Friday, August 16, 2013

My Top 15 Documentaries of All Time

Few things can inspire, sadden, madden or enrage me more than a well-made documentary. I’d dare argue that a masterful documentary is superior to even the best narrative films. The films on this list vary drastically in terms of content. Some are about love, others are about protection; some are about finding oneself, others are about lost innocence. The only connecting factor is that every film here is chiefly concerned with documenting the behaviors of people. Why we do what we do, and, on occasion, what we can do to alter ourselves for the better.

There are many more that could’ve easily made it on this list, but here are the 15 documentaries that have affected me most.

15. Gimme Shelter (1970)
Dir. by Albert Maysles, David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin
The Maysles brothers are two of the finest, most dedicated documentarians who’ve ever lived. They’ve contributed plenty of fantastic films to the art form, but none have hit quite as hard as Gimme Shelter, which chronicles the colossal cluster fuck that was the Altamont Free Concert. Altamont was pitched as a West Coast Woodstock. Ike and Tina Turner, Jefferson Airplane, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, were all set to perform, with The Rolling Stones acting as headliner. But from the moment The Rolling Stones landed at the venue, all hell broke loose.

Infamous biker gang, the Hells Angels, were there to act as security for The Rolling Stones (the gang says The Stones hired them for protection, the band denies this), and when a concert attendee drew a pistol in the middle of The Stones’ set, a Hells Angels member stabbed him to death.

Now, I don’t know what’s more impressive: the fact that the Maysles brothers had the fortitude to chronicle the event, or that they caught everything I’ve described (and much, much more) on camera. Altamont was certainly no Woodstock, and Gimme Shelter is clear evidence as to why.

14. When We Were Kings (1996)
Dir. by Leon Gast
Leon Gast’s When We Were Kings is an epic, live capture of one of the most famous boxing fights in history, The Rumble in the Jungle. In chronicling the famed bout between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, Gast interviewed a number of people associated with each fighter, as well as boxing experts and witnesses of the actual event.

The film was shot almost entirely in 1974, but spent decades tangled in ridiculous lawsuits. No matter. When it finally saw the light of day, it was deservedly rewarded with the Oscar for Best Documentary. To put it another way: I’m a huge fan of boxing, and the first time I watched When We Were Kings, I realized I knew next to nothing about the sweet science of the sport. Boxing fan or not, When We Were Kings is a real powerhouse.

13. Deliver Us From Evil (2006)
Dir. by Amy Berg
The main subject of Deliver Us From Evil is Oliver O’Grady, a priest who casually admits to raping and molesting hundreds of children while he was a priest in America. At the time of Berg’s interviews, O’Grady was walking around Ireland a free man. Strolling past playgrounds, sitting in churches, contemplating. In addition to these interviews, Berg speaks with several of O’Grady’s victims, many of whom have lived extremely troubled lives as a result of the abuse they endured.

Again, Deliver Us From Evil isn’t for the faint of heart, but it is a masterfully constructed documentary that will get you fuming.

12. The Cove (2009)
Dir. by Louie Psihoyos
I’ll never forget the first time I saw Louie Psihoyos’ The Cove. It was the final film I saw at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. It had won top documentary honors the day before, and buzz was brewing. I had recently become involved in animal rights activism, and The Cove sounded like something that may anger and inspire me. So I sat. I sat and watched as several Japanese men slaughtered hundreds of innocent dolphins for no apparent reason. I sat and watched as the Japanese government tried to cover it up. I sat and watched as a few brave people tried to expose these misdeeds. And I sat and watched and cried as activist Ric O’Barry strapped a screen to his chest, displaying the carnage for all the world to see.

I sat and I watched and I emerged from that screening a changed man. My personal beliefs on the subject of animal rights haven’t been the same since.

11. The Times of Harvey Milk (1984)
Dir. by Rob Epstein
A good friend of mine recently watched Gus Van Sant’s Milk for the first time. She was very taken with the film, and I asked her specifically what she thought of the scene in which thousands of people march on the streets of San Francisco as a way to honor the recently slain Harvey Milk. She said she thought the scene was emotional, and was impressed by the number of apparent extras it took to film it. I told her that the scene was entirely real, borrowed directly from the frames of The Times of Harvey Milk. My friend was speechless, which mirrors my sentiment everytime I watch this documentary.

10. Encounters at the End of the World (2007)
Dir. by Werner Herzog
In all honestly, the bulk of the list could be dominated with Werner Herzog documentaries. I had a very difficult time narrowing it down to just one, but I finally decided on the G-rated Encounters at the End of the World. I respect the hell out of Herzog for traveling to Antarctica for no other reason than to interview the kinds of people who fascinate him. The kinds of people who would leave a life as a renowned doctor or scientist, to live in the middle of nowhere and serve ice cream. The kinds of people who fled political persecution years ago, and still can’t form coherent words to talk about it.

Encounters at the End of the World may be Herzog’s most beautiful film, for many reasons. And believe me, the man has made many.

9. Night and Fog (1955)
Dir. by Alain Resnais
Night and Fog is a film of juxtaposition. The film opens with a series of color shots of lush fields. Blue skies and green grass, while whimsical music plays over the soundtrack. Then, without warning, Resnais cuts to black and white photos and film footage of the Holocaust. Its planning, preparation, and dreadful execution.

Part of the mastery of this film is that it doesn’t force its information on us, as if to say “Look at this, now. Be on our side.” Rather, it simply presents us with photographical facts and asks us to, “Look at this, now.”

8. Burden of Dreams (1982)
Dir. by Les Blank
Burden of Dreams is the best film about the making of a film that has ever existed. It is a 95-minute document of the hell Werner Herzog went through to make his masterpiece, Fitzcarraldo in early ‘80s. How Herzog kept the South American natives happy with food, shelter, and women. How Herzog battled his star, Klaus Kinski, on a daily basis, which resulted in each man vowing to kill the other. And, most notably, how Herzog actually facilitated the pulling of a massive boat over a large mountain. To watch Burden of Dreams is to watch a genius filmmaker at the end of his rope. Most anyone would’ve given up, but, as Herzog says, “It’s faith that moves mountains.”

7. Hoop Dreams (1994)
Dir. by Steve James
Similar to Gimme Shelter, a lot of the credit for Steve James’ Hoop Dreams is dependent on luck, as in, James was in the right place at the right time, and captured a great story. Thing is, James made it his job to be in the right place at the right time for five years. That’s how long he followed two high school basketball prodigies around, in hopes of chronicling the rise of the next Michael Jordan.

But here’s the thing: Hoop Dreams chronicles real life. This isn’t a fairy tale where the inner city kid with the neglectful parents makes the final shot in the championship game, gets a college scholarship, and ends up being a star in the NBA. Hoop Dreams is real life, in all its devastation. The movie is three hours long but could be even longer. It’s as brutal a depiction of urban America as I’ve seen.

6. Shoah (1985)
Dir. by Claude Lanzmann
What can I say about Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah that the film doesn’t already say for itself? Perhaps it’s best to describe the film technically as a means of proving its worth. Shoah is a nine-hour documentary about the Holocaust, presented in six different languages, comprised almost entirely of present-day interviews from people who were there. It will take you a very long time to finish the film (in addition to a laborious running time, this isn’t exactly easy subject material), but once it’s done, I promise you will be a better person for having seen it. And there certainly are not too many films I can say that about.

5. Capturing the Friedmans (2003)
Dir. by Andrew Jarecki
Capturing the Friedmans started off as a short documentary about clowns. Andrew Jarecki was making a film about New York’s most popular clowns, and David Friedman’s name was always chief among them. Shortly into interviewing David, Jarecki sensed that his subject was hiding something about this past. Jarecki got David to elaborate, the result of which was compelling and haunting.

The film is a detailed chronicling of the Friedmans, a well-to-do family from Great Neck, New York, whose patriarch, Arnold, and youngest son, Jesse, were arrested for multiple sexual abuse charges. The ingenuity of the film is that you never really know who to believe. Every Friedman is caught in a lie at some point in the film, but, occasionally, the police and prosecutors on the case don’t present their information as open-and-closed either. Everytime I watch this film, I come away with a new understanding of what I think happened, which is surely its point.

On a personal note, seeing Capturing the Friedmans for the first time was one of the most intense movie going experiences I’ve ever had. I went to an independent theater in Washington, D.C. and marveled at what I was seeing. I noted that I was then the same age as Jesse was during his trial. That put Jesse’s story into some sort of odd perspective for me, in a way I can’t fully explain. Simply put: I was a casual viewer of documentaries before Capturing the Friedmans, but once I saw this film, the art form came alive for me.

4. The Up Series (1964-2012)
Dir. by Paul Almond (Seven Up!) and Michael Apted (14 Up-56 Up)
The most impressive undertaking of any director on this list (or any list, for that matter) is Michael Apted’s decades-long dedication to his Up Series. In 1964, a television station picked a handful of young children to interview. The kids were asked what they wanted to do, who they wanted to be, and so on. Seven years later, an assistant on that film, Michael Apted, interviewed the same kids, who were now 14 years old. And every seven years since, Apted has found the same people and interviewed them about their lives.

The result is a series of films (eight in total now) that belong in a time capsule. Literally watching people grow before your very eyes is impressive enough, but the fact that their stories make for such captivating cinema is truly a marvelous feat.

If I were to pick a best film of the bunch, it would be 28 Up (but last year’s 56 Up was damn fine as well). If you’ve never seen any of these films, don’t let the undertaking of watching all eight intimidate you. Apted and his team go to great lengths to catch the viewer up on every interviewee. He seamlessly mixes in clips from other installments, so you never feel lost. In short, you will have a perfectly good experience watching only 56 Up (which is now on Netflix Instant). But if you want to watch them all, I certainly won’t talk you out of it.

3. Titicut Follies (1967)
Dir. by Frederick Wiseman
In the late 1960s, a man with no films to his name asked permission to document inside the walls of Bridgewater State Hospital, a facility for the criminally insane in Massachusetts. That man, Frederick Wiseman, was given unprecedented access to film whatever he wanted, which still baffles me to this day.

You see, the shit Wiseman gets on film is utterly mortifying. He documents guards ceaselessly beating, berating, force feeding and victimizing inmates of the facility. At times, the guards are clearly enjoying the abuse they inflict on the people they’re suppose to care for.

After Wiseman released his film, he was sued many times over by several different people and organizations, but to no avail. The fact that people were pissed that Wiseman captured what happened doesn’t mean it didn’t happen to begin with. Titicut Follies is a great film, but just be warned, you cannot unsee some of the things in this movie.

2. The Thin Blue Line (1988)
Dir. by Errol Morris
Errol Morris’ The Thin Blue Line is a film about circumstance. About he-said, she-said. About I’m right and you’re wrong. In late November 1976, a Dallas police officer was shot dead during a routine traffic stop. The police acted quickly, ultimately gathering two suspects, Randall Adams and David Harris. Adams was subsequently charged with the murder and sentenced to death. Case closed.

But not for Morris, a man whose films are powerful as a direct result of his journalistic research. Morris interviewed Adams and Harris exhaustively, as well as a number of people involved with the case. He even included stylish reenactments of the crime (which ultimately made the film ineligible for Oscar competition) that captured various points of view based on various testimonies.

I don’t want to fully divulge what the film reveals, but just know that The Thin Blue Line is filmmaking at its most necessary. It proves that film is far beyond a medium of entertainment. Film has meaning, it has purpose, and The Thin Blue Line is an inarguable case to that point.

1. Blood of the Beasts (1949)
Dir. by Georges Franju
A funny thing happened when I posted my Top 10 Films of All Time last year. Most of the movies on my list were well known. Some are more popular than others, but most were easily identifiable. Save the obscure, black and white, short French film, Blood of the Beasts. In that post, I described the personal impact Franju’s film had on me. I talked about seeing it at an impressionable age, and being angered by what it depicts. I spoke of how the film altered my view of what I ate and how I ate it, and how I have lived that way ever since.

The funny thing was that, after my post, a handful of people felt compelled to watch the film, which you can easily find on YouTube. No one got it. No one understood why Blood of the Beasts spoke to me the way it did, or how it could possibly have changed my life. People appreciated the film and what it stood for, but no one got it.

The thing is, I would never expect for someone else to have the same reaction to any film as I do. Ever. What we bring to a film is life experience, which is different for everyone. Some people watch Blood of the Beasts and see gruesome trash, others see a life-altering film that will stay with them forever. That’s the power of cinema.

Click here for more lists from And So it Begins, including:


  1. I've only watched Night and Fog from this and man, that was scary.
    I really want to watch more documentaries. I think I'm going to bookmark this page.

    1. Night and Fog is really devastating, isn't it? I highly recommend all of this docs. I'd recommend them above most "normal" movies out there.

  2. In that list, I've seen Burden of Dreams, The Thin Blue Line, Encounters at the End of the World, Gimme Shelter, and The Times of Harvey Milk. I've only seen some of When We Were Kings and Hoop Dreams which I definitely need to include in my films to see list. Night and Fog and Shoah are films I really want to see. Especially the latter which I'm aware is a long-ass film but dammit, that just makes me want to see it.

    My favorite documentary of all-time is Stacy Peralta's Dogtown & Z-Boys. I had always been fascinated by skateboard culture but man, this was a doc that had energy and wasn't afraid to embellish things a bit. Yet, it was also fun. My favorite sequence involved the skateboard competition where it showed these old skateboarders of the 60s doing some lame tricks that feels old and dated to some cheesy 60s pop music and just as that montage ends. BAM!!!! The Stooges "I Wanna Be Your Dog" comes in and it's fucking go time.

    Other documentaries I love are The Fog of War, Sans Soilel (though I'm not sure if it's a real documentary), Westway of the World about the Clash, The Filth & the Fury about the Sex Pistols, Exit Through the Gift Shop, and Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession.

    1. Oh, I really love Dogtown as well. (Side note: I think we've talked about this, but did you dislike the narrative take on that film as much as me? I thought it was so bland. Ledger rocked though.)

      But yeah, that's a great doc.

      The Fog of War is another Morris classic. What a film that is.

    2. The Lords of Dogtown was OK largely due to the performances of Heath Ledger and Emile Hirsch but I was bothered by the dramatic liberties it took as well the way some of the characters were written like Stacy Peralta and Tony Alva.

  3. When We Were Kings is an absolutely brilliant film, one of my favourites for sure. Poor George Foreman, he did not stand a chance. Then again, when Foreman threw a punch into one of those punching bags, causing a dent in it, I would not like to be the one receiving that brute force that's for sure.

    I know Senna is quite a recent outing but man did I love it. I'm sure you've already seen it but it is definitely a powerhouse of a film, and I'd probably have slotted it into a list like this.

    If you haven't already, you should check out Kim Longinotto's documentaries on Japan (Shinjuku Boys and Gaea Girls). They're two of my favourites that I think you'd really like. I've always been fascinated by Japanese culture and I think those two docs really show a different side to aspects of Japan that I hadn't discovered.

    Great post as always!

    1. I think part of the magic of The Rumble in the Jungle was that most everyone didn't think Ali stood a chance. One amusing story is that Hunter S. Thompson was sent to Zaire to cover the fight, but skipped it to drink instead, fearing his favorite fighter was going to get pummeled by Foreman.

      But, yeah, in hindsight, Ali knew exactly what he was doing, and Foreman was dead in the water.

      I have not seen Longinotto's docs, so I'm all over those. Thanks so much for the recos!

    2. I think there was something about Ali that had me rooting for him more than Foreman on the whole charisma side, hence when I watched it, not knowing the outcome at all, I was sad for Foreman without even knowing who won the fight.

      Interesting story about Hunter S. Thompson, too!

    3. Oh wow, you watched that movie and didn't know who one The Rumble in the Jungle? Damn man, I envy you. I bet that made When We Were Kings that much more sensational. Great stuff.

  4. I've only seen two (Hoop Dreams and The Cove) and they're great. Would love to see the others though. Good list as always.

    1. Thanks man! Those are two classics right there.

  5. I don't think I'll watch Deliver Us From Evil or Night and Fog any time soon, both just look far to bleak and I know the latter is definitely an important film but one which I don't want to approach just now.
    Never saw The Times of Harvey Milk, but I want to because Common Threads was a very well made documentary. I also really need to check out Burden of Dreams since Fitzcarraldo is my favourite Herzog narrative.

    My top 15 would be;
    15. Standard Operating Procedure
    14. Restrepo
    13. When We Were Kigns
    12. Waste Land
    11. Under African Skies
    10. Touching the Void
    9. The War Room
    8. Tyson
    7. The Cove
    6. Bowling for Columbine
    5. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
    4. Grizzly Man
    3. Little Dieter Needs to Fly
    2. Hoop Dreams
    1. Blood Brother

    1. Holy hell, what a great list man.

      Deliver Us From Evil is very very difficult to stomach. Night and Fog is intense, but at this point, I don't think that film will show you anything new (depending on how thoroughly the Holocaust was discussed in your high school/college career).

      If Fitz is your favorite Herzog, you MUST watch Burden of Dreams. It's as good as Fitz.

      As for your Top 15... wow. Some of my all time favorites there. And when the hell is Blood Brother getting a major release? That one sounds familiar.

  6. I am baffled by movies like The Titicut Follies. Now can movie makers stand by, filming this stuff, and not feel the need to intervene?? I understand why they might do it -- they might think they can do more good, in the long run, by laying low and revealing these atrocities to the world. But how can they do it?

    1. Very, very fair point, something that gets brought up a lot in interviews with documentarians. If it was me, and I was filming something like that, I would concentrate on filming and not on breaking it up.

      Ever heard the story about the starfish? How a man notices a bunch of starfish that washed on shore, so he starts throwing them back in the ocean. A woman walks by and says, "Why are you doing that? You can't save them all." And the man throws a starfish into the ocean and says, "I just saved that one."

      My point is, Wiseman's film forced that institution to completely alter its practices. Had he not filmed, say, the prisoner who gets beat for not cleaning his cell, he might've saved that prisoner from one beating on one day. But by filming it and showing it to the world, Wiseman likely saved thousands of prisoners from ever getting beat again.

      Just my opinion though. If I saw woman getting beat up by a man, I wouldn't film it, I would stop it. But I think Wiseman knew he was tapping into something far larger than one rare instance of cruelty.

    2. That's an excellent point, and thanks for sharing the rest of the story -- that the institution did significantly alter its practices as a result of the film. It's important to distinguish between film-making that's doing important work -- whistle-blowing, as folks used to say -- and film-making that's exploitative.

    3. Thank YOU for posing that question though, it really got me thinking. Those situations are always a moral dilemma. Each one is different.

  7. I've always been impressed with your writing, but posts like these just make me think jesus, this guy has seen a lot of movies. And not only have you seen them, but you speak about them so well. Fine work here. Again.

    1. Wow, thanks so much for saying that. Really means a lot. I do love documentaries. Glad you think I can speak intelligently about them!

      Stop by anytime, and feel free to let me know who you are so I can thank you by name!

  8. Love the list. Of the ones listed I've only seen three and love them all: When We Were Kings, The Cove, and Hoop Dreams (probably my favorite of all time).

    Through the years, I only watched one or two documentaries a year (zero, some years). I have been watching more of them lately, but apparently have missed a lot. By the way, Deliver Us From Evil is one I've purposely avoided because I had heard what it was about and frankly I didn't want to get as angry as I'm sure it would make me.

    Some recent docs that have blown me away:

    The Invisible War
    Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
    The Undefeated
    Man on Wire
    The Heart of the Game
    The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
    Beats, Rhymes, and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest
    How to Survive a Plague
    The Queen of Versailles
    The Black Power Mixtape: 1967-75
    Good Hair

    1. Thanks for reading, glad you like the list!

      If you can stomach The Invisible War, then you're on your way to being able to handle Deliver Us From Evil. Deliver is still more intense, but it's the same ballpark of brutality.

      I love your picks, so many excellent docs there. My favorites from yours are The Undefeated (a marvelous achievement) and Man on Wire (a subtle jaw dropper).

  9. I have not seen enough documentaries, thoug I'm trying to watch more. Of this list, I've only seen The Times of Harvey Milk. (which was awesome.) I tried to watch The Cove and I just chickened out. Weirdly enough, Blackfish has been on my "must see" list since January.

    1. Blackfish is like the G-rated version of The Cove, in terms of the animal cruelty it captures. The Times of Harvey Milk is such an achievement, isn't it? One of the best.

  10. Alex I've seen six of these documentaries, and most of the others are on my to-see list. It's great to see When We Were Kings on the list, which was thrilling even though I knew much of the story before watching it. So many strong picks on this list.

    1. Glad you like the picks, Dan! When We Were Kings is fascinating, isn't it? Definitely my favorite sports documentary ever made. I love it.

  11. Great list... a fair few I will have to check out here. Great to see Gimme shelter and WWWKings on here. Have you seen Bus 174.. that's one of my all time faves!

    1. Thanks man! Have not seen Bus 174 but have heard great things about it. Definitely checking it out ASAP.

  12. Your list reminds me of a few docs I still haven't watched, and want to see.
    Just saw The Up Series this year, and loved it. They are cute as kids, and some of them are quite interesting to listen to as adults. It was nice to witness Bruce and Neil became friends. Time will tell, it seems Linklater is going for something similar with the Before Trilogy, and also his project Boyhood (2015)

    Here's my list:

    1. I think Boyhood is the closet thing to the Up series yet, and I can't wait to see it.

      Solid list. I love A Life in Pictures, and Don't Look Back is a great doc.

  13. Bold and courageous to go "all time". I haven't seen enough films on this list to gauge its accuracy but given the quality of your usual lists I think this is a great place to start for new-to-documentary film viewers.

    Murder on a Sunday Morning is the documentary that stands out for me and I wholeheartedly recommend it.

    1. I only say "all time" when I preface it with the word "My," just to make it clear that these are MY personal picks, you know?

      Oh man, Murder on a Sunday Morning is a remarkable film. I haven't seen that since it won the Oscar. In need of a rewatch.

  14. *Adds 14 films to my watchlist*

    Have just seen The Cove, that one was emotional :(

    1. VERY emotional. Glad I could recommend some good docs to you!

  15. I've only seen 4 of these, all of which were powerful films that everyone should see. I'm WAY behind on documentaries, but I'll be coming back to this post for viewing ideas. :)

    I can't even make a decent top 10, but my top 5 would be Hoop Dreams, Night and Fog, Exit Through the Gift Shop, Senna, and Blood of the Beasts.

    1. Love that Blood of the Beasts would crack your Top 5. That's awesome. I highly recommend all the docs here... hope you have fun checking some of them out!

  16. Man Burden of Dreams must be pretty amazing. Even Les Blank himself voted for it in his sight and sound top 10 list.

    1. It takes a lot of stones to do that, doesn't it? I actually met Blank at the MoMA a few summers ago. I asked him what it was like to make that movie, and he blankly answered: "It was capturing hell with a camera."


  17. Amazing list. I love reading and getting documentary recommendations almost more than I do film ones. This list is excellent and I'm definitely going to look into the ones I haven't seen (seven of them!). Glad to see the Up series here, what a fantastic cinematic achievement.

    1. Thanks man. I agree, I love getting good doc recommendations, usually over narrative films. Hope I've inspired you to check some of these out!

  18. Damn, I love documentaries, but I have only seen two from your list -- Hoop Dreams and The Thin Blue Line. Both are incredible. I'm looking forward to starting the Up series especially, but I'm bookmarking the rest of these, too.

    1. Oh, if you love docs, then you will LOVE the Up Series. When they were all on Netflix Instant a few years ago, I sat down on one Sunday and cranked them all out. Really good way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon.

  19. I've only seen about half of these, and I have not seen your number one.

    For me, Hoop Dreams is the best documentary ever made.

    One not on your list, nor did I expect to find it there, is The Way We Get By. It's a little seen doc shot in my home state of Maine. It's about the group of people who have taken it upon themselves to greet every single troop returning from Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan as they come through the Bangor International Airport. It focuses on three of the elderly people who get there whether it is the middle of the night or not, whether is is miserable winter weather or not. The film is apolitical; it's neither rah-rah-go-war, nor stop-this-war-now. It's about the people.

    1. Wow, The Way We Get By sounds fantastic. I'm going to have to hunt that one down. Doesn't seem to have to wide of a release though. Either way, thanks a lot for the recommendation.

    2. I believe I originally saw it on PBS, and only knew it was going to air because a local news story mentioned that it was about the volunteers that greet the troops. Once I watched it I bought copies for myself, my mother, and my two sisters because I knew they would be very affected by it, too. All of us recognized at least one type of person we know among the three principals shown in the film. It becomes far more than just a story about greeting troops and becomes a meditation on how people find meaning in their lives and on how we deal with mortality.

      If you want to read more professional opinions on it Amazon has three different Editorial Reviews on the main page of the product.

    3. Just read the reviews, thanks so much for leading me to them. It sounds like a really special film. I'll have to keep my eye out for it. Or maybe just buy it...

  20. Documentaries really can and have changed people's perceptions, as important a film and art genre as any. For myself, nothing will ever beat the first time I watched 'Burma VJ'. We are right on the front lines of the birth of a revolution, the bravery of the videographers and Burma's people to stand up to the Military is simply one of most inspiring things in film. Heather Courtney's Where Soldiers Come From and Restrepo are others that got to me, putting a face on our armed forces being sent off to the middle-east. Seeing the aftermath of having PTSD from having bombs thrown at you daily is heart-wrenching. Morris' Fog of War has stayed with me for quite some time now, McNamara was in his 80's when he was interviewed and he recalls his actions near perfectly. It just shows what has been weighing on the guy's mind for decades. For you what draws you in seems to be Animal Rights, for myself it's how people respond and are changed in times of conflict and war. Seeing what the true face of humanity is in it's darkest moments never fails to astound.

    1. Man, I swear, you leave the best, most insightful comments. I had no idea you were so drawn to documentaries of this kind, and I love hearing your assessment of them. I've seen all the ones you mentioned except Burma VJ, so I need to change that ASAP. I'll let you know what I think of it after I check it out. Thanks for the recommendation!

    2. Thank you again Alex, I really appreciate it. Cannot recommend Burma VJ enough, easily one of the 20 best films I've seen, and the best Doc I've ever seen. Just an amazing testament to the human spirit and will. thankfully It's streamable on Netflix, hopefully more eyes will come upon it. Tell me what think, I'll be interested in your thoughts.

    3. Just added to my queue, errr List. Will let you know what I think as soon as I check it out!

  21. Great list good sir. I've seen a couple of these but am always looking out for some interesting docs to watch (thanks for the recs for The Cove, Titicut Follies, and Blood of the Beasts). I'm just curious about one of them though (as far as regarding this comment) and that's if Deliver Us From Evil is all that different from a film like Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God. I have not seen the former film but the latter really enraged me. I am a fan of religious documentaries but I'm just curious how different you would say the two are since from what I've heard of the former, it also addresses to priests abusing children as well and focusing in on a specific case.

    1. Hey man, thanks for reading/commenting.

      The main difference between Deliver Us From Evil and Mea Maxima is that Deliver is a far better film, and I quite enjoyed Mea Maxima. Deliver is so unique because it actually gains the perspective of the monster, as opposed to just the abused. And the graceful candor in which this particular monster speaks is fucking terrifying. Just be warned: Deliver Us From Evil will enrage you to no end. Not an easy film to take, but a masterful documentary all the same.

  22. I just watched Blood of the Beast for the first time and I was shaking during the slaughterhouse scenes. This documentary deeply disturbed me.

    1. Yeah man, really disturbing stuff. THE most disturbing film I've ever seen, actually. Glad you braved it though.