An important part of cinema, a documentary film is known for capturing reality. It is a form of cinema that dates back to the earliest days of filmmaking. The purpose of making a documentary film is generally to record a key event or to enlighten the masses. Over the years, it has become both a filmmaking style as well as a way to pursue truth.
Many brilliant documentary films have been made to this day. Some among them have left a lasting impression on the minds of the audience. Here we present a few of the most impactful documentary films that are worth watching:
1. Man With a Movie Camera
Director Dziga Vertov set out to make this film with a simple intention. It was to record a day in Russia’s urban life during the beginning of Soviet rule. The Soviet citizens are shown as working with modern machinery. This silent documentary film released in 1929 is renowned for Vertov’s invention of brilliant cinematic techniques.
They include multiple exposure, freeze frames, fast motion, match cuts, split screens, and slow motion. Upon its initial release, the film was criticized for its fast cutting and emphasis on form instead of content. However, it was named the best documentary of all time by the ‘Sight & Sound’ magazine.
2. Grey Gardens
Released in 1975, this American documentary film shows the everyday lives of two upper-class, reclusive women. It was directed by Albert and David Maysles. The two women in the film, a mother and daughter, were both named Edith Beale. They lived in poverty at Grey Gardens, the name of their derelict mansion.
It was located in the wealthy Georgica Pond area of New York’s East Hampton Town. The Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the United States National Film Registry in 2010. It was voted the 9th best documentary film of all time by the Sight & Sound magazine in 2014.
This documentary film by Terry Zwigoff was released in 1995. It is about R. Crumb, the noted underground cartoonist and his family. The film shows his outlook on life. It was screened at film festivals in the year of its release and won the Documentary Prize at Sundance.
The film was placed on the list of ten greatest films of all time by Jeffery M. Anderson. He was one of the well-known film critics who worked for the San Francisco Examiner.
4. Fahrenheit 9/11
This documentary film by Michael Moore was released in 2004. It is a critical exploration of the presidency of George W. Bush, the Iraq war, and its media coverage. The film made its debut at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival and was received positively by the critics.
It also generated great controversy, which included disputes over the accuracy of the film. Fahrenheit 9/11 was awarded the Palme d’Or, which is the highest award of the Cannes Film Festival. The film went on to become the highest-grossing documentary film of all time.
5. Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation
Directed by Barak Goodman, this documentary film was released in 2019. It features never-before-seen footage of the famous 1969 Woodstock music festival. The event was held from 15th to 18th of August in 1969 on the dairy farm of Max Yasgur. The festival attracted a massive audience of more than 400,000.
Despite the sporadic rain threatening the event, thirty-two acts were performed outdoors. This music festival became a pivotal event for the counterculture movement. It is also regarded as a defining event in the history of popular music. With this film, the director examines the social, cultural, and political impact of the event.