Documentaries excel when they don’t hold back, when they give an “unmitigated” perspective on someone’s life, as director Garrett Bradley puts it. That’s exactly how she managed to make an incredibly specific story relate on such a broad level, by telling a story in its entirety. Because, when you get below the surface-level details, great documentaries remind us that our stories aren’t as unique as we may have thought in the first place.
In his TED talk on the value of creative sabbaticals, graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister describes a project he orchestrated in which hundreds of volunteers wrote, in coins, “Obsessions make my life worse and my work better.” It’s a distillation of a pervasive idea: that life and creativity are a zero-sum game. Devotion to one destroys the other. But there also comes a point when obsession with art begins to destroy the art itself. It manifests as stagnation. Or worse ⎯ burnout. Which is the whole point of Sagmeister’s talk: Sometimes you need to step away.