Documentaries are a rough sell for a lot of people. Although most can be more fiction than fact audiences aren't warm to the idea of watching films that may reveal too much concerning real life. It's kind of surprising considering reality TV is such an enormous hit, but there's a difference between the cruel world of Simon Cowell and the stories that most filmmakers tell.
Even when films choose to tackle a subject matter many are in agreement with it still can make for a dull couple of hours. An example is the cornucopia of mediocre to just plain awful Bush bashing films that spawned in the wake of Fahrenheit 9/11.
At the risk of interesting no one I bring you today some films that are fascinating as well as entertaining.
1. Brother's Keeper: Directed by the same filmmakers that brought you the compelling Paradise Lost and the revealing Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, this tells the tale of Dilbert Ward, a hermit farmer who lives in upstate New York. With a low IQ and a lifestyle that can be described as odd at best, Dilbert signs a confession admitting to the murder of his ill brother. After his bail is set Dilbert evolves from being a small town outcast to national figure of sorts in this captivating mystery. This film challenges the audiences' stereotypes and is one of the most engrossing stories I've ever seen.
2. Capturing the Friedmans: In quiet suburban New York a middle class family is torn apart after accusations of pedophile rape befalls a father and his youngest son. One of the elder boys documents the trial and the family's falling apart via video. Along comes a filmmaker and compiles all the footage, giving interviews to all the players involved, and giving the audience a journey through the lives of loved ones being shattered by a horrendous crime. Often times hard to watch this movie is a must see.
3. King of Kong: If documentaries had their own 'Rocky' this would be it. King of Kong is the tale of Steve Weibie, an unassuming family man who decides to try and get beat the world record score for Donkey Kong, one of the hardest arcade games ever created. The current record holder, Billy Mitchell, is a god in the video game world and he will never let you forget it. A compelling tale of David and Goliath this film is a hilarious as well as touching as any sports film you'll ever see. I'm still amazed that a movie about coin op video games captured my attention so.
4. Street Fight: Following the 2002 mayor race in Newark this film chronicles the campaign of Cory Booker, an idealist attempting to unseat the established Sharpe James. As you would probably expect the race was filled with all sorts of dirty tricks, ugly discourse, and possibly illegal tactics. For any fan, armchair or otherwise, of the process of elections this is a must see.
5. Why We Fight: The film starts with Eisenhower's exit speech regarding the state of the military industrial complex and then takes us into the world of war profiteering. Insightful and revealing, this movie shows us the real power behind national conflicts, the cash flow amongst manufacturers, politicians, and ordinary laborers. Haunting in it's portrayal I highly recommend it.
6. Pop and Me: A father and son embark on a world wide trek documenting their relationship. In it they interview other fathers and sons where they discuss their stories of love, heartache, and the often complicated nature of masculinity vs tenderness. It's a remarkable film and one that actually jerked tears from your author.
7. Baraka: Not so much a documentary as it's not really telling a conventional story nor is it a travelogue, but Baraka sets the scenery of the world in ways that I find it difficult to explain. With striking imagery and music the viewer is set upon an incredible journey of culture, life, and nature. It's quite possibly one of the most breathtaking films I've ever seen. You can read my full review here.
"A discomforting, almost surreal study of a rural murder case, which offers fascinating insights about both family and community dynamics." - Emanuel Levy on Brother's Keeper