50 Documentaries You Need to See…

… according to Joshua Oppenheimer, Lucy Walker, Alex Gibney, James Marsh, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, Franny Armstrong, Khalo Matabane, Molly Dineen, Angus Macqueen and Kim Longinotto, is a good read from The Guardian end of March. I have taken three statements from three of the mentioned directors, but click the link and check more:

Molly Dineen: I saw this when I was on a jury at a documentary festival in Nyon, and it was really unexpected. It’s about Finland burying its nuclear waste in a deep, deep cavern, with two diggers silently burrowing into the bedrock. That’s intercut with interviews with scientists talking about how you can leave a signal for future civilisations not to go into this burial chamber. This stuff is so toxic for 100,000 years, so we’re not talking about any sort of signposting we will understand; there may be whole different ways of communication. There was something really affecting about that. And the interviews are fabulous, because they’re very unpromising – just straight-on head-and-shoulders shots of scientists – but they’re humorous and warm and compassionate. (Into Eternity, Michael Madsen, 2010)

Lucy Walker: I’m fascinated by longitudinal film-making and this series, which has followed the lives of 14 British children since 1964, when they were seven years old, showed me what the medium was capable of. This series is head and shoulders above any other attempt to record dramatically a whole human life. And because it’s a whole group of people, you learn not just about the individual but also about the system in which they’re living. I can’t think of any other artefact in our culture that can tell us so much about Britain in our lifetime and how society is evolving as this body of work. It’s illuminating and fascinating and it’s one of the things that inspired me to do my work… (SevenUp, Michael Apted, 1964)

James Marsh: In this film, Watkins takes a possible scenario – a nuclear attack on London – and shows you very carefully, each step of the way, what is likely to happen…This was in the middle of the cold war and at the time there were dozens of warheads pointing at us. It’s like a documentary made by Brecht – you’re staging something to flush out a reaction in the audience, and that reaction is one of utter horror. Some people would say this is not a documentary because everything was staged, but it’s a speculative documentary – the director is saying: “This is how it could be and I’m going to show you this in a way that’s very truthful.” It’s very responsible, even if the imagery is very disturbing: you’re seeing bobbies firing at people in the street, people with their clothes burned off. His information is sourced directly from the government and based on scientific fact, so the bed of it is factual, and people responded to it as if it were a real documentary.

It’s a brilliant and bold piece of film-making. He’s reinventing the documentary and subverting it. In my view there should be no rules and no boundaries to film-making, and the impact this film had shows you how much he got right. (Wargame, Peter Watkins, 1965)


Photo: Peter Watkins instruerer La Commune (Paris, 1871), 2000.

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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