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Mondovino (Jonathan Nossiter, 2004)
Whenever a controversial documentary rolls around, we discover just how naïve the attitude of many commentators to documentary is. As part of the process of rebuttal of any politically challenging film, critics from the right tend to peddle a false view of what documentaries are about (and this is just about always done from the right, for despite the prevailing political tendencies of the day, the widely distributed political documentaries are still generally from the left). Documentaries have to be objective, they argue: they have to put both sides of the story. I lost count of the number of times I saw people seriously argue the absurd proposition that Fahrenheit 9/11 wasn’t even properly considered a documentary because it was so focussed on arguing a particular point of view. Which is, of course, rubbish. Documentary makers have every right to argue a particular proposition, rather than somehow presenting an all-encompassing “balanced” or “objective” overview. Indeed, if we argue that they don’t have such a right, we strip documentaries of much of their point. This doesn’t mean that we have to just accept a poorly justified argument without complaint, or that we can’t engage with and criticise the argument that a documentary puts. I’m just saying that we need to move straight into that discussion, rather than attacking documentaries as propaganda simply because the filmmaker argues a single point of view. Does every film really need to be its own rebuttal?