Most students do not enjoy sitting down and listening to a teacher or professor talk about a subject for two hours straight. So why are students willing to sit down and listen to a narrator talk about a subject for two hours straight in the form of a documentary film?

The word “documentary” comes from the Latin word “documentum” which means lesson or proof. They are films dedicated to one subject with the purpose to educate the audience about that subject.

But there is something about watching a documentary film that makes it more entertaining than sitting just sitting in a classroom.

Ken Burns is one of the most renowned documentary filmmakers of all time. He has created masterpieces such as “The Civil War” in 1990, “Baseball” in 1994, and “Mark Twain” in 2002. Burns used exceptional storytelling and amazing visuals to encapsulate audiences around the world and brought documentary films to a whole new level. The only problem with Burns’ documentaries was that they lacked an entertainment aspect.


Since the successes of Michael Moore’s “Farenheit 9/11” and Morgan Spurlock’s “Super Size Me”, both in 2004, documentary filmmakers have learned how to make their films more entertaining for viewers. Not only did they give facts, but in Spurlock’s “Super Size Me”, he spent a month eating McDonald’s for every meal of every day, to show viewers the consequences of fast food. He not only showed the facts, but was then able to back up those facts by showing them “in action”. Again, we reach a turning point for documentary films.


In 2007, ESPN was also able to change the game of documentaries with their “30 for 30” documentaries. ESPN’s 30th year anniversary was coming up, so Bill Simmons, a columnist for, came up with the idea to make 30 documentaries about events that took place within that 30 year time frame. The idea took off, and thus “30 for 30” was created.


It started as a small idea, but with its success, there are still “30 for 30” documentaries being created today. ESPN revolutionized sports documentaries in this way and sports fans could not be any happier.

Which brings me back to the point about why documentaries are so much more popular than sitting through a lecture. When someone turns on a documentary, he or she chose what subject to learn about that day. More often than not, that subject is of interest to the viewer. If someone is interested in the Civil War that person can put on Ken Burns’ “Civil War”, sit back, relax and learn about this topic that interests him or her.

Another reason why I think documentaries are so much more popular is because there is no pressure on the viewer to remember the information. There is no test after watching a documentary. It is about the pure will to learn about a certain subject.

Documentaries have an interesting history and a very promising future. Ken Burns was able to set a strong foundation for other directors who made documentaries more entertaining for viewers. And who knows? Maybe someday there will be a documentary on the history and future of documentaries!