Best Documentaries- Big History.
March 5, 2012 9:52 PM   Subscribe

I want to learn about major historical events through documentaries (not miniseries). What are your favorites? (I know, broad).
posted by sandmanwv to Education (22 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
You probably mean more professional documentaries, but I quite enjoyed watch Burke's Connections (free on the web, at least season 2 was)..

Thread across the ocean I liked too.
posted by lundman at 9:57 PM on March 5, 2012

Can you be more explicit about "not miniseries"? I'd recommend Ken Burns' "Civil War", but it's technically a mini-series.
posted by dotgirl at 10:01 PM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Fog of War
posted by Burhanistan at 10:03 PM on March 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Second The Fog of War, it's *excellent.*

Also Victory at Sea, and In the Shadow of the Moon.
posted by autojack at 10:14 PM on March 5, 2012

I recently started a list of docs on social justice:

american outrage
gas land
trouble the water
if a tree falls
Harlan County U.S.A. -Barbara Kopple
American Dream -Barbara Kopple
black power mixtape
Eyes on the Prize
miami model
inside job
Missing (1982)
Life and Debt
posted by uhom at 10:20 PM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

"The Day the Universe Changed" was a later documentary series by Burke, which isn't quite as squirrel-brain as "Connections". Each episode deals with a major event in history which radically changed everything.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:35 PM on March 5, 2012

The Last Lions was AMAZING.
posted by spunweb at 10:36 PM on March 5, 2012

The Weather Underground
posted by mellifluous at 10:39 PM on March 5, 2012

The World At War

Also, I second 'The Fog of War'.
posted by pompomtom at 10:51 PM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you want to get into watching historical documentaries, you need to see The Battle of Algiers, which kind of set the standard for the modern documentary. Might be interesting to watch with The Fog of War, actually.

Spike Lee made a documentary in 1997 about the bombing of the Birmingham 16th Street Church titled 4 Little Girls. It was beautiful and heartbreaking.

And there's The Atomic Cafe, all about the birth of the nuclear age, consisting mostly of archival footage and propaganda from government agencies in the 40s and 50s. Darkly humorous--kind of a whistling-past-the-graveyard feel.

Shoah is another big one--I think it's something like ten hours long, and consists mainly of oral history, testimony of Holocaust survivors, most of whom are probably in the bosom of Abraham by now. It's actually pretty riveting, although I've only seen the first half so far.
posted by tully_monster at 11:23 PM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

(The Battle of Algiers is a great film, but it is a dramatization.)
posted by Burhanistan at 11:30 PM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Brook Lapping produces very good documentaries on "near history" -- that is, events a few decades ago. I really enjoyed (and learned a fair bit from) their recent ones on China (China's Capitalist Revolution) and Iran (Iran and the West), the latter of which was produced by Norma Percy. I haven't seen Percy's The Death of Yugoslavia, which won a stack of awards, but it's meant to be very good too.

They tend to have an 'old school' feel, with lots of archival footage and interviews with major participants in those events, as opposed to the "let's go on a journey!" presenter-focused template that's now common in TV history. The BBC just broadcast a four-parter about Putin and Russia, again produced by Percy.

(They usually end up on YouTube.)
posted by holgate at 11:45 PM on March 5, 2012

For All Mankind
posted by troika at 11:46 PM on March 5, 2012

Civilisation-with-an-s appeared in the blue a few weeks back. Utterly stunning

And yes, a fair percentage of the English speaking world does spell civilisation with an s. Weird but true
posted by mattoxic at 4:19 AM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I thought Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room was great.
posted by SisterHavana at 7:24 AM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Paragraph 175
posted by teekat at 8:28 AM on March 6, 2012

For the Great Depression, America: Lost and Found (but good luck, trying to see it). A few years later the same crew put together an excellent (and more easily acquired) documentary on the 1939 New York World's Fair called The World Of Tomorrow.
posted by Rash at 8:32 AM on March 6, 2012

I'm shamefaced now. I saw The Battle of Algiers in high school, more than a quarter century ago. Whoops. In my defense, it was very documentary-like.

So, in its place I offer up Point of Order, which documented the McCarthy hearings.

Sorry about that!
posted by tully_monster at 9:30 AM on March 6, 2012

Night and Fog.
Here's a bunch of recommendations for documentaries about the Cambodian genocide.
Harlan County USA
Las Madres: The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:32 AM on March 6, 2012

In fairness, The Battle of Algiers tells a more accurate story than many actual documentaries.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:33 AM on March 6, 2012

The Century, Americas time is a really good one for, obviously, American history. The whole thing was uploaded to YouTube by someone awesome. :)
posted by NotSoSiniSter at 9:45 AM on March 6, 2012

Shit my smartphone kungfu is not strong yet...broken link...just Google it. :)
posted by NotSoSiniSter at 9:47 AM on March 6, 2012

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