Aside from the overall consensus that documentary films are experiencing good times all over, there were some interesting points to be learned from the UnDebate. For example, distribution for docs in China is pretty much limited to pirated DVDs. In Brazil, docs account for one-third of the country's theatrical exhibition. Australia is experiencing a thriving doc industry via television. In numerous areas, the fashion of using talking heads is going out of style.
Not everything is rosy in the doc world, however, and the American representatives were more attuned to the problems being faced with the genre (are we just more pessimistic here in the States?). Oscar-nominated director Jonathan Stack (The Farm: Angola, USA) expressed a frustration with trying to find a balance between activism and passivity. He apparently has issues with the self-servicing model happening a lot these days, having abandoned a recent project after becoming too involved in its political subject matter. Steven Bognar warned about too many pop docs following familiar models, such as the currently in vogue "contest films." He also claimed too many docs are too long (his latest, A Lion in the House, is 230 min., by the way). His directing partner, Julia Reichert, stated that because it is presently "sexy" to be a documentary filmmaker, that more docs are being produced than can find distribution.
Personally, I think the major problem with docs right now is that too many are too despairing. Just because the state of the world is in turmoil doesn't mean that we have to see depressing and/or hopeless films. Earlier this year, while watching a number of world docs at Tribeca, I was left feeling miserable. That said, I am still excited that non-fiction films are getting more exposure than ever. It would just be better to see more of the inspiring films, such as these I've seen this year: An Inconvenient Truth, The Hip-Hop Project, Shut Up & Sing and Beyond the Call. That doesn't mean I haven't liked some other less hopeful docs, nor do I think they're not important, but as I'm going to more and more non-fiction films over fiction ones, I have to be honest that I'd like to go to the movies without crying once in awhile.