If I say “documentaries,” most readers will probably stop reading and move on to something else.

But for those of us who who are enjoying a “golden age” of documentaries, finding that they are often more engaging and rewarding than other kinds of films (Was there a better suspense-thriller last year than Man on Wire?)… here’s a question:

Which documentaries are the “fairest” of them all?

That is to say: In one corner, we have Michael Moore and Bill Maher, who take their opinions and often carefully “sculpt” information, manipulate interviews, deny screen time to thoughtful experts who disagree with them, sometimes ridicule and degrade those who disagree with them, and stoop to hyperbole and distortion in order to support their views. Then there are other documentary artists who present something in all of its complexity — serving the audience through respect, humility, and a more comprehensive presentation. These good people encourage us to wrestle with hard questions and decide for ourselves what to think.

Which documentaries set the standard, in your opinion?

Reviewing a good example, here’s Ken Morefield at Filmwell:

If one proverbial mark of a good narrative film is three good scenes and no bad ones, one way to gauge a documentary is whether or not it is capable at some point or another of making you sympathetic to multiple perspectives. It’s not that I want to always end in the mushy middle, but if an issue is complex, then I expect my thoughts about it to develop as more information is brought forward.

Really skillful documentaries (or at least ones I like) have a tendency to trust that you are following the arguments and add nuance to them rather than simply hammering home the same point over and over again.

Which movie is he talking about? Check it out.

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