Documentary filmmaking is one of the most interesting but often overlooked aspects in all of cinema. Interesting because its characters are usually real people, its scenes may be events we are all familiar with, and its settings are real places we may have been, or could go. Overlooked because the average person doesn't take a spouse or significant other go out to dinner, go to the nearest theater after, and sit down with popcorn and snacks to watch the latest blockbuster documentary movie.
In fact, if the local movie theater or cable television is your main source for watching movies, you may be lucky to see a handful of documentaries in your lifetime. Awards are given out each year to the best films in this genre, from small film festivals to Sundance and even the Academy Awards. The Peter White Public Library has an extensive collection of documentary films in its DVD section. Here are just a few:
The Times of Harvey Milk (1984) tells the story of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in U.S. history. Milk was elected as a city supervisor in San Francisco in the late '70s. After serving less than a year in office, he was assassinated at city hall, along with Mayor George Moscone. Receiving the Academy Award for Best Documentary, this film heavily influenced the feature film "Milk," which won Sean Penn his second Oscar.
March of the Penguins (2005), narrated by Morgan Freeman, shows the annual journey of emperor penguins in Antarctica. Popular with children and adults alike, it won the Oscar in 2005.
If you have never heard of wheelchair rugby, then you need to see this film. Murderball (2005) depicts quadriplegic athletes playing what may be the craziest sport you'll ever see. Wheelchair rugby is an Olympic sport in the Paralympic Games. The film shows the rivalry between the United States and Canadian squads. "Murderball" took home the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival.
The War Tapes (2006), the winner of the Best Documentary Film at the Tribeca Film Festival is unique in that it shows the 2003 invasion of Iraq filmed by the actual soldiers who took part in the action. It is a gritty and intense look at war, captured by the soldiers themselves.
The most recent Oscar winner for Best Documentary, Inside Job (2010) is a must-see if you have been, like most people, confused by the recent financial collapse. The film tries to make sense of what is a very complex problem. If you don't know the difference between a credit default swap and a credit card, then check this movie out.
If you are sick of superheroes and vampires, or just in the mood for something different, please consider these and all the other excellent documentary films at Peter White Public Library.
- Ben Sargent