My Greatest Docs Ever

So this is my choice for the Sight & Sound “The Greatest Docs Ever”. I have chosen films that I have used in my work as a teacher and consultant, films that I have come back to because they have meant something to me. I have been influenced by meetings with the directors – Herz Frank, Lozinski, Kossakovsky, Apted, Glawogger, Matelis – and by reading about and listening to clever words by Leacock and Pelichian, not to forget Lanzmann. What the films all have in common, I think, are a belief in the values of Life how hard and unfair it may be to you. A humanistic fundament, can you say so? 6 of the films are from the Eastern part of Europe where I have been working quite a lot and from where most of the original, artistic documentaries come.

Those which are multi-layered, philosophical, essayistic in a Chris Marker-way, sketchy and close to the term “camera comme stylo”. To be stressed: This is a personal choice, if I had gone through film history decade after decade it would have been different.

1.Ten Minutes Older

Herz Frank (photo)

1978

It’s all there. The story of our lives. To be read in the face of a boy. An intellectual, concepedy documentary with Juris Podnieks as cameraman, “the story of good and evil” as the subtitle goes. I have shown it wherever I go to introduce that documentaries must be reflective and philosophical.

2. Shoah

Claude Lanzmann

1985

No words necessary, an obvious choice and Lanzmann’s follow-up “The Last of the Unjust” is an appendix that shows that the director/journalist is still able to add quality to documentary film history.

3. Anything Can Happen

Marcel Lozinski

1995

Playful and clever interpretation of what Life and Death, Joy and Sorrow is – the director’s charming son runs around in a park, where he meets old people

and ask them all kind of questions in a direct way that we grown-ups would never dare. The result is touching and great fun at the same time.

4. The Belovs

Viktor Kossakovsky

1994

I could have taken the director’s last masterpiece, Vivan las Antipodas, as well but this film from the countryside of Russia  brilliantly depicts the Russian soul as we have experienced it in works of Dostoyevsky and Thechov.

5. Man With a Movie Camera

Dziga Vertov

1929

When you get bored of formatted documentaries, this is the one to make you trust the power of the documentary language, the joy of Life, the enthusiasm of what the new medium is able to achieve, innovative and playful, pure pleasure, to watch without music, please!

6. 7UP

Michael Apted

1964 –

It’s like watching yourself… wonderful hymn to human lives… you follow the characters with so much interest and empathy, you cry and laugh with them, it’s a magnificent series, and it also – in its style – is a look at how film and television language has changed through 50 years.

7. Megacities

Michael Glawogger

1998

Few directors have as Glawogger been travelling the world to tell stories about how people live and think and work. This is one of the works from his trilogy (the others are “Workingman’s Death” and “Whore’s Glory”), with a superb cinematography of Wolfgang Thaler, “la condition humaine” is the theme so far away from reportage as one can be.

8. Before Flying Back to the Earth

Arunas Matelis

2005

He comes from the Lithuanian school of poetic documentary, he made several beautiful b/w enigmatic short documentaries but when his daughter got leukemia and was at hospital for months, the director decided to make a film about children in a similar situation and he came up with his magnificent visual poetic homage to how children fight against their serious illness with all they got of courage and humour!

9. Seasons

Artavadz Pelichian

1975

I have never understood Pelichian’s montage theory but this his masterpiece will always attract an audience to see the power of the single image, at the same time as the film is anthropological, have totally abstract, non-figurative sequences, no words, Vivaldi “only”. You are speechless when you have been with peasants and sheep up and down the hills. If you look carefully there are small human stories, happiness and grief.

10. Jazz Dance

Richard Leacock

1954

I had to have Leacock on board… his filmography is extraordinary, his work with Flaherty is unique, his work with the other direct cinema people (Pennebaker, Maysles, Drew) likewise, but I have chosen this one that he himself has talked so well about, where he went bananas in a night club, filmed from the table, a jamming with the camera, a true FREE film.

Share your love
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.

Articles: 3862