Viewing upwards of 150 films a year, I've lost count of the number of fearless and devastating documentaries I've seen that should have left me fearful and devastated. And since that egregious fraud Michael Moore shuffled on to the big screen in Bowling for Columbine a few years back, audiences in what are known to film distributors as the "key cities" have been even more spoilt for choice, with factual features enjoying what has been called an unexpected golden age of worthy cinematic truth-telling.
By factual features, I mean movies that rely more on news archive and talking heads for their content than on Brad, Angelina and armies of computerised talking bugs. In reality, of course, your average documentary feature is every bit as as predictable as Die Hard 4.0. Like mainstream Hollywood, there hasn't been a single documentary in the current renaissance that has delivered anything other than what was expected from it from the outset. Iraq war? Bad. Gun ownership? Evil. Environment? Going to Hell. Third-world poverty? Your fault, you complacent, capitalist bastard.
The controversy over the US Army's treatment of prisoners in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo is such grist to the mill of your average documentary-maker, one suspects that if Abu Ghraib hadn't existed, it would have been necessary to invent it. Of course, there was no need. As one brief line makes clear in director Errol Morris's recently released Standard Operating Procedure - which concentrates on the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib as seen in the now famous series of photographs taken by military interrogators - the prison had been established and -operating at full capacity for years under Saddam Hussein. Some 30,000 people were tortured and murdered there before the war, although it's difficult to recall any fearless, devastating attempts at investigation resulting in tearful Oscar speeches during that time. Perhaps our much-lauded, tough--minded, -rigorously questioning -documentary-makers were having a bad patch.