If a movie had a bad trailer would anyone even watch it? Film trailers are what inspire someone to press play, so obviously they’re important. Did you know that there’s even an awards show for the best trailers of the year? So before we plunged into making our very own trailer using the footage we gathered in Liberia earlier this year, we took a second to examine the very best documentary sneak peeks. What did we find? Take a peek for yourself at our ten favorite trailers, in no particular order, here:
The Tillman Story: I don’t care about football. In fact, I probably couldn't care less about football. So when the use of dramatic music and fast-cut editing of a trailer combine to make me care about any movie that involves football… well let’s just say I’m impressed. In just under two minutes, an elaborate web of deceit is spun around a single player and his army career; question after question is begged of the audience. And even as the fast paced editing and unanswered questions create an enticing mystery, clips of interviews with Tillman’s family and friends show the softer side of the documentary – the sadness, heartbreak, and anger of a family who have lost their son.
The Human Experience: From the very first shot, it seems this trailer is for a spy thriller. As it turns out, that’s exactly what it is – a spy movie starring YOU. You are an integral part of this story, which makes it an extremely appealing one to watch. And at first it seems that your story is a dark one; powerful images of war and terrorism are cut together, showing the sad truth of what it can mean to be human. I say “can” because, just when it seems that the world is a horrible place, the filmmakers remind us that the world is also filled with beauty and love and people who fight against all the bad stuff. The human experience is both light and dark, happy and sad, hopeful and hopeless, a truth that the Human Experience trailer promises that the documentary will explore.
Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap: There may be people who don’t take rap very seriously. Perhaps you think of it as something to bob your head to or shake your head at, but not much more. But from the first second of this trailer, rap is presented as something that should be taken seriously, both as an art form and as a cultural movement. Then, once they’re sure you’re really listening, the editors let you see the fun side of this film as well – rappers spitting out beats, joking around, and telling stories. This doc promises to be a blend of eye-opening truths about a serious industry and just plain fun.
Bully: Unlike rap, bullying is an issue that an increasing amount of people take very seriously. So the upbeat, even cheerful, music that kicks off this trailer is just a little bit jarring, especially paired with tales of violence and suicide – but it works. Really well. Seeing the families that have been devastated by the bullying of their children is extremely powerful; even more so when footage of an administrator calling one child’s tormentors “good as gold” is added to the mix. You just get fed up. Then you see people who are even more fed up and have even more of a reason to be upset taking a stand and making a difference. The trailer suggests that just by virtue of watching this film you will be making a difference, and that’s pretty darn inspiring.
The Cove: With an opening line of “I do want to say… we tried to do the story legally,” how could you not be immediately hooked? This doesn't just seem like a movie about dolphins and animal cruelty – it seems like a spy thriller that just happens to have dolphins involved in the plot. Clearly that’s not the case; the focus of the movie is indeed on dolphin hunting. But the trailer appeals to a much wider audience by showing that this story of animal rights and activism will be portrayed in a new and interesting way. This trailer combines the usual emotional appeal of an activism documentary with the entertainment appeal of a classic action flick for a quite enticing result.
Catfish: With the TV show Catfish a huge hit, many people know the story behind this documentary, so the trick is not giving away the ending in the trailer. Which is exactly why this trailer is so good; from the start, it seems like a love story. Until it doesn't. Suddenly the happy music turns somber, long shots morph into quick cuts and you have no idea what’s going on. It makes you want to know the ending so badly – what changed this love story into something much darker? Better watch to find out…
Waiting for Superman: The American school system is undeniably important and undeniably problematic. It is also a huge structure that is very difficult to comprehensively analyze. With its facts and firsthand accounts, it seems that this movie can help. Plus it hits you right in the guts with its emotional appeal: these are kids who want a good education, who want to learn. And America is failing them. The trailer skillfully shows that this is a compelling story that affects all Americans.
How to Survive a Plague: If I had to sum this trailer up in one word, it would have to be: POWERFUL. From the declaration that, “Yes, the AIDS epidemic is in fact a plague,” to the statement by Peter Staley that “I’m going to die from this,” to the seemingly heartless politicians, this trailer sends goosebumps up my spine because, if nothing else, it is extremely, well, powerful.
The Invisible War: Before any tales of horror from a film that is sure to be full of them, we hear the dreams of female soldiers. Then, a few short moments later, we watch as those dreams are crushed. While it would be all too easy to frame the destruction of those dreams as an issue entirely within the army, The Invisible War avoids that pitfall by outlining exactly how the lack of safety for our soldiers is a matter of safety for all Americans. And, from what the trailer tells us, there doesn't seem to be any resolution. The justice system appears totally flawed, Congressmen declare that they are being lied to, and women are horribly traumatized. What’s being done to help victims of rape in the army? Hopefully the full documentary lets us know.