Age Of Stupid crowdsourced its funding and distribution, which is rightly garnering considerable attention among documentarians. What is less acknowledged is its strategy to change genre.
The filmmaker found on first screenings that the core audience already supports the message. If the film is to make an impact it has to reach the mainstream population, which is rare for a documentary and its traditional distribution. Her solution was to incorporate the science fiction genre, which provides a mainstream marketing hook. This is a good example of how filmmakers can plan to use genre to leverage the mainstream media to affect public engagement outcomes. The broader the communication of an issue, the stronger its rhetoric in the public sphere. As with any independent film such a breakout is not certain, but translating the message into more popular genres at least provides the potential both to harness established distribution to find wider audiences and to expand the crowdsourcing population.
The films of Michael Moore and docudramas like Good Night and Good Luck show the potential exists. Although the efficacy of these films is difficult to measure, success is felt in two ways. First, the public discourse may broaden (or even appear) with the introduction of alternative points of view. Second, any large success will itself be embedded in the genre and be a reference for future product within the genre. Repetition of a message reinforces this shift - the new DNA continually mixes into the evolution of the genre. The shift is slow, but it is progress.
This practice is slowly growing within documentary in the form of recreations and dramatizations. The technique can be pursued more widely where breakout potential is a goal. Filmmakers and audiences will need to review the ethical and practical considerations. In some cases, filmmakers may have to sacrifice journalism standards for a wider audience. But new financing possibilities allow filmmakers to break free from the discipline of traditional documentary funding and distribution, and with it the chance to popularize their message in the mainstream.
For Age Of Stupid, the trailer suggests to potential audiences that the film is foremost a documentary. That might be what holds it back.