The 10 Greatest Documentaries of All Time According to 340 Filmmakers and Critics

Over at Open Culture:

Earlier this year we featured the aesthetically radical 1929 documentary A Man with a Movie Camera. In it, director Dziga Vertov and his editor-wifeElizaveta Svilova, as Jonathan Crow put it, gleefully use “jump cuts, superimpositions, split screens and every other trick in a filmmaker’s arsenal” to craft a “dizzying, impressionistic, propulsive portrait of the newly industrializing Soviet Union.” He mentioned then that no less authoritative a cinephilic institution than Sight and Sound named A Man with a Movie Camera, in their 2012 poll, “the 8th best movie ever made,” But now, in their new poll in search of the greatest documentary of all time, they gave Vertov’s film an even higher honor, naming it, well, the greatest documentary of all time. A Man with a Movie Camera, writes Brian Winston, “signposts nothing less than how documentary can survive the digital destruction of photographic image integrity and yet still, as Vertov wanted, ‘show us life.’ Vertov is, in fact, the key to documentary’s future.”

High praise indeed, though Sight and Sound‘s critics make strong claims (with supporting clips) for the other 55 documentaries on the list as well. In the top ten alone, we have the following:

1. A Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, 1929)

2. Shoah (Claude Lanzmann, France 1985). Lanzmann’s “550-minute examination of the Jewish Holocaust falls within the documentary tradition of investigative journalism, but what he does with that form is so confrontational and relentless that it demands to be described in philosophical/spiritual terms rather than simply cinematically.”

3. Sans soleil (Chris Marker, 1982). “It’s a cliché to say about a movie [ … ] that its true shape or texture is in the eye of the beholder – but it’s true of Sans soleil, which not only withstands multiple viewings, but never seems to be the same film twice. It addresses memory even as its different threads seem to forget themselves; it parses geopolitics without betraying any affiliation; it might be Marker’s most elaborately self-effacing film, or his most plangently personal.”

4. Night and Fog (Alain Resnais, 1955). “In 1945 moviegoers worldwide became familiar through weekly newsreels in their local cinemas with the unspeakable conditions in the recently liberated Nazi extermination camps. [ … ] Not, however, until Night and Fog (Nuit et brouillard), commissioned to mark the tenth anniversary of the Allied liberation of the most notorious camp, at Auschwitz, did film producers truly confront and define the moral and aesthetic parameters involved in treating such an intractable subject.”

More here.