Documentary maker notes post-pandemic rise in genre’s popularity


Politics, pop culture, sports, current events, the weather – topics you can expect to be discussed over dinner – can be brought to light in the form of documentaries.

That’s something that writer and director Ahkim Dev aims to do whenever he picks up a camera.

While these topics spawn great conversations, it’s not often they lead to talking about difficult subjects.

But while studying at university in Canberra, he became entranced in one of his classes by a documentary about a conflict in a Yanomami village.

“I studied anthropology at university and one of my first lectures there was this incredible ethnic graphic film called ‘The Axe Fight’… I couldn’t believe the film maker went and lived in the jungle with these people and got this incredible access,” he says.

Later Mr Dev would find out that the creator of the documentary was actually a lecturer at his university.

“I went to a university bar and I met this guy there and I told him about this film I saw and he sought of chuckled at himself and told me that his dad made it and that he’s a professor at ANU (Australian National University),” he says.

He would soon enrol in the lecturer’s course and watch several similar documentaries, but it wasn’t until a few years later that he would create his own.

After graduation he moved to India where is family is originally from, and while traveling throughout the country he found the perfect subject for his first documentary.

“While I was there I bumped into this lost-in-time tribe that hunted with muskets,” he says.

“All the males had long hair and were wearing the teeth and claws of the animals they had killed, so I started to get to know them and after a few years I realized I had the perfect topic for my first documentary.”

He first started filming the tribe as more of a hobby, but it led to him being inspired to write and direct various different documentaries and he’s now been in the industry for more than 20 years.

Nowadays documentaries are some of the most popular forms of media, with Netflix’s Drive to survive series about Formula one drivers turning racing into one of the most popular sports.

In 2020 when Melbourne was in lockdown and the 10 part Michael Jordan documentary The Last Dance came out, people appeared to become massive basketball fans overnight.

Similarly the Tiger King documentary about the underworld of big cat breeding became one of the most talked about shows throughout the pandemic.

There are a number of ways to gather information – whether it be through books, the internet, research papers or directly contacting an expert – but documentaries are fast becoming one of the most common ways to find out about specific topics.

With documentaries being more popular than ever, why does Mr Dev believe that they’re the most effective way to share information?

“I find them the best way to broadcast large amounts of information to the public about specific topics – a documentary, unlike a lot of other sources, has audio and visual [aspects] which allows viewers to intake information about something that had it been a book or an article, they might not normally engage with,” he says.

“At the end of the day, a documentary is supposed to entertain viewers like a movie, so the fact that it not only entertains but informs makes it such an effective story telling device.”

But the thing that he finds most effective about documentaries is that they allow difficult subjects to be brought to light in a more friendly and less confrontational manner.

“My current documentary is on the topic of paedophiles and just how large of a network there is when it comes to online child abuse trading,” he says.

“By making it into a documentary it still delivers that gut punch reality of how serious the topic is, but since it’s on your tv, it suddenly doesn’t feel as confronting.”

The same can be said about other documentaries – suddenly wars don’t seem as daunting, surgeries aren’t as scary and rock climbing doesn’t feel as dangerous.

Mr Dev’s current project, The Children in The pictures, focuses on the grim subject that is child abuse material, and the volume of it that is shared over the dark web as well as what’s being done to stop it.

“When I found out what was occurring, as a documentary maker, I felt the need to share the information with everyone and raise awareness in the best way that I was capable of,” he says.

While it’s unlikely that over dinner you’ll be discussing the trade of material on child abuse, you can always rely on documentaries and filmmakers to bring these difficult, uncomfortable subjects to light.