The Greatest Documentaries of All Times

The international film magazine Sight & Sound has ”polled 340 critics, programmers and filmmakers in the search for authoritative answers”, which are now published in two parts (click on link below) – ”the top 50 documentaries as nominated by 237 critics, curators and academics” and ”the greatest documentaries ever made, as voted by 103 directors”.

Why… they give the answer themselves: ”The new Sight & Sound documentary poll is the result of a “why didn’t we think of that before” moment. In the light of the amazing recent success and cultural impact of several nonfiction films, a group of curators, myself included, were chewing over what the BFI might do specifically for documentary films and television. It soon became obvious that we were not sure exactly what it was that we were trying to discuss.”

And the result: “What’s remarkable about the Top 50 documentaries list is that it feels so fresh. One in five of the films chosen were made since the millennium, and to have a silent film from 1929 at the top of the list is an absolute joy. That allusive essay films feature so strongly throughout demonstrates that nonfiction cinema is not a narrow discipline but a wide open country full of explorers. The current print edition of S&S contains only the highlights of our results; the real explorers among you will want to browse the full results and commentaries which goes live online on the 14th August.”

Let me reveal the top three of the critics etc.: 1. Man with a Movie Camera, Dziga Vertov, USSR 1929. 2. Shoah, Claude Lanzmann, France, 1985. 3. Sans Soleil, Chris Marker, France, 1982 – and the top three of the filmmakers:  1. Man with a Movie Camera, Dziga Vertov, USSR, 1929. 2. Sans Soleil, Chris Marker, France, 1982. 3. The Thin Blue Line, Errol Morris, USA, 1989.

Not that surprising – the freshness that is mentioned above comes in when you examine the list more detailed and find films like “The Act of Killing” and “Leviathan”.

I was asked to participate in the voting as critic/programmer. Tomorrow I will bother you with my list.

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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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