I decided to put a long list of documentaries together that I like because any time I look at lists of ‘Must see!’ documentaries, they all seem to contain the same films and they’re never extensive enough for my liking.
I’ll keep adding to this list from time to time and if there’s anything you’d like to recommend, let me know. Because I’m interested in EVERYTHING…
Aside from the fact that whales aren’t fish, this is worth watching. It’s about the orcas kept captive by Seaworld, which will hopefully cease to be a company one day.
The Elephant In The Living Room (2010).
A lot of Americans are fucking crazy. This film shows some of them.
‘An American documentary film about the raising of exotic pets in homes around the United States, and the controversy surrounding the issue.’
Slaughterhouse: The Task Of Blood (2005).
‘The day-to-day workings of a small, family-run abattoir and attempts to get inside the minds of the people who work there. It’s a hidden part of British life, but the reality is that thousands of animals are slaughtered every day in abattoirs. This film shows the process of meat production as animals are killed, butchered and stored in fridges before being transported to retail outlets. It reveals the attitudes of the workers to their task, their colleagues and life.’
Walking With Dinosaurs (1999).
‘Dazzling computer animation highlights this “speculative documentary” following the lives of dinosaurs from their beginning to their zenith – and their eventual decline during the Cretaceous period.’
‘Filmmaker Robinson Devor examines the taboo subject of bestiality. He centers the film around the case of a Seattle aircraft engineer, who died in 2005 after performing a sexual act with a stallion. The filmmaker interviews a number of zoophiles and uses dramatic re-enactments to illustrate their anonymous comments.’
Art & Artists
This documentary completely changed my life as an illustrator and 1 hour after seeing it for the first time, I’d started my own comic-strip.
“Crumb” follows the life of underground cartoonist Robert Crumb and his family. And it’s completely fascinating and weird and inspiring and depressing and funny and weird. And weird.
Drew: The Man Behind The Poster (2013).
‘Feature-length documentary film highlighting the career of poster artist Drew Struzan, whose most popular works include the Indiana Jones, Back to the Future and Star Wars movie posters. Telling the tale through exclusive interviews with George Lucas, Harrison Ford, Michael J. Fox, Frank Darabont, Guillermo del Toro, Steven Spielberg and many other filmmakers, artists and critics, the journey spans Drew’s early career in commercial and album cover art through his recent retirement as one of the most recognizable and influential movie poster artists of all time.’
In The Realms Of The Unreal (2004).
‘Henry Darger is an isolated janitor in Chicago, spending most of his time alone in his apartment. What no one knows is that he is completing an epic work of art within the four walls of his home. This work, a book with 15,000 pages and countless images, is unseen until after his death 1973, when his neighbors discover what he’s created. Jessica Yu uses Darger’s book to explore his life and mindset, supplementing his own drawings and words with interviews from people who knew him.’
Remembering The Artist Robert De Niro Sr. (2014).
An all too short and heartfelt film about the artist Robert De Niro Sr.
Who The Fuck Is Jackson Pollock? (2006).
‘A documentary following a Teri Horton, a 73-year-old former long-haul truck driver from California, who purchased a painting from a thrift store for $5, only later to find out that it may be a Jackson Pollock painting.’
Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey (2011)
‘Interviews with Frank Oz, Rosie O’Donnell, Whoopi Goldberg and others highlight a portrait of Kevin Clash, the man who brings “Sesame Street” muppet Elmo to life.’
I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale (2009).
‘The film received its name from a famed line from “The Godfather: Part II” directed toward Cazale’s character of Fredo Corleone, and acts as a retrospective of Cazale’s distinguished acting career, which was cut short at age 42 when he died of lung cancer.’
‘The film was produced with the cooperation of Meryl Streep, who was living with Cazale at the time of his death. It features interviews with a number of his notable co-stars and directors.’
The Dog (2013).
‘A portrait of the late John Woitowicz, whose attempted robbery of a Brooklyn bank to finance his male lover’s sex-reassignment surgery was the real-life inspiration for the film, “Dog Day Afternoon”.’
A must-see if you enjoy the film, “Dog Day Afternoon”!
The Imposter (2013).
About the 1997 case of the French confidence trickster Frédéric Bourdin, who impersonated Nicholas Barclay, a Texas boy who disappeared at the age of 13 in 1994.
To Be Takei (2014).
‘A look at the many roles played by eclectic 77-year-old actor/activist George Takei, whose wit, humor and grace have helped him to become an internationally beloved figure and Internet phenomenon with 7-million Facebook fans and counting.’
‘This documentary profiles five obsessive filmgoers in the New York City area, whose commitment to cinema has taken over every part of their lives. Some live off disability benefits, others have unknown sources of income. Every day, they see from two to five films, traveling between the many movie theaters in the city. The film follows them as they defend their unusual lifestyles, show off their collections of ticket stubs and memorabilia, and journey from one film to the next.’
Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy (2010).
A four hour in-depth look at the entire Nightmare On Elm Street series. Jam packed and exactly what you want from a documentary like this!
This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2006).
‘Filmmakers Kimberly Peirce, Wayne Kramer, Michael Tucker and Matt Stone are among those who give commentary in Kirby Dick’s examination of the Motion Picture Association of America and the standards and methods its ratings board uses to rate the movies.’
Albert Fish: In Sin He Found Salvation (2007).
‘The life story of American serial killer and cannibal Albert Fish. In addition to interviews, period footage and photographs, the film also recreates many of Fish’s crimes in numerous re-enactment scenes.’
The story of Albert Fish fascinated me but I can’t understand why the director felt the need to include interviews with collector of oddities, Joe Coleman.
Aileen: Life And Death Of A Serial Killer (2003).
‘The film focuses on Wuornos’ declining mental state and the questionable judgement to execute her despite her being of unsound mind.’
The Central Park Five (2012).
A documentary that examines the 1989 case of five black and Latino teenagers who were convicted of raping a white woman in Central Park. After having spent between 6 and 13 years each in prison, a serial rapist confessed to the crime.
Cocaine Cowboys (2006)
‘Filmmaker Billy Corben recalls Miami drug wars of the 1970s and ’80s, when Colombian drug lords turned the relatively quiet Florida city into a breeding ground for violence and excess. Corben interviews so-called “survivors” of the era, including dealers, smugglers and hit men.’
Cocaine Cowboys 2: Hustlin’ With The Godmother (2008)
The sequel to the first one.
Inside The American Mob (2013 -).
‘Documentary film about the Italian Mafia and their organised crime activities in USA, mainly New York, between the ’60’s to mid ’90’s. Well documented with plenty of interviews and original footage. Story told by ex-members of Mafia, FBI agents and prosecutors at that time, cops and journalists. It explains how they functioned, the rule of omerta, which five families ruled New York and how; and also how the FBI and US government managed to dismantle them after 30 years of the crime syndicate being untouchable. Listen to what Rudy Giuliani, Joseph D. Pistone aka ‘Donnie Brasco’ and many others had to say about it.’
S01. EP01. Stayin’ Alive In The ’70’s.
S01. EP02. Operation Donnie Brasco.
S01. EP03. New York / Philly War.
S01. EP04. Taking Down The Mob.
Just Melvin, Just Evil (2000).
‘Melvin Just was a father, grandfather, and by all accounts, an incredible mechanic. He was also a child molester and most likely a murderer, too…’
Paradise Lost: The Child Murders At Robin Hood Hills (1996).
‘Three teenagers are accused of this horrific crime of killing three children, supposedly as a result of involvement in Satanism. As in their previous documentary, things turn out to be more complex than initial appearances and this film presents the real-life courtroom drama to the viewer, as it unfolds.’
Paradise Lost 2: Revelations (2000).
‘Filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky chronicle the appeals process of three men indicted for the murders of three children in Robin Hood Hills.’
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (2011).
‘New DNA evidence sheds light on the case of the West Memphis 3, a trio of men who were convicted in 1994 of murdering three suburban Arkansas Cub Scouts.’
Billy Connolly’s Big Send Off (2014).
‘Billy Connolly explores the world of death, dabbling in its customs and meeting those working within the industry, while sharing some of his innermost thoughts on shuffling off.’
The Bridge (2006).
‘The majestic Golden Gate Bridge is one of San Francisco’s most popular tourist destinations. Unfortunately, it also is a beacon to people, struggling with depression, addiction or mental illness, who leap to their deaths into the waters of the bay. Filmmaker Eric Steel documents those suicides and interviews some of the victims’ grieving survivors.’
A Certain Kind Of Death (2003).
‘Through interviews with various Los Angeles County morgue employees who calmly confront death on a daily basis, as well as actual scenes of corpses being worked on, this documentary examines what happens to the bodies of people who do not have family or friends to manage a funeral or cremation. The movie unflinchingly and starkly details how bodies are found and processed at the coroner’s office, and shows what happens to a person’s belongings afterward and how corpses are cremated.’
This film absolutely floored me and affected me for months afterwards.
102 Minutes That Changed America (2008).
‘102-minute American documentary that was produced by the History channel and premiered commercial-free on September 11, 2008, marking the seventh anniversary of the September 11th attacks The film depicts, in virtually real time, the New York-based events of the attacks primarily using raw footage from mostly amateur citizen journalists.’
Anvil: The Story of Anvil (2008).
‘Canadian heavy-metal band Anvil delivered a highly influential 1982 album that would inspire the likes of Anthrax and Metallica, and then dropped off the map to begin what would become decades of toiling in obscurity. Director and former roadie Sacha Gervasi follows guitarist Steve “Lips” Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner as they stumble through a harrowing European tour and reflect on failure, friendship, resilience and the will to follow even the most impossible of dreams.’
The Beatles Anthology (1995).
‘The Beatles Anthology is a documentary series on the career of The Beatles. It was broadcast on UK television in six abridged parts between 19 and 23 November 1995, while in the U.S. it was seen as three feature-length episodes.’
Let It Be (1970).
‘Initially slated to be a television documentary about the Beatles in the studio, this film, directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, instead captures the writing and recording of their penultimate album, “Let It Be.” After the dense complexity of “The White Album,” Paul McCartney wants to return to basics with the next offering. However, tensions within the band are high and quickly become frayed in the studio. The film ends with a rooftop concert in London, the last live show from the group.’
Chuck Berry: Hail! Hail! Rock ‘N’ Roll (1987).
‘Filmed by director Taylor Hackford on the occasion of Chuck Berry’s 60th birthday, this documentary presents the rock legend performing in his home town of St. Louis, Missouri. Joined by a number of admiring musicians, notably guitar acolytes Keith Richards and Eric Clapton, Berry runs through his classic hits to an adoring audience. The production also features behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with Berry and others, providing an in-depth look at the pioneering guitarist and singer.’
Cracked Actor: A Film About David Bowie (1975).
’53-minute-long BBC television documentary film about the rock star David Bowie. It was filmed in 1974. At the time he was a cocaine addict and the documentary has become notorious for showing Bowie’s fragile mental state during this period.’
Dont Look Back (1965).
‘1967 American documentary film by D. A. Pennebaker that covers Bob Dylan’s 1965 concert tour in the United Kingdom.’
Hated: GG Allin And The Murder Junkies (1993).
‘Punk rocker GG Allin indulged in shocking behavior before his death by a drug overdose in 1993.’
‘Profile of British rock musician Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister, bass guitarist and lead vocalist of the British heavy metal band Motorhead.’
‘LennoNYC features never-before heard studio recordings from the Double Fantasy sessions and never-before-seen outtakes from Lennon in concert and home movies that have only recently been transferred to video. It also features exclusive interviews with Ms. Ono, who cooperated extensively with the production and offers an unprecedented level of access, as well as with artists who worked closely with Lennon during this period, including Elton John and photographer Bob Gruen (who took the iconic photograph of Lennon in front of the skyline wearing a “New York City” t-shirt).’
Once Upon A Time In Norway…The History Of Mayhem (2007).
‘Interviews with central members of early Norwegian black metal bands about Mayhem, the early black metal scene and the crimes they committed.’
Who Is Harry Nilsson? ( And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him) (2010).
‘David Leaf and John Scheinfeld interviewed close to three dozen of Nilsson’s friends, colleagues and extended family, who all shared their memories of Harry Nilsson, his music and how it affected them. This was put together in a documentary where we follow Harry Nilsson from childhood to death, enjoying the highs and lows along with him, from Grammy wins through divorce and substance abuse.’
New York: A Documentary Film (1999).
‘Eight-part, 17½ hour, American documentary film on the history of New York City.’
Part 1: The Country And The City.
Part 2: Order And Disorder.
Part 3: Sunshine And Shadows.
Part 4: The Power And The People.
Part 5: Cosmopolis.
Part 6: City Of Tomorrow.
Part 7: The City And The World.
Part 8 (1 of 2) : The Centre Of The World.
Part 8 (2 of 2) : The Centre Of The World.
West 47th Street (2001).
‘An intimate cinéma vérité portrait of four people with serious mental illness as their lives naturally unfold over a three-year period beginning in spring 2001. The characters are all members of Fountain House, a psychiatric rehabilitation programme located on West 47th Street in a part of New York City once known as Hell’s Kitchen.’
A Boy’s Life (2003).
‘Follows a Mississippi family’s attempts to deal with an increasingly violent and erratic child.’
I’m no psychologist but I couldn’t see anything violent or erratic about this child.
‘Filmmaker Lee Hirsch examines five cases of youths who endure vicious persecution at the hands of their peers. Ja’meye, 14, winds up in reform school after pulling a gun on the youths who tormented her for years. Cameras record the abuse suffered by 14-year-old Alex as he’s beaten and teased on the bus. Star athlete Kelby, 16, is ostracized and worse after she comes out as lesbian. Most tragic of all, two boys, one 17 and one 12, commit suicide to escape the torture.’
Dear Zachary: A Letter To A Son About His Father (2008).
Trust me. It’s best that you know NOTHING about this film before you watch it.
Grey Gardens (1975).
‘This film explores the daily lives of two aging, eccentric relatives of Jackie Kennedy Onassis. Edie Bouvier Beale and her mother, Edith, are the sole inhabitants of a Long Island estate. During the course of the documentary, they discuss their habits, desires and former loves with filmmakers Albert and David Maysles. The women reveal themselves to be misfits with outsized, engaging personalities. Much of the conversation is centred on their pasts, as mother and daughter now rarely leave home.’
High On Crack Street: Lost Lives On Lowell (1995).
Particularly fascinating when watched after the Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale film, “The Fighter” (2010).
I Like Killing Flies (2004).
‘In 2002, an unusual eatery called Shopsin’s loses its lease after 32 years. Filmmaker Matt Mahurin goes inside the diner to figure out its gastronomic appeal, and paint a portrait of its colourful owners Kenny and Eve and they prepare to start fresh in a new location.’
I Think We’re Alone Now (2008).
‘Two individuals, Jeff and Kelly, claim to be in love with the 80’s pop singer Tiffany.’
I’m Still Here (2010).
Director Casey Affleck follows Joaquin Phoenix as he carries out a plan to retire from acting and concentrate on a new career as a hip-hop musician.
The Other F Word (2011).
‘The film explores the world of ageing punk rock musicians, as they transition into parents and try to maintain the contrast between their anti-authoritarian lifestyle with the responsibilities offatherhood, the titular “other F word”.’
Out Of The Woods: Life And Death In Dirty Dave’s Homeless Camp (2012).
‘Follows the life and death struggles of homeless people living in a camp in the woods for four years. Arth directed, shot and edited Out of the Woods by himself after meeting one of the subjects, Dean “Dino the Dinosaur” Bieber, in a former drug slum Arth had rebuilt and turned into “The Garden District” in DeLand some years before.
Plagues And Pleasures On The Salton Sea (2004).
‘This offbeat and often humorous documentary tells the story of the accidental lake and environmental catastrophe known as the Salton Sea, located in the desert of Southern California, USA.’ Narrated by John Waters.
TPB AWK: The Pirate Bay Away From Keyboard (2013).
‘An intellectual freedoms documentary based around the interpersonal triumphs, and defeats of the three main characters against the largest industry in the known universe. The media industry.’
Sexy Baby (2012).
‘An ex adult film star, a 12 year old girl and a 22 year old who yearns for “normal” private parts are chronicled in this thought provoking doc about how porn, social media and pop culture affect women and girls.’
Turtle Power: The Definitive History Of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014).
‘The history of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle franchise.’
This is bursting with content! Exactly what I’m always looking for in a documentary. Particularly interesting if you’re interested in drawing.
‘Bill Maher’s take on the current state of world religion.’
In The Shadow Of The Moon (2007).
‘In 1961, NASA started its Apollo program to realize President John F. Kennedy’s dream of putting a man on the moon. This documentary retells the story of the program’s mission through archival footage and interviews with all the surviving astronauts, except Neil Armstrong. With the U.S. racing to beat the Soviet Union into space, NASA began a series of test flights, culminating in Armstrong’s 1969 walk on the moon and briefly uniting the world in awe of the United States’ accomplishment.’
Beyond The Mat (1999).
‘Barry Blaustein’s honest, intimate, revealing, highly entertaining, and critically acclaimed behind-the-scenes look at wrestling, takes viewers beyond the ring and into the lives of the men and women who inhabit this colorful, competitive, and surprisingly complex world.’
Step Into Liquid (2004).
‘In a documentary shot in waters all over the globe, director Dana Brown takes on tall waves and surfers who live to challenge them. The film treks from the Irish coast, where a trio of American brothers take on the Atlantic surf, to Rapa Nui in the Pacific, where the Easter Island statues gaze out at board-riding daredevils. Brown also finds good surfing in unlikely places, like Wisconsin and Texas, and charts the rise of female surfers in a sport traditionally dominated by males.’
Stranded: I’ve Come From A Plane That Crashed On The Mountains (2007).
‘Film which tells the story of a rugby team from Uruguay who boarded Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571. The film features interviews with the survivors who recount their struggle to survive after the plane crashed in the Andes Mountains and were forced to consume the flesh of the deceased.’
Touching The Void (2003).
‘Documentary based on the book of the same name by Joe Simpson about Simpson’s and Simon Yates‘ disastrous and near fatal attempt to climb Siula Grande (6,344 m) in the Cordillera Huayhuash in the Peruvian Andes in 1985.’
The Titanic Disaster
Ghosts Of The Abyss (2003).
‘Veteran filmmaker James Cameron delves into the inspiration for his film “Titanic” by traveling to the mammoth cruise liner’s final resting spot. Accompanied by a team of historians and friend Bill Paxton, Cameron uses unprecedented technology to take the viewer on an unscripted tour of this famous wreckage. This look back through time allows audiences to see never-before-photographed images and understand more about what transpired on that fateful night.’
Mazungu Canoeing The Congo (2008).
Phil Harwood’s amazing 3000 mile journey down Africa’s most dangerous river.
Dear America: Letters Home From Vietnam (1987).
American Grammy Award–winning documentary, inspired by the anthology of the same title, directed by Bill Couturié. Using real letters written by US soldiers (which can be read in the book along with many more) and archive footage, the film creates a highly personal experience of the Vietnam War. The film won the Special Jury Prize: Documentary at Sundance Film Festival in 1988.
Taxi To The Dark Side (2007).
‘Explores the American military’s use of torture by focusing on the unsolved murder of an Afhgani taxi driver who, in 2002, was taken for questioning at Bagram Force Air Base. Five days later, the man was dead. The medical examiner claimed the driver died from excessive physical abuse. Taking this case as a jumping-off point, the film examines wider claims of torture that occurred at bases like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay during the Bush administration.’
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