My favorite documentary is without a doubt the film "Super Size Me", which is directed, narrated, starred, and written by Morgan Spurlock. It was this film that served as the impetus for his tv show "30 Days", in which Morgan Spurlock goes under some sort of lifestyle change for 30 days to create some sort of comment on that lifestyle based on his experience with it, as well as to give viewers an experience and understanding of that lifestyle. For example, in one episode, Morgan and his wife decide to live as lower class, blue collar workers for 30 days, living in a small apartment and only working a certain amount of hours of week to receive minimum wage.
In "Super Size Me", Morgan Spurlock is upset by a recent judicial court decision that states that there is not enough proof that eating fast food can negatively impact one's health. Therefore, Morgan decides to uncover the dangers of fast food consumption, by deciding to only eat at McDonald's for 30 days. He gives himself some rules for the experiment. He is required to eat every meal and snack from McDonald's and if he is offered a "Super Size" option, he is required to take it. Despite discouraging opinions from doctors and his wife regarding the experiment, he ultimately decides to go through with it. The documentary thus displays his experience through a video diary of almost every day of this 30 day experiment.
Here's a clip of the beginning of the film:
This documentary is an easy to understand persuasive film with a strong message. The message is obvious: Eating fast food everyday will cause major health issues. In a narrative film, the filmmakers manifest their message within the rhetoric of film technique and metaphors in the plot. However, documentary filmmakers, while they do still use the rhetoric of film technique to convey their message, the content of their films are blatantly obvious depictions of their message. In the case of "Super Size Me", Morgan is manifesting his message that "eating fast food everyday will cause major health issues" by engaging himself in an experiment where he eats fast food everyday.
The intended audience of this film are the typical consumers of fast food: middle and lower class urbanites. Morgan thus uses rhetoric that these classes can most identify with in order to be most successful in his persuasion. The film employs the use of visual depictions of printed items such as maps, quotes, documents, pictures, advertisements and charts as his primary source material. In addition, he features clips of his experience in lower/middle class environments such as schools, shopping malls, stores and urban areas.
This film is extremely successful in persuading viewers of its message. Not only are Morgan's sources persuasive, but the fact that he is actively engaged in an experiment to support his message is extremely persuasive. In this way, Morgan is not only showing viewers written proof for his argument, but displays his own experienced proof which is the most valuable and persuasive piece of information.
Show the students "Super Size Me" during a whole class period. Not only is it an excellent example of documentary filmmaking, but its content is very important for students to understand. The entire film may not be able to be screened in one class period, but at least the students will get out enough of the film during an hour.
During the next class period, assign each student a partner to discuss these questions within the partner groups:
1. Based on this film, how would you define a documentary? How is the filmmaking style different from narrative films?
2. What is the message of the film?
3. Is this film effective in displaying its message?
4. What are some techniques that the film uses to show its message?
5. Is it possible that the documentary has a bias within it? How might this effect the filmmaking?
6. Did the film persuade you to think differently about eating at McDonald's?
Once the students seem to have discussed all of the questions, bring the class back together as a group to discuss the answers. Go around the each partner group and have them talk to the class about what they talked about for that question.