I absolutely love documentaries. After horror, documentary is my next favorite genre. I truly believe everyone has a story to tell and documentary film is the best way to get it out there. The magic of editing and direction in documentary film can make nearly any subject engaging and interesting. I also feel like documentary film is the best way to learn about something new. Today, I have compiled a list of my favorite documentaries. Enjoy!
10. UNTIL THE LIGHT TAKES US
Chronicles the history, ideology and aesthetic of Norwegian black metal - a musical subculture infamous as much for a series of murders and church arsons as it is for its unique musical and visual aesthetics.
This film explores the little known genre of Norwegian black metal. There have been tons of docs on metal and some often touch on black metal, but with this film we go to the source. Members of several bands share their experiences & ideas. They give us insight into the infamous church burnings of the early 90s that were merely dismissed as acts of Satan worship. Black metal is not just a subgenre of music; it’s an art form and way of life for some. I recommend this for any music lover.
9. DEAR ZACHARY
A filmmaker decides to memorialize a murdered friend when his friend's ex-girlfriend announces she is expecting his son.
I am not easily shocked. To be perfectly honest, this doc took my breath away. This film is a beautiful tribute to a lost friend and a baby at the center of a bitter custody battle. DEAR ZACHARY succeeds at drawing you in to the tragic life of Andrew Bagby so much that you can almost feel the pain and suffering experienced by his loved ones. Without giving too much away, DEAR ZACHARY is something you have to see to believe.
8. ANOTHER STATE OF MIND
A documentary on punk rock.
You would never expect something so simple to make a lasting impression on anyone but it sure did. This was the holy bible for any punk rock kid (myself included) in the 90s. Until this film, our only real look into punk rock was interviews and videos of the Sex Pistols which was a far cry from traveling around the US in a broken down school bus in 1982. The Sex Pistols glamorized punk rock into something none of us could relate to. ANOTHER STATE OF MIND allowed us to share in the same alienation of its unwilling stars. Everyone was from a broken home, everyone felt different and left out, and everyone loved the music more than anything. THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION touched on a lot of the same emotions, but showcased the music and despair more than anything. With ANOTHER STATE OF MIND, there was always hope and the comfort in knowing that there was an entire community around the country willing to help each other out. The ideology of punk rock has never been laid out so plainly for us before or since this film. We get to know these now legendary bands and artists long before their “success.” I use “success” moderately because even though bands like Minor Threat and Bad Religion are incredibly influential, in some circles they are still unknown in others. Every generation thinks they’ve had it worse than the one before. The generation of punk rock kids in ANOTHER STATE OF MIND is the epitome of dejection. Here is a time before Hot Topic, before Warped Tour, and before the Internet! This is another must see for any music fan. I still have the VHS tape of ANOTHER STATE OF MIND that I ordered from the Time Bomb Records mail order list in 1992. It still means that much to me.
7. WASTE LAND
An uplifting feature documentary highlighting the transformative power of art and the beauty of the human spirit. Top-selling contemporary artist Vik Muniz takes us on an emotional journey from Jardim Gramacho, the world's largest landfill on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, to the heights of international art stardom.
Several people have told me they do not like documetaries because they are often depressing and sad. I disagree, there is always something to take from a good doc especially one like WASTE LAND. On the surface, WASTE LAND may seem really bleak when examining the poverty of Rio de Janeiro. This doc does not sugarcoat that fact. However, we examine a group of truly inspiring people who not only have a love of art, but a passion for life. This film really uncovers the beautiful spirit and lives of Brazil’s catadores (trash collectors who recover recyclable items). This is by far one of the most motivating docs I have ever seen. It was also one of my favorite films of 2010.
6. GRIZZLY MAN
A devastating and heartrending take on grizzly bear activists Timothy Treadwell and Amie Huguenard, who were killed in October of 2003 while living among grizzlies in Alaska.
GRIZZLY MAN runs the gamut of emotions. You sympathize with Treadwell’s good intentions, but fail to understand his carelessness. It also makes you examine your own dedication. Have you ever felt so passionate about something you would go as far as Treadwell? I still cannot answer than question for myself. GRIZZLY MAN is tragic, exhilarating, frightening, but most of all it is eye-opening. It also shows how fragile the division between our world as humans and nature’s world exist. This is something humans often take for granted and do not realize it until it is too late.
5. THE KING OF KONG: A FISTFUL OF QUARTERS
Diehard video game fans compete to break World Records on classic arcade games.
KING OF KONG is the ultimate demonstration of good vs. evil. I mentioned the other day while perusing DVDs at Waterloo that every child should watch KING OF KONG. This is the biggest life lesson anyone can learn: Don’t Be a Dick! In one corner we have Billy Mitchell, an abrasive, cocky, selfish jerk who wears shitty ties. In the other corner we have Steve Wiebe, a hapless but hopeful science teacher who loves playing Donkey Kong. What happens when these two adversaries are pitted against each other in the ultimate video game challenge that resembles an 80s tween flick? The suspense is insurmountable.
4. GIMME SHELTER
A harrowing documentary of the Stones' 1969 tour, with much of the focus on the tragic concert at Altamont.
Lots of people believe that the Stones concert at Altamont was the end of an era. It was certainly a turning point in history and a black cloud that followed the Stones for several years. The tragic events at Altamont signified the close of the hippie, free love, flower power movement. It opened the door for the uncertainty and resentment that was prevalent in the 1970s. GIMME SHELTER also shows how a few guys from England who just wanted to play rock-n-roll became one of the most important bands of the 20th century. GIMME SHELTER teaches us that nothing is truly free; everything comes with a price.
3. CRAZY LOVE
The bizarre true story of Linda Riss and Burt Pugach.
Even after watching this compelling doc, I still do not have an understanding of the Pugach’s relationship. If anything, it’s more confusing than when I simply read articles about this couple’s unbelievable tale. Why Linda would choose to stay with someone who had caused her so much physical and emotional pain is beyond my reasoning. I suspect no one will truly grasp the dynamics of Burt & Linda’s story. This story seems all the more grim after knowing that Linda died just this year of heart failure.
2. THE TIMES OF HARVEY MILK
A documentary of the successful career and assassination of San Francisco's first elected gay councilor.
I watched this doc long before the Sean Penn/Gus Van Sant Oscar winning film came out. This film broke my heart and left me in a mess of tears. The unbelievable prejudice that Harvey Milk endured could break any normal human being. Although, Harvey never let those abuses break him. If anything he held his head even higher and yelled even louder so that no one else would have to endure these atrocities. It’s no secret that this documentary is unnerving, but it’s more inspiring that anything. Harvey Milk paved the way for so many activists after him to take up the cause and never let anyone push you down. In this day and age when women, minorities, and homosexuals are under constant attack, it’s good to know that there are people like Harvey Milk out there continuing the fight. These are the people who will stand up for what is right. If Harvey was around today I know he would tell everyone not to give up. His message is more important now than ever.
1. PARADISE LOST: THE CHILD MURDERS AT ROBIN HOOD HILLS
A horrific triple child murder leads to an indictment and trial of three nonconformist boys based on questionable evidence.
Thirteen years ago someone gave me a West Memphis 3 benefit CD. After reading a little about the case, I rented PARADISE LOST and was completely blown away. As a student activist, I was no stranger to infractions in the justice system. However, the negligence that took place in the West Memphis 3 trials went beyond a miscarriage of justice. It was prejudice at its worst and it was happening right under our noses. The state of Arkansas should be ashamed of itself for allowing this travesty to happen. Three innocent men spent nearly two decades in prison for a crime they clearly did not commit. There is no way any rational person can watch this doc and not see these cold hard facts. Had it not been for PARADISE LOST, the case would have never received a fraction of the attention it found as a direct result of the doc. What is more frightening is that Damien Echols would probably be dead by now, and Jason Baldwin & Jesse Misskelley would still be in prison. This doc is a great example of how media attention can actually do something good for once. So many people all over the world came to support the West Memphis 3 after watching PARADISE LOST. I really think this doc played a major role in the long overdue release of the West Memphis 3.
BONES BRIGADE: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY
When six teenage boys came together as a skateboarding team in the 1980s, they reinvented not only their chosen sport but themselves too - as they evolved from insecure outsiders to the most influential athletes in the field.
This is a really refreshing doc on professional skateboarders from the 1980s who many of us admired growing up. I’ve seen a lot of skateboarding docs and this is probably my favorite. It’s certainly nowhere near as depressing as the Christian Hasoi or Gator Rogowski docs. This film follows the renowned skate team from when they just started out to when they gained worldwide fame. We also revisit these now legendary men and find out how their lives have changed. It’s really moving to see a group of men who are genuinely passionate about what they do.
MAYOR OF THE SUNSET STRIP
A look at the history of fame in the world through the eyes of pop star impresario, Rodney Bingenheimer.
To some, this film may be construed as incredibly saddening. It’s true that Rodney never quit achieved the success and recognition he rightfully deserved and he doesn’t live the glamorous life like many of his famous friends. Although, Rodney has lived a life some of us can only dream about and the people who matter will never forget him.
There you have it folks, my favorite documentaries. I currently have a couple on my horizon like BLACKFISH, THE ACT OF KILLING, and 20 FEET FROM STARDOM that I am really looking forward to. Special thanks to IMDb.com for the short synopsizes. I did not write them so don’t get all Lianne Spiderbaby on me! I implore you to share some of your favorite documentaries.