Documentaries that made me question everything…Documentaries I loved…
11. Empire (1964), Andy Warhol
Empire is an eight hours long footage of the Empire State Building in a single shot, with no sound. Call Andy Warhol’s minimalist masterpiece “boring” at your own peril. The sunlight fades. Architecture becomes mythic. Warhol’s notion of iconic repetition gains power. What he created is a true film.
10. Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010), Banksy
Exit Through the Gift Shop is a film by street artist Banksy that tells the story of Thierry Guetta, a French immigrant in Los Angeles, and his obsession with street art. The film charts Guetta’s constant documenting of his every waking moment on film, from a chance encounter with his cousin, the artist Invader, to his introduction to a famous street artists Banksy, whose anonymity is preserved by obscuring his face and altering his voice, to Guetta’s eventual fame as a street artist himself. The critique of contemporary living, in this case of modern art, so symptomatic of Banksy, is what causes the ambiguity of this work, which only further incited a debate as to whether this film is a documentary or a mocumentary, real or fake.
09. I’m Still Here (2010), Casey Affleck
In basis I’m Still Here is a mocumentary, written by Affleck and Joaquin Phoenix. The film, presented as documentary, purports to follow the life of Phoenix, from the announcement of his retirement from acting, through his transition into a career as a hip hop artist. According to Phoenix, the film arose from his amazement that people believed reality television shows’ claims of being unscripted. By claiming to retire from acting, he and his friend and brother-in-law Casey Affleck planned to make a film that “explored celebrity, and explored the relationship between the media and the consumers and the celebrities themselves” through their film.
08. F for Fake (1973), Orson Welles
Toward the end of his working career, the feisty director mounted this sly, quietly groundbreaking study of the art of lying, one that flits from hoaxer Clifford Irving to Welles’s own fake alien invasion, The War of the Worlds. Some have argued that after Citizen Kane (1949), F for Fake is Welles’s most influential film for it invented the style of MTV style of editing.
07. This is Not A Film (2012), Jafar Panahi
“This is not a film, because its director is not a director.” This is how Ebert’s review of this courageous non-film starts. In December 2010, Jafar Panahi was sentenced to six years in prison and banned for 20 years from making films. His crime was “propaganda against the Islamic Republic.” Forbidden to even say “action” or “cut,” Imprisoned Panahi wanders about the apartment, feeds the iguana, begins to describe the most recent screenplay he was forbidden to do, comments on his earlier three films discussing things he did not plan. The result is this gripping, zero-budget film about a day in his life, shot entirely within his flat, partly on a simple DV camera and on his iPhone. He then had it smuggled out of the country on a USB stick, reportedly hidden in a cake and it was shown in Cannes festival last year.
06. Man on Wire (2008), James Marsh
Man on Wire is Oscar winning British documentary on Philippe Petiti’s high-wire walk between the Twin Towers of New York’s World Trade Center. The title of the documentary is taken from the police report that led to the arrest (and later release) of Petit, whose performance had lasted for almost one hour. The film is crafted like a heist film, presenting rare footage of the preparations for the event and still photographs of the walk, alongside reenactments and present-day interviews with the participants. It also appeared on 76 different top ten lists of the best films released in 2008.
05. Man With the Moving Camera (1929), Džiga Vertov
Džiga Vertov, working with his brilliant editor wife, Elizaveta, decided to capture chaotic urban life in Ukraine. There would be no script, no sound, so hostile was Vertov to narrative. He believed his concept of Kино‐Глаз (eng. “Cine Eye”) would help contemporary man evolve from a flawed creature into a higher, more accurate form, respectively, a machine. “I am an eye. I am a mechanical eye. I, a machine, I am showing you a world, the likes of which only I can see” (Vertov, 93) a quote often associated with the name Dziga Vertov, who, as pointed out nicely by Vaingurt, in her essay Poetry of Labor and Labor of Poetry, “imagined technology as armor, or a prosthesis, for the incapacitated human being” (214). His avant-garde film, still a stunning piece of futurism, was the entire spirit of the revolution condensed to a single hour. It will inspire as long as there are eyes to watch.
04. Hearts of Darkness: A filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991)
This spellbinding behind-the-scenes documentary made by Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper dishes all the dirt about the making of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979). The filming of Apocalypse Now started in 1976 and it was meant as the first Vietnam War film that would break the silence surrounding The War That Dared Not Speak Its Name, but due many delays and problems, which this documentary is ultimately about, film was released in 1979 a year after Deer Hunter (1978) dir. Michael Cimino and Coming Home (1978) dir. Hal Ashby. All three film gained critical acclaim and praise, however, Apocalypse Now was the broadest and the most ambitious film on Vietnam War shot in Hollywood in the 1970s.
03. Searching for Sugar Man (2012), Malik Bendjelloul
The quality of the documentary is not what brought this film among the top 3. It is the story. Film follows the efforts of two South African fans, Stephen ‘Sugar’ Segerman and Craig Bartholomew Strydom, to find if the rumored death of American musician Rodriguez was true, and, if not, to discover what had become of him. Rodriguez who had no success in the United States – based on the color of his skin and nationality according to his producers who place him among top 5 musicians of all times – had become widely popular and a musical icon in South Africa, but to make things even more crazy he was also partly responsible for the uprising revolution against the Apartheid.
02. Heima (2007), Dean DeBlois
Heima is an interesting amalgamation of music and a travel documentary. It documents the tour of the band Sigur Ros around the Iceland in the summer of 2006 and it is probably one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen.
01. 5 Obstructions (2003), Jørgen Leth and Lars von Trier
De fem benspænd is a Danish film by Lars von Trier and Jorgen Leth. In its very essence the film is a documentary, but it incorporates sections of experimental films produced by the filmmakers. The premise is simple: Lars von Trier has created a challenge for his friend and mentor, which he calls “Help Jørgen Leth project”. Von Trier’s favorite film of all times (mine as well) is Leth’s short experimental film The Perfect Human (1967). Von Trier gives Leth the task of remaking The Perfect Human five times, each time with a different ‘obstruction’ (or obstacle) given by von Trier. What was the representation of modern commercialized perfect human, a product of modernity, in the original film, here becomes the representation of the perfect human today, perfect Western male who on top of all this has somehow managed to lose the girl too. Therefor, the concept of family that was so present in the 60s, this unity between man and woman, perfect man and perfect woman who together somehow make a perfect human in 21st century no longer exists. The man is left all alone with his guilty conscious.
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text written by: Monika Ponjavić