The PBS show POV is conducting an interesting poll. It is asking readers/viewers to vote for the best Documentary of all-time. Actually, the way they put the question changes the parameters a bit: Which documentary has had the most influence on the medium itself?
I like documentaries because you learn from them. For me, it is like reading a book except you are doing it in a 2 hour time span. There have been some fantastic documentaries made as is evident by this list. I surprised myself a bit by realizing I have seen a great many on this list. If you see one is not on the list, you have the ability to put it on there for a vote.
Glancing through the list I realized how much I have learned from these movies. Documentary film-makers don’t get the big bucks or a lot of praise. They do it for love the craft and the topic they are investigating.
There have been some great music docs made over the years. Stop Making Sense, The Last Waltz, No Direction Home are three on the list I highly recommend.
I have the Oscar winner Born In Brothels which shows you a side of India you won’t see on any television channel. The Thin Blue Line shook up the American Justice system and The Smartest Guys In The Room left investors with their jaws open as it detailed the Enron scandal.
There are three on the list (I will post a link for you to check it out) that stand out to me though. The first movie I thought of was Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 . Moore gets slammed by his opponents because he is political and that makes him a lightening rod in the public arena but trouble is why they attack him for his politics, they have yet to find fault with his facts. Roger and Me changed documentaries and put Moore on the map, Bowling For Columbine got him an Oscar but I think Fahrenheit 9/11 and his exposure of the Bush family is his best work to date. Too bad more people didn’t pay attention to it. America might have been spared a lot of misery. By the way, this is also the highest grossing documentary in history.
Then of course there is Ken Burns who has brought history to millions with his films. I’m not a big fan of the sport but I learned a ton from his Baseball and even a history buff like me had his eyes opened with The West. However, his masterpiece has to be The Civil War where you will learn as much about the war from that documentary as any class can teach you.
My third consideration is more controversial. Few people altered history, in this case the making of movies, the way Leni Reifenstahl did. If you don’t know her, she was a Nazi who made the best propaganda pieces ever made. She was also one hell of a director. She had done regular movies but with the rise of Hitler she made her name with the documentary. By the way, there is a great intimate documentary about her life on the list as well.
Many people don’t realize that when she made her documentary about the 1936 Olympics that she re-invented the industry. She invented the dolly shot, the aerial shot, the way action was filmed on the field of play. She dug pits so the cameras would look up and capture the athletes at a specific angle. It was a great documentary and if you like sports and history both, you’ll find it interesting.
However there is little doubt that her masterpiece is Triumph Of The Will. This was the filming of the Nazi Party Congress of 1934 in Nuremberg. It was propaganda from start to finish and even to this day it is considered the greatest propaganda piece ever made. You have probably seen clips of it if you have ever seen a serious movie about the Nazi’s or Hitler. The making of this film changed the medium as well as changed the political use of the medium. She may have been a Nazi, and you can hate her and the film for what they stood for but there is little doubt the impact this film had on the craft.
So those three films probably top my short list on who to vote for. It is an interesting list really. Take a look at it and see which movies you have watched and which ones you might vote for. If you don’t watch documentaries then you are short-changing yourself. It is an easy way to educate yourself and become better informed.