Dear Documentary Filmmakers: Watching someone else’s therapy sessions isn’t necessarily as interesting as you might think.
I appreciate the various forms that non-fiction projects can take – from social issue-oriented docs to essay films to guilty pleasure competition docs. That said, there can come a point where the personal doc crosses the line from potentially interesting and relatable to a wider audience to a completely self-indulgent vehicle that’s only going to be of interest to the filmmaker. I want to be clear here – I’m not even talking about films that are “commercial” or “non-commercial,” as in what will or won’t potentially sell. I’m just talking about films that can successfully engage a viewer who doesn’t happen to be you, yourself. You can certainly make films which are really just for yourself, but, if you choose to do so, you have to keep in mind the very distinct possibility that no one else is likely to get much out of them. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make these types of films, but it does suggest that maybe they’re not something you should necessarily share with others, or expect others to embrace. I liken these types of films to diary entries or therapy sessions – I love that making these kinds of projects help you sort through some personal issues, but unless I happen to know you really well, and know what your issues are, I’m not likely to appreciate them or want to spend time watching them. Bottom line – seeking festival/broadcast audiences for your film suggests that you think an audience will get something out of your project, so be reasonably certain that your project reaches beyond yourself to involve others – otherwise, it’s likely to fall on deaf ears.