Then, in rush the docs to point out where legends diverge and the possible alternate scenarios begin.

In some cases, the documentaries utterly eclipse the features that carried them to light; in others they add depth. They're also a good counter for kids, who I think get most of their erroneous notions of history from the movies. Either way, I'm glad that documentaries have been catapulted to the forefront this year, and I hope it's a trend that lasts.

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