From Making A Murder To Serial: The Enduring Power Of Documentaries

​With the conviction overturned of Making A Murderer's Brendan Dassey, we look into the enduring power documentaries have on the world​

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Documentarist Morgan Spurlock once said: 'There's real power in a documentary.'

In an industry inundated with Hollywood blockbuster franchises such as anything by Marvel and the never ending Star Wars series, viewers are increasingly choosing fact over fiction. 

The reason? Documentaries inspire change. 

With the ability to educate and inspire, documentaries portray the often intricate and morally-compelling issues that connect humans, transforming viewers into agents of change. 

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For a viewer of some of the more recent documentaries, the most compulsive part has been the idea that the storybook isn't closed. 

Whether it's an investigation into climate change or the murder case of a teenager – conclusions haven't been finite. 

An audience's agency has never been so potent - we've been able to fight for what we feel is justice - beit with a change.org petition, sharing links on social media or protests in the street - and in doing so, we've become part of the story. 

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Last week, this became all the more striking with the news that Brendan Dassey (from the successful Netflix original documentary series Making A Murderer) was to have his homicide conviction overturned.

A judge stated the circumstances that led to his conviction of the homicide of Teresa Halbach in 2007 violated his Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

Netflix released the documentary series last December, by January it had already received more than 275,000 signatures from viewers to a petition asking President Obama to overturn the convicted's sentencing.

Brendan Dassey's lawyer, Steven Drizin admits he was shocked with the series impact on viewers: "The fact that so many people are outraged by what they saw gives me hope that this could be a real opportunity for change.'

The creators of the hit program, Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos released a statement expressing their joy at hearing the 26-year-old would have his conviction overturned. 

'Today was a major development for the subjects in our story and this recent news shows the criminal justice system at work.

'As we have done for the past 10 years, we will continue to document the story as it unfolds, and follow it wherever it may lead,' the continued.

Over the years, time and time again documentaries have proven their power to alter the course of action for society and its main characters .

We've rounded up some of our favourite documentaries that have inspired social change: 

  • In 2004, Super Size Me ignited a public nutrition debate across the world, inspiring celebrity influencers such as Jamie Oliver and Michelle Obama to fight for truth in the food industry and healthy options. As a result, it took just six weeks after the film's release for, McDonald to announce it would no longer sell the infamous 'Super Size' option on its menus.
  • In 2014, filmmaker Alex Gibney's documentary The Armstrong Lie explored Lance Armstrong's 2009 Tour de France comeback and subsequent admission he had used performance-enhancing drugs to achieve his wins, resulting in the athlete being stripped of all his Tour de France titles.
  • In 1988, Errol Morris's documentary The Thin Blue Line – about an innocent man on death row resulted in the exoneration and release of Randall Adams, who had been previously imprisoned for murdering a Texas police officer. 
  • In 1996, Ken Loach released his film Cathy Come Home which told the story of a woman who loses her home and family as a result of the strict British welfare system. It was viewed by a quarter of the British population, prompted a crash at the BBC's switchboard and led to the creation of the homeless charity, Shelter. 
  • In 1967, filmmaker Frederick Wiseman's Titicu Follies looked into the inhumane conditions subjected to mentally ill patients at Bridgewater State Hospital which led to the subsequent closure of the hospital and in heightened awareness of the state of mental health facilities across the world which undoubtedly saved the lives of thousands of mentally ill patients. 
  • The 2002 documentary film Bowling for Columbine created by Michael Moore looked into gun violence and the the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. As a result, U.S supermarket chain Kmart stopped selling handgun ammunition. 
  • Earlier this year, Adnan Syed – the student serving life for the 1999 murder of his 18-year-old ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee – was granted a retrial following the international successful crime podcast series Serial from broadcaster Sarah Koenig. 

If you miss binge-watching Making A Murderer, here are the 12 new documentaries you'll be watching this autumn. 

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