Thursday Thoughts: My Love for Documentaries & Pondering about What Draws Us to Art, Part 1 of 2

Thursday Thoughts: My Love for Documentaries & Pondering about What Draws Us to Art, Part 1 of 2

For those who are movie fans and read my weekly #MovieMondays review series, you may appreciate aspects of today’s blog which is another pop culture-infused entry. Today’s #ThursdayThoughts blog touches upon my love of documentaries but it’s really about something else that will expand to next week’s Thursday blog, too. More on that soon.   I can’t be 100% certain of the first documentary I ever watched. However, I do remember in my junior or senior year of high school, finding a recent documentary airing on Cinemax, THE TIMES OF HARVEY MILK (1984). As a young girl in her mid-teens living across the U.S. on the East Coast, I had never heard of him, so I knew nothing about the man, but the promo intrigued me, so I watched. It opened my mind and heart to a fascinating man and a community about which I knew little.


HarveyMilkFor those who aren’t familiar with Harvey Milk or who didn’t see the more mainstream telling of his story through the feature film MILK (2008)  starring Sean Penn in an Academy award-nominated performance, Milk was both a political activist and symbol for an increasingly frustrated community that did not feel like they were being heard or represented in 1970s San Francisco. The documentary does a wonderful job in painting his evolution as a community leader, and eventually, the first openly gay elected official in the state, and a vocal political and social figure during a time when speaking up was not typically rewarded and the proof of that is in the way he was treated by those outside the gay community. Not to be a spoiler and ruin either film’s with you, but if you’re unfamiliar with the history, Milk was assassinated and the story behind that is even more fascinating when you learn why and by whom.


But that’s not what this blog is about, it is about how that film captured my attention and attracted me to what was for me a new genre of film that I had never explored at length: the documentary and the power of its storytelling.   Going forward, I began looking for more documentaries to watch either on the pay channels or on our local PBS affiliate. Though the documentary genre has been around for the same amount of time as feature films, it wasn’t until the late 80s that a few in particular garnered major attention that helped propel future documentaries into the spotlight. Namely, ROGER & ME (1989) and HOOP DREAMS (1994). I saw the former but five or six years later after its release, but I will admit to never having seen the critically acclaimed high school basketball documentary, but then again, I don’t like basketball except for gambling on March Madness, so that may be why. I attribute a lot of the overall increase in popularity of documentaries to the success of filmmaker Michael Moore at the box office. Love him or hate him, it cannot be denied the footprint he has left in his field and how much he has revolutionized the documentary. I happen to enjoy several of his films, but not all of them. In any genre, even the best directors can’t have a win every time. After all, Mike Nichols did direct HEARTBURN (1986). Ugh. An appropriate title though.


Just like reading habits and music tastes, movie-viewing preferences can change over time. We might get on a fantasy and sci-fi film kick, and then suddenly crave concert films. I don’t know how to explain why I’m in a documentary phase now, but I’ve been there for a while now — like maybe the past 5 or 6 years especially. I think much of it is due to the ease of accessing them now through streaming services like Netflix and It used to be much more difficult to find these films, but this isn’t the case anymore. I think one of the reasons I appreciate documentaries so much is that it depends more on the filmmaker’s vision that perhaps a traditional movie. It’s not just about covering a certain subject matter. For a documentary, the director must determine how to tell the story, what tone to use, whose voices should be featured to help tell that story. In what order do we relay the information and in what context? I’m not saying that traditional films don’t require such decisions, but for a documentary, one wrong decision can completely lose an audience’s investment in the story. No great starring cast, visual effects and original score are going to disguise that.


Is there a particular film genre that you’re currently hooked on? Have you figured out why? I think the books we read, the shows and films were drawn to, the books we read and the music we find ourselves listening to most frequently tells a story about us, and in a way they are a documentary of who we are right now. This person is not necessarily the same person we will be 5 years or 10 years from now but in this moment, they are like an Art Growth Chart noting all our vitals. Remember those charts on the wall where your mom or dad would hold up the measuring tape and reveal how much you’d grown since last Spring? What art fills up your chart right now — music you just have to listen to right now, TV shows you cannot live without, books you can’t put down, films that really speak to you? Art evokes emotions — what do the art choices you make now say about you and who you are today? Ooh, better yet, what did they say about you yesterday?


I feel a little art project coming up and I might have to share it with you next week. More on that in part two, next Thursday. As always, thanks for pondering with me and for reading. ~ Chris K.


P.S. If I had to assemble a list of my favorite documentaries ever, here is the baker’s dozen that came to mind first, in no particular order — listed chronologically. I hope you’ll check out some of them if you haven’t already. There are some real gems in here.




ROGER & ME (1989)


9/11 (2002)




HIS WAY (2011)

AMY (2015)


ICARUS (2017)





  1. Thursday Thoughts: Back with You Next Week | Chris Kuhn Author - […] to tackle part 2 of a little topic I introduced last week, Pondering about What Draws Us to Art.…
  2. Thursday Thoughts: Pondering What Draws Us to Art and an Invitation to Chart with Me, Part 2 | Chris Kuhn Author - […] about why I was drawn to watching documentaries so much but it grew into a much larger topic.  Click here…

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