When I was as teenager I decided I would document the collective events of my grade twelve year on video, for my broadcasting class assignment. I guess I figured the best way to learn videography was to use the video camera, and what better subject than the world around me. So throughout the year I went to events I wouldn't have otherwise attended, interviewed fellow classmates and their teachers, and at the end of the year found my audience—a group of students who were more than willing to spend the $4 for my edited VHS, commemorating their last year of high school.
I knew then what I learned later in film studies class, that documentaries aren't actual documents, but rather a version of things—and I'm okay with that.
To me, a successful documentary is one that enlightens its audience and causes them to rethink their surroundings. Each of the films below succeed at these two things. They have taught me something about their subject matter while opening me up to a world I would have otherwise not seen. I hope you will take the time to watch each one (the trailers are below—happy clicking), especially the last film, Who's Counting, offered in its entirety.
I'm not being over dramatic when I say that Grey Gardens is a superb film, because it is superb as well as a few other things like imaginative, troubling and ultimately sad. The Maysles brother's 1975 classic is quite arguably one of the most important portrayals of a familial relationship recorded on film (and certainly the most poignant one I've seen).
Even though I know it is a version of history, I still breathed in each frame with heart-breaking curiosity. If you watch one documentary on this list, watch this film. If you've seen it, watch it again.
Special note: the strange trailer matches the tone of the film—but don't be put-off—I'm not sure how else they would have sold this film to audiences.
I've been eating organic for many years, and I was a vegetarian for a while (and a vagatarian forever), so maybe I'm open to films that bring to light the reality of the food processing business. Or maybe this is just a damn good film that shows the average North American where their food comes from, why a few brands own everything, and why vegetables are so expensive.
I guess the real question you should ask yourself before watching this film is, do you want to know? Click on the trailer to find out.
When this film first came out I didn't watch it. I remember asking someone who had just seen it if it was any good, their response was to the effect of 'meh, it's a typical Michael Moore film.' Well, I'd argue that this isn't a typical Michael Moore film. I think it's better or as good as Bowling for Columbine, which is a film of his that I also really liked (less scattered than Fahrenheit 9/11).
I watched SICKO the week America passed the healthcare bill—the timing couldn't have been more perfect—and was disturbed from the opening scene onward. What I like about SICKO (and some of his previous films) is that he locates himself in the picture. He's not afraid to pull back the curtains and show the audience through his narration that he's documenting like a reporter, from his point of view. Some people may find Moore annoying, but I'm more than willing to watch one of his films because he delivers an argument you don't otherwise see in mainstream media. Watch it and be happy you live in Canada.
Loose Change is a strange little beast. First off I will say that the premise of this film is that the terrorist attacks of September 11th didn't happen the way the government and media portrayed them to take place. In other words, the right wing (not an airplane joke—please) has labeled this film to be a conspiracy theory romp. I on the other hand agree with what David Lynch said about it, you don't have to agree with everything in this film for it to cause you to ask a lot of questions.
This film most certainly challenges the status quo, while at the same time causing even the most skeptical to wonder who did shoot Kennedy (well, that's not really outlined in this film) and who was really behind 9/11? I'm not sure if you can actually rent this film, but if you can't, you can watch the entire film online via You Tube.
Marilyn Waring puts economics into a real world context, explaining in plain language why financial gain comes at the cost of women's rights, labour, childcare and the environment. This documentary had a huge impact on me when I watched it ten years ago and is especially relevant today. It quite simply altered the way I thought about global economics and the dominant society. Please watch this film—offered in its entirety below care of NFB (with full screen). Expand your mind.
The Thin Blue Line (1988)
Super Size Me (2004)