Share your favourite documentary films/series here
March 22, 2013 5:36 PM   Subscribe

I watched Nina Conti: A Ventriloquist's Story - Her Master's Voice yesterday and it was so amazing I forgot how long it's been since I saw a really good documentary. I've watched everything Herzog has done in the past 6-7, Being Elmo, Carl Sagan's Cosmos, the 7 Up films and Jarvis Cocker's Outsider Art series. What are your favourite documentary films/series? (except nature docs? I can never get into them). I'm happy to watch films from any english-speaking country - but will also give it a go if they're subtitled.
posted by abbagoochie to Media & Arts (36 answers total) 110 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Rivers and Tides, about artist Andy Goldsworthy
posted by jquinby at 5:49 PM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, also: Into Great Silence, a first-ever look into a Carthusian monastery. One camera, no extra lights. It's very slowly paced, but there are parts that are absolutely sublime. The filmmaker waited for 16 years to get permission to make it.
posted by jquinby at 5:51 PM on March 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

The Cruise, profiling Timothy 'Speed' Levich
F for Fake
posted by carsonb at 5:51 PM on March 22, 2013

Jiro Dreams of Sushi.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 5:55 PM on March 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Some of my favorites:

The Times of Harvey Milk
The Weather Underground
Sir! No Sir!
Man on Wire (surprisingly moving.)
Capturing the Friedmans
Grey Gardens (original version!)
Paris is Burning
Harlan County, USA
The Gleaners and I
Anvil! The Story of Anvil

Director-wise, I like Louis Malle. If you're into Herzog, check out his friend Errol Morris who has never gone wrong as far as I've seen. Herzog bet him he'd never make his first documentary, Gates of Heaven. When Morris did make it, Herzog ate his shoe, and Les Blank made a documentary about that. I love all the Les Blank movies too.
posted by latkes at 6:02 PM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

All You Need Is Love - From the UK, first shown in 1977 about the history of American music.
National Film Board of Canada - You can browse through here and look at hundreds of documentaries. Two of my favourites are The Things I Cannot Change about a poor family in Montreal in the 60's, and Flamenco At 5:15 (Oscar winner).
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 6:17 PM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Bill Cunningham New York
posted by Uncle at 6:20 PM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Really good AND all available on Netflix Instant:

The Queen of Versailles
The Art of the Steal
Confessions of a Superhero
Woody Allen: A Documentary
Winnebago Man
I Like Killing Flies
Eames: the Architect and the Painter
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work
Reel Injun
Chely Wright: Wish Me Away
Spalding Gray: And Everything is Going Fine
(about Isaac Mizrahi)

Also really good, and available online via Swiss television:
David Wants to Fly
posted by overeducated_alligator at 6:25 PM on March 22, 2013 [7 favorites]

I love Helvetica but this is a known unpopular opinion.
posted by clavicle at 6:40 PM on March 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

Oh and Urbanized
posted by Uncle at 6:43 PM on March 22, 2013

Best answer: King of Kong

The Imposter
posted by everydayanewday at 7:12 PM on March 22, 2013

Touching the Void
First Position

But especially Marwencol!
posted by mskyle at 7:44 PM on March 22, 2013

Pawel Pawlikowsky's Serbian Epics. I think this is just about the best documentary I've ever seen. It was made for a book review programme, Bookmark, on BBC2 in 1992 during the Siege of Sarajevo. Ostensibly it was about Serbian Literature, especially the poetry of Radovan Karadjic. It can be watched here.

My second favourite is Mbira Music: Spirit of the People, directed by Simon Bright. First google results show copies held by libraries in the States.

Both these films are how art and politics affect each other.

Oh there's that really nice documentary about a one-room country school in France. Can't remember the name of it - a teacher taking loco-parentis very seriously!
posted by glasseyes at 8:00 PM on March 22, 2013

Best answer: Waste Land (2010): About the catadores (garbage pickers/recyclers) who work in the giant landfill on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro and their collaboration with artist Vik Muniz to create works of art from recycled materials. It's beautiful, moving film, and a fascinating story.

Searching for Sugar Man (2012) -- About a mysterious American folk singer from the 1960s who never achieved great fame in the US but whose songs became overwhelmingly popular with the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa. The movie details the search by two South African fans for the real musician behind the music. It's best if you don't know much about it going in, because the movie creates such wonderful suspense. Won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film this year.

Born Into Brothels (2004) -- A film about collaboration between the filmmakers and the children of sex workers in Calcutta. The children are given cameras and taught how to use them, and they become chroniclers of their own community rather than just subjects.

Project Nim (2011) -- About Nim Chimpsky, a research chimpanzee who was raised experimentally as part of a family in New York City. The film details what happens to Nim after the experiment is terminated by the original researcher. Heartbreaking.

Stories We Tell
(2012) -- A documentary by actor/director Sarah Polley (Away From Her, Take This Waltz) about her late mother and some of her family secrets.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:32 PM on March 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

Just watched Nitro Circus.
In the past 24 hours.
posted by empty vessel at 9:24 PM on March 22, 2013

The World at War.
posted by mazola at 10:45 PM on March 22, 2013

Best answer: In The Realms of the Unreal, about outsider artist Henry Darger, directed by Jessica Yu, is involving and gorgeous.

This Film Is Not Yet Rated is educational (it explains the MPAA rating system!) and hilarious... also pretty NSFW.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 12:06 AM on March 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

-Children Underground - Follows abandoned children in Romania who live in the street and subway system. has a series of online documentaries called Toxic. My favorite so far has been Toxic:Garbage Island and Toxic:Alberta

-Qatsi Trilogy

-My favorite of all time: Surfwise.
posted by tenaciousmoon at 8:44 AM on March 23, 2013

Forgot Crumb
posted by JABof72 at 9:50 AM on March 23, 2013

My suggestions are all sports related:

Into the Wind
When We Were Kings
The Endless Summer
posted by jmugrapler at 10:36 AM on March 23, 2013

Oh there's that really nice documentary about a one-room country school in France. Can't remember the name of it - a teacher taking loco-parentis very seriously!

One of my favorites - To Be and To Have (Etre et Avoir)
posted by la petite marie at 11:33 AM on March 23, 2013

Seconding The Civil War, The Fog of War, King of Kong, Restrepo, and The Cruise, roughly in that order. Baraka is visually engrossing (and worth seeing, depending on your bent), but I'd hesitate to call it a documentary.

I'd also add:
Exit Through the Gift Shop
SICK: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan
posted by dephlogisticated at 12:12 PM on March 23, 2013

Also, not in wide release but amazing if you want to buy the DVD: Scrappers.
posted by mai at 2:05 PM on March 23, 2013

Oh, and Mad Hot Ballroom.
posted by mai at 2:06 PM on March 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I haven't seen anyone mention Some Kind of Monster, theoretically about the making of Metallica's St. Anger album, but really about that one time at band camp when they almost broke up. It's fascinating to me that being in a rock band is ultimately a job. There's a scene (in the extras, I think) where Lars complains that no one told him it was Hawaiian shirt day at the office that's funny and heartbreaking in equal measure.

Also, Kings of Pastry is a fascinating look at a life-changing pastry competition (really!). Winners receive the "Meilleur Ouvrier de France" award, official recognition that they are one of the best pastry chefs in France. Years of preparation come down to three days of cooking, and the suspense is killer.
posted by deliriouscool at 4:43 AM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Paris Is Burning
Small Town Gay Bar
Prodigal Sons
This Is What Love In Action Looks Like
Bear Nation

Jesus Camp
Inside Deep Throat
Between the Folds
Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel
Give Me the Banjo
A Matter of Taste
El Bulli: Cooking In Progress

Oh, why yes, I am a gay man who spends way too much time thinking about food. How did you know?! In seriousness, if you're not looking to get gay culture overload, I'd start after the line break.
posted by conradjones at 5:44 PM on March 24, 2013

My Kid Could Paint That was really, really good.
posted by bq at 5:52 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

One not mentioned, and my favorite film-related docu ever, is George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey. An exquisite look at a defining presence in film, whose life, and ouvre, was changed by WWII (he is also famous for having taken some of the only color footage of D-Day). It's the only documentary I've ever bought on DVD.

Another good movie-related docu: Visions of Light, about cinematographers and DPs. Absolutely amazing.
posted by emcat8 at 7:10 PM on March 24, 2013

posted by amodelcitizen at 1:50 AM on March 26, 2013

This is Modern Art and its sequel series This is Civilization by Matthew Collings, intelligent, accessible and entertaining primers on modern art and art in general.

The Genius of Photography does the same for photography but in a slightly more austere BBC way.
posted by brilliantmistake at 2:55 PM on March 26, 2013

Silverlake Life: The View From Here. Magnificent and terrible and heartbreaking.
posted by scrump at 12:06 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

-The Endurance :P
-The Journey To Palomar!
posted by kliuless at 11:42 AM on March 15, 2014

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