With the exception of Michael Moore and Al Gore, most of mainstream audiences tend to disfavor watching documentaries. They will, of course, go out to see the ones about global warming and some will even watch certain docs related to their field of interest. I'd like to put forth a claim that documentaries are just as important as strong narrative films and a vast variety should be watched by everyone.
Putting aside the truth in documentary, there's a great deal we can find ourselves learning if we just pay attention. Subject matter aside, you can watch a documentary about someone on death row, a biographical documentary on Hitler or even the effects of religion on every day life. However, what becomes most interesting are the ways you find yourself studying the people that are being interviewed, and more often than not, these people are not the main subjects of the documentary.
We come across different people in our lives, some normal and mundane, some eccentric and original, but rarely do we have the time to study or get to know them beyond the superficial level. Take a look at a documentary at random, pick a person and just study their responses, their neuroses and then ask questions about why they're saying this or that and what it really means.
The art of the documentary is rich and moving. Sometimes, this carries over into narrative film but with the decline of audiences outside of blockbuster movies, our culture also faces a decline in peering into the lives of less ordinary people and going beneath the social mask.
There are some incredibly important documentaries out there, too many to name infact. Start with subjects that interest you but when you're watching, take a moment to pay attention to what the documentarian and their subjects are saying beneath the surface. When you watch documentaries about people and not just propaganda, it only increases your awareness of the human condition. Rarely do we say what we mean, even when we're caught on camera. In bringing knowledge to ourselves from all aspects of life, it gives us a deeper understanding of why we do and act certain ways.
With the onslaught of reality television programming and subpar dramatic and comedic series, people tend to be adapting to a certain way of life based on this media. Part of the equation is that the creators of these stories limit themselves to one area of study or more than likely, no area of study. This is why we go to movies and find unbelievable characters or situations that are dehumanized. Every story told, documentary or narrative, is the story of a life, of a person. We need understand people and ourselves more and art is the way to do that. The top of that chain, next to superb narrative films, are documentaries.
So, take that chance. Instead of watching a streaming reality show, pick up a documentary and not only will you be rewarded but you might, even find yourself entertained.
Lastly, when people describe entertainment, they mostly mean that they laughed or they were scared or the action film they saw kept them on the edge of their seat. Let's keep in mind that "to entertain" simply means to hold an interest. Even, if at the end, you are saddened or maybe even leave a little depressed, the film or documentary still informed and entertained you and that's the definition of true art.