Family Secrets on Film
September 21, 2012 8:42 AM   Subscribe

Documentaries about ordinary people, their secrets and inner lives.

Yesterday I watched Phyllis and Harold. This documentary kind of reminded me of 51 Birch Street. I enjoyed both. What are some more documentaries about ordianry people that delve into the personal? These two documentaries were about marriage, which were largely unhappy. I'm interested in marriage and romantic relationships. I'm also interested in the parent-child relationship, family secrets, family in general, complicated relationships, wonderful relationships, love stories, etc..

posted by Fairchild to Media & Arts (36 answers total) 105 users marked this as a favorite
Despicable Dick and Righteous Richard - a documentary about a man trying to make amends to his family for his past behaviour.
posted by essexjan at 8:53 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

They're brief by design, but the contributions to StoryCorps are often deeply personal.
posted by jquinby at 9:12 AM on September 21, 2012

The Bodybuilder and I.

Estranged son filmmaker re-encounters his father, who is big on geriatric bodybuilding.
posted by Capt. Renault at 9:15 AM on September 21, 2012

Sound and Fury: two families, several members of whom are deaf, decide whether to get cochlear implants for their deaf children. This was a nice window into deaf culture for me.
posted by Currer Belfry at 9:21 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

You might enjoy Lovable. Alan Zweig is a curmudgeonly loner who decides he wants to get married and have kids. He asks a number of women for advice and perspective.

A lot like crossing Marc Maron with Harvey Pekar. Pretty damn good, I think.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:21 AM on September 21, 2012

Sherman's March. Guy somewhat awkwardly and ostensibly surreptitiously finds and talks to the women of past failed relationships.
posted by cmoj at 9:23 AM on September 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

Certainly the entire Up series is about ordinary people.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:30 AM on September 21, 2012 [6 favorites]

I can't recommend the PBS documentary series "The Farmer's Wife" highly enough. It's intimate and difficult and honest and may be the best depiction of a marriage from the inside that I've ever seen.
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:30 AM on September 21, 2012 [7 favorites]

The Woodmans - fantastic in exploring what it's like to be both an artist and a parent of an even better artist who squanders her potential
Marwencol - a man recovering from an attack creates worlds that represent the love and relationships he dreams of
Jiro Dreams of Sushi - ostensibly about an unassuming sushi master but really about fathers, sons, obligations and expectations
Life in a Day - glimpses from youtube culled from around the world - some really intimate family moments in the extended sequences, the rest is kind of dross
posted by sestaaak at 9:37 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was going to say the Up series, as mentioned above. It is really interesting/fascinating/touching. And in addition to the original British series, there are several other countries who started similar series. I have seen a couple of the South African ones. They are listed on the page linked by Ideefixe.

For an extremely heartwrenching and tragic story, there's Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father. (Have lots of tissues handy.)
posted by Glinn at 9:37 AM on September 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

A strong recommendation for Jiro Dreams of Sushi.
posted by jbickers at 9:56 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding Marwencol and the Up series.

If you don't mind a little dramatization/re-enactomg, Carol Morley's Dreams of a Life traces backwards from the mysterious death of a young London woman in her flat and fills out her life story through on-camera interviews with her friends. You might need some tissues handy for this one, too.
posted by vickyverky at 9:59 AM on September 21, 2012

re-enacting. Ack.
posted by vickyverky at 10:00 AM on September 21, 2012

Seconding the Up series - it's a deep experience just to watch that group over time.

Hoop Dreams is probably the best doc about average people I've ever seen - the two boys the documentary follows are completely normal (even in their ambitions), but you come to care intensely about them through the way the film is shot. It's an excellent movie, and I don't even like basketball.
posted by sidi hamet at 10:39 AM on September 21, 2012

Lalee's Kin is excellent and also monumentally depressing.
posted by scratch at 10:45 AM on September 21, 2012

National Film Board of Canada -> Watch documentaries online -> Search by subject -> Familes
posted by Beardman at 10:46 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Salesman is great. Also, N'thing the Up series.
posted by pilibeen at 10:46 AM on September 21, 2012

Rather, families.
posted by Beardman at 10:47 AM on September 21, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for great suggestions so far.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi: Seen it. Loved it.

Dear Zachary: Agreed. It is heart-wrenching and well-done.

Hoop Dreams: Enjoyed this film very much. I saw it on the big screen.

Again, thanks for all of the great suggestions. There are many I have never heard of, which is great. A lot of these are on Netflix, which is also great. Thank you!
posted by Fairchild at 11:06 AM on September 21, 2012

Realms of the Unreal. Totally fucking amazing. I love documentaries!
posted by Brittanie at 11:09 AM on September 21, 2012

Marwencol is pretty amazing, even if the title is difficult to remember.
posted by trinity8-director at 11:18 AM on September 21, 2012

Not exactly about family and relationships, more about the lack of them with a lot of quirky human-ness thrown in, I really enjoyed Bill Cunningham New York. I watched it on Netflix and it's still available there as far as I know.
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 11:25 AM on September 21, 2012

Following Sean is a great look at a boy who grew up in the counter culture and the man he became.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:41 AM on September 21, 2012

Housewife, 49, maybe, though it's a docudrama or fictionalised true story or whatever the word is. Also the film of Portrait of a Marriage, another fictionalised true story thing, about Harold Nicholson and Vita Sackville-West.
posted by paduasoy at 11:42 AM on September 21, 2012

Bigger Faster Stronger is about steroids, but he features his family in the film.
posted by vespabelle at 12:18 PM on September 21, 2012

I loved My Architect, about a son who goes in search of his father.
posted by cartoonella at 12:34 PM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Babies - nearly wordless, but a lot of great parent-child body language that transcends culture
Project Nimh - how the arrogance of a primate professor and the women who orbited him created a series of dysfunctional homes for a chimpanzee
Alamar - not strictly a documentary in that it was cast and very loosely scripted - one of those hybrid movies - but it's a real father and son having adventures and really getting to know each other and is maybe the loveliest thing I've ever seen
posted by sestaaak at 12:48 PM on September 21, 2012

Brother's Keeper is a very poignant story of a death in a family of rural uneducated farming brothers and the very different response to it from the locals and the media.
posted by jessamyn at 12:53 PM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just watched Being Elmo [Netflix], the story of a man who was and remains a very ordinary man, utterly delighted at every turn by the extraordinary course his life took to fulfil childhood dream to be a puppeteer for Sesame Street. The film is deeply rooted in his family.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:01 PM on September 21, 2012

Not a love story or "wonderful relationship," but consider Stevie, from the director of Hoop Dreams.
posted by starman at 4:06 PM on September 21, 2012

An American Family
On Thursday, January 11, 1973, the first broadcast of An American Family changed television history forever. A 12-hour documentary series on PBS, An American Family chronicled seven months in the day-to-day lives of the William C. Loud family of Santa Barbara, California. An audience of ten million viewers watched in fascination the unfolding real-life drama of Bill and Pat Loud, and their five children, Lance, Kevin, Grant, Delilah and Michele.
posted by alms at 7:07 PM on September 21, 2012

The Cruise - Shot in B&W, a poetic, quirky tour guide who loves his New York City.
posted by E3 at 12:12 AM on September 22, 2012

Just re-read your question. The Cruise is more about a man's relationship with himself and his city and the tourists he meets daily. I remember it being very poignant, which is probably why I was a little quick to respond.
posted by E3 at 12:18 AM on September 22, 2012

I haven't seen it yet, but Sarah Polley's family documentary Stories We Tell sounds right up your alley - it just opened at TIFF.

Also, Big River Man (on Netflix) is a great doc about an ordinary man who tries to do extraordinary things, and the toll that takes on the relationship between him and his son.
posted by Gortuk at 6:31 AM on September 22, 2012



The Smith Family

Big River Man

With serious reservations: Crazy Love
(Both the Village Voice and Ebert do a good job of explaining just how problematic this film is. I still found it interesting, but check out the reviews and decide for yourself. I especially liked what Ebert said regarding the film's soundtrack: how it makes the case that they were immersed in a time and place that celebrated "Crazy", ie. pathological, relationships.)

For further suggestions, you might want to watch these with a pause button, and a pad and pen:

Zoe Wanamaker's The 50 Greatest Documentaries

Morgan Spurlock's 50 Documentaries To See Before You Die
posted by marsha56 at 12:29 PM on September 22, 2012

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