IndieWire reports today on the International Documentary Association's list of the "25 Best Documentaries." As an introduction to the genre for people who have never seen more than one or two non-fiction films (including, say, March of the Penguins) it's a serviceable list. On the other hand, it will probably upset a lot of people, if the comments after the IndieWire article are any indication. It's not worth getting too worked up over these things. Like those AFI best-of lists, they're not so much a serious study as a marketing tool for the sponsoring organization. Still, I was pretty surprised (and a little sad) to see just how historically short-sighted and Americentric this list is, particularly coming from a group that is comprised of filmmakers and bills itself as an international association.
Almost all the films on the list are American, English-language films. As for representation throughout the decades, the last seven years are represented by ten movies; the '80s and '90s are represented by seven more. The other eighty years of cinema are represented by a mere eight films.
I can put aside the fact that lesser-known, esoteric personal favorites (like, say, Ichikawa's Tokyo Olympiad, Godmilow/Farocki's What Farocki Taught/Inextinguishable Fire, Jorge Furtado's Ilha das Flores, or Wiseman's High School) didn't make the cut. But a list claiming to represent the "Greatest Documentaries of All Time" that doesn't feature a single film by Robert Flaherty, Dziga Vertov, Jean Rouch, Michael Apted, Chris Marker, Agnes Varda, much less Claude Lanzmann's Shoah ? Well, it's curious, to say the least.
Ok, I said I wasn't going to get worked up. So I'll stop.
Here's the list. Continue the debate in the comments, if you want....
1. "Hoop Dreams," directed by Steve James, Peter Gilbert and Frederick Marx 2. "The Thin Blue Line," directed by Errol Morris 3. "Bowling for Columbine," directed by Michael Moore 4. "Spellbound," directed by Jeffery Blitz 5. "Harlan County USA," directed by Barbara Kopple 6. "An Inconvenient Truth," directed by Davis Guggenheim 7. "Crumb," directed by Terry Zwigoff 8. "Gimme Shelter," directed by Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin 9. "The Fog of War," directed by Errol Morris 10. "Roger and Me," directed by Michael Moore 11. "Super Size Me," directed by Morgan Spurlock 12. "Don't Look Back," directed by DA Pennebaker 13. "Salesman," directed by Albert and David Maysles 14. "Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance," directed by Godfrey Reggio 15. "Sherman's March," directed by Ross McElwee 16. "Grey Gardens," directed by Albert and David Maysles, Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer 17. "Capturing the Friedmans," directed by Andrew Jarecki 18. "Born into Brothels," directed by Ross Kauffman and Zana Briski 19. "Titticut Follies," directed by Frederick Wiseman 20. "Buena Vista Social Club," directed by Wim Wenders 21. "Fahrenheit 9/11," directed by Michael Moore 22. "Winged Migration," directed by Jacques Perrin 23. "Grizzly Man," directed by Werner Herzog 24. "Night and Fog," directed by Alain Resnais 25. "Woodstock," directed by Michael Wadleigh