It’s no secret that sequels, reboots and franchises are king at the box office. Currently well over half of the top ten films of 2015 could be described accordingly, and for many film-lovers, this proliferation signals bad news for smaller filmmakers or anyone wanting to foster new ideas, creativity and imagination. Studios need to rely on “sure things” – less risk, more proven properties –dependable revenue. And at least, say some, studio sequels and reboots get butts in seats. That is, they account for such a high percentage of tickets sold that they make it possible for more exhibitors to stay afloat, which is good for the industry overall.
What I wonder, then, is this — if we can accept that studios need to fund less risky properties and that this doesn’t have to necessarily be only a bad things, can we not use this power for even further good? Why not make more documentary sequels?
Documentary sequels aren’t completely unheard of. Though few and far between, they’re at least typically quite good (Decline of Western Civilization 1 & 2) and even socially impactful (e.g. Paradise Lost series).
In my mind, there are two types of documentary sequel.
Type one is what I’d call story continuation, meaning there was simply more to say that necessitated a follow-up. Think movies like Gasland Part 2, Josh Fox’s 2013 follow-up to 2010 fracking doc and Oscar-nominee Gasland, or Revenge of the Electric Car, the hopeful update to the far more widely seen doc Who Killed the Electric Car.
Type two is what I’d call the X treatment, meaning it’s not a story continuation per se, but rather a movie that explores a new topic or subject in a manner reminiscent of another film. Again, think Decline of Western Civilization Part 2, in which Penelope Spheeris explores the LA heavy metal scene with the keen observational eye and knack for humor and humanity that she did in her groundbreaking first film, which pointed the camera at a burgeoning Hollywood punk scene. Though he might not consider these to be part one and part two, another example might be Kirby Dick’s moving, policy-influencing films about rape in the military and rape on college campuses, The Invisible War and The Hunting Ground, respectively.
I think both types of documentary sequels could stand to be better represented in cinemas today. I got to thinking about what documentary sequels I’d like to see, of both varieties, and here’s what I came up with.
Type One: Story Continuation
The Overnighters 2: The Reckoning
The first film that jumps out at me is The Overnighters. The narrative in this film ends somewhere very different from where it begins, and where it lands is in a place rife for exploration in a whole new way. I began to crave a sequel here the instant credits rolled. It’d be asking a lot of the subject, who is likely already living a life that tests the limits of his own faith on a regular basis, but The Overnighters was so expertly edited and the access so astounding that I have no doubt a follow-up would be just as successful, so long as it were also made by Jesse Moss.
The Even More Inconvenient Truth
If you look at the top ten highest grossing films of all time (domestically), nine of them are part of a franchise. So, wouldn’t it be reasonable to ask for a sequel for the tenth highest grossing documentary film of all time – An Inconvenient Truth?
This 2006 Academy award winning doc about climate change was a much needed call to action. Almost ten years later, the topic is on the forefront of everyone’s minds, be they the media, your parents, or our 2016 presidential candidates. Since with every passing day it becomes more and more critical to use the best, newest and smartest tools in our collective arsenal to reverse climate change, I think it would be great to get an update to this story. What has changed since then? Where are we now? I’d love to watch a sequel that goes into if and how The Inconvenient Truth influenced policy, and that highlights the state of things now — new efforts and discoveries and the like. And if they need a star and Al Gore is too busy, no problem – just ask the Pope.
Billy the Kid Part 2: All Grown Up
I loved the 2007 documentary about a week in the life of a 15 year old boy who marched to the beat of his own drummer. Few documentary subjects have stuck with me like this odd young man. I’m dying to know what his life is like now. Forget just one sequel, why can’t we check back in on this kid every seven years, ala Up series?
Type Two: The X Treatment
Tori Amos: A Film About Life, Death, and Cornflakes
One of my favorite films of last year was a documentary called Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets. I knew next to nothing about the band going in, and have no personal connection to the town they’re from. And yet, there I was, less than halfway into the movie on my first watch, so jazzed about what I was seeing that it was all I could do not to stand up in a crowded theater and do a fist pump. There’s an energy in that doc that I find very hard to explain. It feels at once multi-layered, authentic, weird, truthful, funny, colorful, and electric. I love it.
I’d like Tori Amos to get the Pulp treatment.
I’ve seen [REDACTED VERY LARGE NUMBER] Tori Amos shows over the last 20 years. Going to her shows is the only thing I love as much as seeing movies and going to film festivals. The fact that a documentary has never been made about the 50-100 people globally who follow her tours is nothing short of a crime committed against the documentary-loving public, who are being deprived of such a richly fascinating topic. I’ve thought a lot about it over the years, and the only way a film of this kind would work is if it were not merely about traveling fans but rather about Tori; her legacy, her history and her own approach to her career and her fans.
The approach director Florian Habicht takes in the Pulp movie is perfect. We learn about Pulp by learning about the community around Pulp – fans young and old, townspeople from the city that launched them, band members, and of course Jarvis Cocker himself. I propose that Florian jump in a van with my friends during the next tour. Florian, if you’re reading this, get in touch. I have some funding ideas.
This is obvious, but c’mon. Of course the Big Apple needs the Los Angeles Plays Itself treatment! The idea of a city being so integral to a film that it “is almost a character” has been so played out that it’s actually used for laughs several times in David Wain’s 2014 satire They Came Together. So, I won’t repeat the adage. However, though Los Angeles is perfectly deserving of the magnifying glass in Thom Andersen’s 2003 beloved and once-rare essay, my current hometown of NYC is equally ready for its closeup.
The Unspoken Trade
I propose that the topic of sex abuse in the entertainment industry get the Kirby Dick treatment. Kirby Dick has directed two of the best and most impactful documentaries of the past five years – The Invisible War which exposed the epidemic of rape in the military, and The Hunting Ground, which explored the culture of rape and sexual assault on college campuses across the country.
In light of the myriad Bill Cosby allegations and Jacki Fuchs from the Runaways coming forward recently to speak about a horrific rape she went through, I think the time is right for a broad look at rape and sexual assault in the entertainment industry – and not just famous names, but also some of the smaller operations and schemes that undoubtedly operate under the radar, luring in young people with the promise of fame.
Yes, Amy Berg just made An Open Secret, and it is a great film about five specific actors and their decision to bravely speak about what happened to them. I think there’s a lot of room for more on this topic. I think it’s necessary, and I think Kirby Dick is the perfect person to do it – not just because of the impact his past films have had on public perception and actual policy change – specifically because he has experience speaking out against things he finds unacceptable in Hollywood.
What did I miss? What documentary sequels do you wish were in the works?