Documentaries write themselves, right? While there’s a notion that documentaries simply reflect reality, you don’t have to look too far to find examples that shatter this idea. Directing is storytelling, editing is storytelling… when images are contrasted on screen… at some level, storytelling is involved.

Michael Moore documentaries present a vantage point and are famously biased for their barbed political messaging. While there’s typically an inherent truth, these truths as we know from modern day public relations campaigns from companies like Cambridge Analytica are for sale and open to interpretation.

There are documentarians who aim to capture an unbiased reality, a fly-on-the-wall examination of a situation… yet as objective as you may be or attempt to be, each little decision adds up.

This is why writing is so important in the process of documentary. You’ve got to assemble a story, a narrative flow, objectives, checkpoints and find a pattern. Interviews need to be transcribed, the best bits need to be harvested and spliced into your documentary.

Documentaries may want to appear as a natural stream of consciousness or a flow of unfiltered documentation, but the best ones are crafted and reworked as if planned. Yet there are instances where some filmmakers stumble onto new stories in the process of uncovering their intended investigation as in the insanely brilliant Cold Case Hammarskjöld.

“Cold Case Hammarskjöld is an investigative documentary from writer-director Mads Brügger. The Danish director teams up with Swedish private investigator Göran Bjorkdahl in trying to solve the decades-old mystery of Dag Hammarskjöld. The Secretary-General of the United Nations was killed when his plane went down near the town of Ndola in a mining region of the Congo in 1961. While an official inquest was made into the untimely passing of the influential political figure, which captured the world’s attention, much suspicion lingered around the nature of the plane crash. “ ~ Spling Movies

This documentary is a hybrid of fiction and fact, a great example of documentary writing and rewriting, and demonstrates just how creative you can be in the process. Mads Brügger deserves so much more credit and coverage for a decades-old mystery that resurfaced. The black-and-white footage and foreigner in Africa nature of the film may make it seem like a rehash of history… an irrelevant film and a pointless investigation.

However, this can’t be farther from the truth as the interpid filmmaker turns it into one of the most fascinating conspiratorial documentaries possibly ever. Doing enough to rip the roof off of a mystery around Dag Hammarskjöld being shot down near Ndola, Cold Case Hammarskjöld leads further down the rabbit hole into the stuff of paperback spy thrillers with enough evidence and witnesses to suggest something rotten and even true at its core.

This “gripping, thought-provoking, provocative and altogether unsettling” documentary is now available to stream online…

Watch it now, free.

Documentary Screenwriting: Cold Case Hammarskjöld