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August 23, 2006 6:10 PM   Subscribe

Can anyone recommend any good documentaries? Bonus points if its history or culture related.

Recently I've been on a huge documentary kick (most with a leftist bent) but I'm having trouble finding new ones to watch. Here is a short list of the ones I've seen, that way you can hopefully get an idea of what I'm looking for.

The cream of the crop:
BBC - The Power of Nightmares
BBC - Why We Fight
BBC - Century of the Self
The Corporation
The Revolution will not be Televised
Orwell Rolls in his Grave
PBS Frontline - The Dark Side

Good ones but not "meaty" enough:
How William Shatner Changed the World
CBC - Stupidity
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
Supersize Me
BBC - Time (4 part series)

Things I'd rather avoid:
Micheal Moore (seen em all anyways)
Nova (educational but too basic)

A lot of the documentaries I listed changed the way I see the world, and made me go out and research the topics and people presented (for example, after watching The Corporation I read the book Ecology of Commerce mentionned in the film, what an enjoyable read). In a sense I feel like I know and understand a little bit more of our extremely complex world, and I hunger for more knowledge, can anyone help? Oh and I'll accept good book recommendations too!
posted by Vindaloo to Media & Arts (38 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Frederick Wiseman and Errol Morris
posted by pasici at 6:17 PM on August 23, 2006

James Burke's "Connections" series, if you haven't already seen them.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:25 PM on August 23, 2006

I enjoyed Genghis Blues and The Devil's Playground. Not very political but they do highlight interesting sides of people and cultures.
posted by cadge at 6:27 PM on August 23, 2006

Ny husband and I just went through what's available so far of the Up Series (sorry, the link button is not appearing for some reason). The first documentary is called "Seven Up" and is searchable on netflix or imdb. It follows a group of 14 kids from all different socioeconomic levels and interviews them at age seven, age 14, age 21, 28, and so on. I think they're up to 49 now, but it hasn't been released yet. Amazing.
posted by printchick at 6:32 PM on August 23, 2006

A few come to mind:

1)Brother's Keeper

posted by bim at 6:35 PM on August 23, 2006

I just saw An Inconvenient Truth, and it was very good. I think it's still playing in theaters, depending on where you live.
posted by nbSean at 6:36 PM on August 23, 2006

pasici writes "Errol Morris"

If you're interested in history, you might be particularly interested in Morris' The Fog of War.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:36 PM on August 23, 2006

To me, literally every episode of Frontline is awesome. I recently saw their show about the "The Tank Man", the fellow who stood in front of a parade of tanks at Tiananmen Square. Every episode streams from PBS's site for free and each have a great companion website.

I also second (or third) Errol Morris.
posted by rabbitsnake at 6:39 PM on August 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

The Ascent of Man
posted by SPrintF at 6:40 PM on August 23, 2006

anything on including Death of a Nation: The Timor Conspiracy
posted by psychobum at 6:59 PM on August 23, 2006

Strongly seconding Brother's Keeper... And you really can't go wrong with Errol Morris.

Some others that have been touchstones for me: Hoop Dreams, Grey Gardens, Spellbound, Harlan County USA.
posted by cadastral at 7:11 PM on August 23, 2006

Winged Migration - Very beautiful, both in film and in soundtrack.

Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices - Bought this for my dad, and he apparently dug it.

Metallica: Year and A Half Parts 1 & 2 - I'm not even a Metallica fan, but this telling documentary was one of the best I've seen

Spellbound - Maybe not your cuppa tea, but I found this documentary very well done and tense, especially near the end. Some of the kids featured are scary smart.
posted by rinkjustice at 7:28 PM on August 23, 2006

here are some i liked:

- michael apted's "up" series (get them from netflix, they have them all, watch in order)

- wordplay (fun, if you like crosswords)

- straight, no chaser (about thelonious monk, lots of cool rare footage)
posted by sdn at 7:32 PM on August 23, 2006

This question has come up before:
I want to watch some good documentaries.
January 1, 2005 8:12 PM
April 18, 2005 2:09 AM
What tv shows would you recommend for learning about history and evolution of human society ...
June 29, 2006 4:23 PM
There are some other threads too, I think.. Mostly isolated mentions though, probably not specifically on this topic.
posted by Chuckles at 7:53 PM on August 23, 2006

Second James Burke's "Connections" (also II & III), as well as his "The Day the Universe Changed." All are a little educational, but show the link between events in science, politics, religion, commerce, etc.

Another one I enjoyed was Desmond Morris' "The Human Animal."

"The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill" was also very interesting.
posted by Yorrick at 8:02 PM on August 23, 2006

I third the 'up' series - I thought 42 Up was going to be the last, so hope you are right about 49. fascinating!

Weapons of the Spirit is a wonderful documentary about a surprising small town in France that saved thousands of Jews under the noses of the Nazis
posted by judybxxx at 8:03 PM on August 23, 2006

Okay, and now for recommendations..

James Burke's The Day the Universe Changed (other Burke series are worthy, but this is the one). My one line review - Burke proves 1 + 1 = 3, and then he blows your mind.

Also, the NFB documentary Manufacturing Consent.

Don't skip Commanding Heights just because it is pro free market (I haven't finished it, but the parts I've seen were great).

Finally (for now at least), consider CBC's radio program Ideas. Click on podcasts and you can listen to Markets and Society (you will have to do some URL hacking to get at the first couple of episodes, discussed here).
posted by Chuckles at 8:04 PM on August 23, 2006

Another recommendation for Connections, and NOVA too.
posted by Kickstart70 at 8:05 PM on August 23, 2006

I guess I could throw in my posting history on the topic as well.. And please watch The Pleasure of Finding Things Out.
posted by Chuckles at 8:14 PM on August 23, 2006

The Weather Underground
My Architect; a son's journey
I am Cuba (not exactly a documentary but fascinating 1960 Soviet produced propaganda film... slow but worth the trip)
posted by lois1950 at 8:42 PM on August 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

Touch the Sound
posted by bleary at 8:42 PM on August 23, 2006

Blue Vinyl: "People the world over are being poisoned by the byproducts of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) manufacturing, and the owners of the vinyl industry, with malice aforethought, covered up the facts for decades." I haven't seen it yet but had it highly recommended to me.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 9:33 PM on August 23, 2006

Ken Burns' The Civil War
posted by Ø at 2:23 AM on August 24, 2006

Hearts and Minds Oscar winner from 74

Darwin's Nightmare
posted by beccaj at 5:36 AM on August 24, 2006

Kevin Kelly's site has reviews of what you are looking for: True Films

Some of my favorites:
Hearts of Darkness
Devil's Playground
posted by flickroad at 6:13 AM on August 24, 2006

I'd second seeing Harlan County, USA. It made me proud to be Union. Incident at Oglala was a good one and opens up your eyes to AIM's movement in the 70's.
posted by JJ86 at 6:14 AM on August 24, 2006

Grizzly Man is really an exceptional movie, the more I talk about it and think about it the more I like it. It's two movies, really, one about being crazy with grizzlies and one about being a filmmaker.
posted by OmieWise at 6:40 AM on August 24, 2006

Control Room and Fog of War make for a fun double feature.

The White Diamond is another great one by Werner Herzog (of Grizzly Man fame).
posted by 912 Greens at 7:27 AM on August 24, 2006

HBO's Baghdad ER is very good.

(49 Up was made in 2005, but it hasn't been released in the US yet.)
posted by kirkaracha at 7:46 AM on August 24, 2006

If you liked "Supersize Me", then you'll probably also like Morgan Spurlocks documentary series 30 Days.
posted by JoddEHaa at 7:46 AM on August 24, 2006

The Boy Whose Skin Fell Off.

The title makes it sounds ludicrously overplayed, but it isn't. Made for Channel 4 in the UK, which (at least used to) have a rather serious documentary strand.

It is about a man with a severly disfiguring skin condition, his making peace with the world, raising money for research into his rare condition and ultimately, dying. I say ultimatley, but it actually starts with a scene of the funeral and his coffin. I think the first voiceover is Jonny Kennedy's saying "That's me, in the box".

It was the best documentary I have ever seen. It also had me crying like a baby.
posted by tonylord at 8:41 AM on August 24, 2006

if you like any true crime documentaries, i'd reccomend the thin blue line (also errol morris) and capturing the friedmans. while about the crimes themselves, they also serve as good cultural commentary.
posted by illegiblemess at 9:51 AM on August 24, 2006
Manufacturing Consent
posted by ryanhealy at 10:09 AM on August 24, 2006

The Farmer's Wife was a multi-part PBS documentary in the '90s. It really opens a window into the modern American farm using one family as the catalyst.

Feed is a documentary composed entirely of excess footage from immediately before and after televised interviews during the 1992 U.S. Presidential election.

Dark Days features a filmmaker living with a group of homeless NYC subway tunnel dwellers.
posted by JDC8 at 8:10 PM on August 24, 2006

For the actual history of documentaries themselves, you must see the Maysles Brothers - especially "Salesman" and "Grey Gardens," and documentaries of Ross McElwee.

Also, "Hearts and Minds" is a great Vietnam-era documentary.

"I loved "The Corporation," but it has a cameo by Michael Moore and you said you didn't want to see him. I still recommend it, and what's the problem with Michael Moore anyway?

And my all-time favorite, The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On.
posted by scottr at 8:10 AM on August 25, 2006

I found this extraordinary:

Keep the River on Your Right.

Highly recommended Holocaust documentaries (I'm sure there are many others worth seeing):


The Sorrow and the Pity.

Hotel Terminus.
posted by rleamon at 6:52 AM on August 26, 2006

Blood Upon the Snow, about Russia under Stalin and during WW2. Demonstrates who *really* beat the Nazis, and how.
posted by meehawl at 10:28 AM on September 1, 2006

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