Confession: I used to hate watching documentaries. People used to ask me if I had seen a certain documentary and I would usually tell them no, I don't like watching documentaries. "But you're a documentary studies major," they would usually say in response. That's when I would explain to them that I'm always picking out the flaws in documentaries and that's why I stopped enjoying watching them. Then, this year, I realized how ridiculous I was being.
One of the best ways to learn is by learning what not to do. It's important to watch documentaries that are really well made in order to gain inspiration, but it's just as important to see what doesn't work so great in films. In order for a doc to be really great, you have to incorporate the good and keep out the bad. You can use some really awesome techniques, but if you also use bad ones it can completely break the entire film.
Sure, I sometimes long for the days when I could absentmindedly watch a film without being hyperaware of where the lighting is coming from, how many cuts are in a specific scene, or why a director made a certain production decision. I think that for a while, I resented the fact that it was hard for me to sit and enjoy a film like most spectators do, so I decided to stop watching them all together. Now I realize though, that I'll never grow as a filmmaker if I don't study and pay attention to what other people do. I try, in life, not to make the same mistake twice. What I've realized now, is that by seeing other people's mistakes, I can avoid making certain ones from the start. I can't watch documentaries like I used to, but I'm finally realizing that's a good thing.