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74

Best Documentaries?
Topic by: underdog
Posted: February 27, 2003 - 12:17 PM PST
Last Reply: March 6, 2003 - 11:52 AM PST

page  1  2      prev | next
author topic: Best Documentaries?
underdog
post #1  on February 27, 2003 - 12:17 PM PST  
Any discussion or thoughts on our new list of best US and Foreign Docs? This is the place to toss 'em around.

I realize documentaries don't always stir up the same kind of fan-related or eager discussions you'll find on feature film discussion boards, but as they are a very important part of our cultural world, there's still plenty to say.

So say it if ya like.

And what do people think about the Oscar nominees for documentary this year -- has anyone seen any of them or know anything about them? I really wanted to see Daughter from Danang.

C/U
dpowers
post #2  on February 27, 2003 - 7:27 PM PST  
INTERVIEWER: I'm here in my apartment, but let's skip that and pretend I'm in a studio with Craig/underdog8, the main person behind GreenCine's recent Best Documentaries list. C/U, how are you.

Last year, GreenCine published to much interest and acclaim a list of best American independent feature films, which you called "the Most Valuable Indies." Now you've followed it with two lists of documentaries, American and foreign.

Congratulations on finishing! It looks like it's been a fairly big project for you. There are many more documentaries made than people are aware, I bet.

Let me start with my favorite question for people who make lists. Were you surprised by the results?
underdog
post #3  on February 28, 2003 - 10:04 AM PST  
> On February 27, 2003 - 7:27 PM PST DPOWERS wrote:
> ---------------------------------

> Congratulations on finishing! It looks like it's been a fairly big project for you. There are many more documentaries made than people are aware, I bet.
>
> Let me start with my favorite question for people who make lists. Were you surprised by the results?
> ---------------------------------

Why thank you! And no, I wasn't surprised...(mostly because confidentially, I picked most of them. Er, wait, are we on the air? Can you edit that part out? D'oh.) But seriously, it was hard to choose because so many great films aren't out on DVD yet, I'm sure the list would change a bit once that changes... But we're pretty happy with the results. I think the Euro list in particular had a few surprises on it, including a few films that might otherwise not get rented. (Tokyo Olympiad is one amazing and important film that I bet most people have never seen.)

I wonder which currently unavailable titles would be the first added to the list if they were released to DVD? My vote would go to Thin Blue Line and Roger & Me, Hoop Dreams, Sherman's March, and The Farm...among others.

Which would be your pick for first film on the list once available on DVD?

Btw, I goofed -- Who The Hell is Juliette is available here at GC so I'll add that to the HM Foreign list soon.


Thanks!

C/U
underdog
post #4  on February 28, 2003 - 10:05 AM PST  

Oops, forgot. Here's the aforementioned film: Who the Hell is Juliette?. Check it out.

C
SRhodes
post #5  on February 28, 2003 - 11:15 AM PST  

Akrizman posted this over in the movies that should be on DVD topic:

I was surprised to discover that the documentary genre is not well represented on DVD. Not even the most popular and acclaimed ones; Where is:

Thin Blue Line
Roger & Me
Paradise Lost
Paris is Burning
Hoop Dreams
Hearts of Darkness
SRhodes
post #6  on February 28, 2003 - 11:26 AM PST  

Part of the problem is a lot of documentaries are distributed by small companies that make most of their money from institutional sales and haven't switched over to DVD. The prices for the tapes are often over $200 (a holdover from the costs of 16mm prints - they were slow then to switch to video). And even when the rights are held by studios, documentaries aren't a priority.

Also, documentaries which could benefit so much from the capabilities of DVD (there is tons of unused footage, documents, the ability to do updates) often just get a bare bones treatment because of lack of resources or foresight.

The major exception has been music documentaries like Stop Making Sense and the Last Waltz.

Michael Moore said last year that Roger & Me would be out last year, but maybe it will come after Bowling.

Hearts of Darkness should have been included with Apocalypse Now.

I spoke to Frederick Marx who made Hoop Dreams along with Steve James and Peter Gilbert and was nominated for a best editing Oscar (I think Forest Gump won). He was actually setting up a non-linear editing system in his apartment.

He said he had told New Line which distributed Hoops years ago they should get one of the networks to show it without ads like NBC did with Saving Private Ryan for the 10th anniversay which is next year. It would also be an ideal time to release a special edition DVD, but he has no idea what is happening. He says people ask him all the time when it will be available (I think there was a bare bones DVD release that is OOP).
underdog
post #7  on February 28, 2003 - 2:09 PM PST  
Some great points, thanks. It's usually some ridiculous rights hang-up that is completely out of the filmmaker's hands that keeps these things stuck in OOP limboland. We were talking here the other day about Waco Rules of Engagement and wishing we could just distribute it ourselves. Frustrating.

So you didn't say -- or I'll throw this out to everyone -- what's your favorite of all the OOP documentaries?

C/U
dpowers
post #8  on February 28, 2003 - 2:40 PM PST  
INTERVIEWER: Oops, we're back. Thanks, Steve, for the news report.

We're talking with Craig Phillips, or Underdog8, the compiler of GreenCine's new "Best Documentaries" list. By the way, this broadcast comes to you uninterrupted thanks to our sponsor, the Scaife family of foundations.

UNDERDOG8: ... it was hard to choose because so many great films aren't out on DVD yet, I'm sure the list would change a bit once that changes... But we're pretty happy with the results. I think the Euro list in particular had a few surprises on it, including a few films that might otherwise not get rented. (Tokyo Olympiad is one amazing and important film that I bet most people have never seen.)

Which would be your pick for first film on the list once available on DVD?

INTERVIEWER: Interesting... I know from my secret life as a drooling anime freak that until Spirited Away came out, Tokyo Olympiad sold the most tickets of any movie in Japanese history.

Which would be my pick for first to add... What you've got listed, I don't know, but if Cane Toads: An Unnatural History were to come out before any of them I'd recommend that in a heartbeat. In fact there are some others which... ah actually I'll make a list, by age.

[20s]
Grass: A Nation's Battle for Life
[40s]
Listen to Britain
Fires Were Started

[50s]
The Silent World (cousteau)
The Mystery of Picasso
[60s]
Point of Order (de antonio)
[70s]
Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer (andersen)
F for Fake (welles)
The Battle of Chile (g˙zman)
The Memory of Justice (ophuls)
[80s]
Field Diary (gitai)
Room 666 (wenders)
Land of Look Behind (greenberg)
African Camera (boughedir)
A Tale of the Wind (ivens)
[90s and on]
American Dream (kopple)
Close-Up
Thank You and Goodnight (oxenberg)
The Panama Deception (trent)
The World According to John Coltrane
Citizen Langlois (cozarinsky)
Spin (springer)
Nobody's Business (berliner)
Tell the Truth and Run (goldsmith)
The Long Way Home
Yang ▒ Yin: Gender in Chinese Cinema (kwan)
Vietnam: Long Time Coming (blumenthal, gilbert, quinn)
Divorce Iranian Style (loginotto, mir-hosseini)
The Brandon Teena Story
The Winners (cohen)
Gaea Girls (longinotto, williams)

[this is not all of them and dammit i don't know why i didn't give you some of what i had before because i knew you were working on this but i think i'm like that game, you have to ask me direct questions... and believe it or not docs aren't my specialty.]

Craig, I want to backtrack a little. Can you (or one of these other people here in the studio) tell a little about the whole project... how did GreenCine decide to get into the "best list" business in the first place? Listmaking is a crowded field, and there are reasons for a store to avoid ranking its own merchandise in such detail.
dpowers
post #9  on February 28, 2003 - 4:08 PM PST  
that list was too ugly to let live.

20s
Grass: A Nation's Battle for Life
40s
Listen to Britain
Fires Were Started

50s
The Silent World (cousteau)
The Mystery of Picasso
60s
Point of Order (de antonio)
70s
Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer (andersen)
F for Fake (welles)
The Battle of Chile (g˙zman)
The Memory of Justice (ophuls)
80s
Field Diary (gitai)
Room 666 (wenders)
Land of Look Behind (greenberg)
African Camera (boughedir)
A Tale of the Wind (ivens)
90s and on
American Dream (kopple)
Close-Up
Thank You and Goodnight (oxenberg)
The Panama Deception (trent)
The World According to John Coltrane
Citizen Langlois (cozarinsky)
Spin (springer)
Nobody's Business (berliner)
Tell the Truth and Run (goldsmith)
The Long Way Home
Yang ▒ Yin: Gender in Chinese Cinema (kwan)
Vietnam: Long Time Coming (blumenthal, gilbert, quinn)
Divorce Iranian Style (loginotto, mir-hosseini)
The Brandon Teena Story
The Winners (cohen)
Gaea Girls (longinotto, williams)
SRhodes
post #10  on February 28, 2003 - 4:48 PM PST  

Cane Toads is out on DVD. I don't think A Natural History of the Chicken is yet (which I saw at the SF Int. Film Fest a couple of years ago and taped off of PBS).

Tell the Truth and Run is going to be on the Sundance channel a bunch of times in March including at 6:05 pm right before The Trial of Henry Kissinger debuts at 9 pm (it will also be on several times as part of the channels new doc day).

Tell is only currently available on video for nearly $50 (a little less if you don't live in California) or at those high institutional prices.

Tell was nominated for an Oscar the year When We Were Kings won. I actually think that the Panama Deception was a badly made documentary. If forget what was nominated that year (and can't easily find a list), but I think it was that year that Hearts of Darkness wasn't even nominated.

Daughter From Danang is really good and will be on PBS April 7th. I'll be getting a tape soon of Prisoner of Paradise which will be on PBS April 22nd. I'll be seeing Winged Migration on Tuesday. It will be shown at the SF Int. Film Fest by the director and then open theatrically at the end of April. I've heard good things about Spellbound which opens in NYC the end of April.

dpowers
post #11  on February 28, 2003 - 5:45 PM PST  
> I actually think that the Panama Deception was a badly made documentary. ... Daughter From Danang is really good <

like many of the films on that list i haven't seen panama deception. it's just been highly recommended from all kinds of reliable sources.

on the other hand i have seen daughter from danang and while i thought it was amazing what happened, i thought first person plural was a better film of similar issues because the filmmaker was the kid that had been relocated and knew what was happening in the middle of the vortex.

!!! SPOILER ALERT !!!

some things were left conflated at the end of daughter, regarding heidi's reasons for seeking out her birthmother, that should have been clarified, IMO. i was pretty angry about this, "positive reactions" to the film aside. i thought daughter lost track of what was going on and was upset that they didn't find more information about domestic abuse because that was a very obvious possible reason for things going the way they did, more obvious than the reaction a lot of critics have had, that heidi was too na´ve or the reality of vietnam too harsh or cultural expectations crashed into each other. i recognize heidi's reaction to having her mother dreams wrecked and that was no simple wonder-bread cultural overload, but people thought it was, people were only talking about that.
SRhodes
post #12  on February 28, 2003 - 5:47 PM PST  

Spellbond is showing at the Cinequest fest in San Jose on Sunday & Tuesday.

They are giving away vouchers good for two people to showings through Sunday if you fill out this form. It is only good for shows that aren't sold out.



dpowers
post #13  on February 28, 2003 - 5:59 PM PST  
> I actually think that the Panama Deception was a badly made documentary. ... Daughter From Danang is really good <

like many of the films on that list i haven't seen panama deception. it's just been highly recommended from all kinds of reliable sources.

on the other hand i have seen daughter from danang and while i thought it was amazing what happened, i thought first person plural was a better film of similar issues because the filmmaker was the kid that had been relocated and knew what was happening in the middle of the vortex.

!!! SPOILER ALERT !!!

some things were left conflated at the end of daughter, regarding heidi's reasons for seeking out her birthmother, that should have been clarified, IMO. i was pretty angry about this, "positive reactions" to the film aside. i thought daughter lost track of what was going on and was upset that they didn't find more information about domestic abuse because that was a very obvious possible reason for things going the way they did, more obvious than the reaction a lot of critics have had, that heidi was too na´ve or the reality of vietnam too harsh or cultural expectations crashed into each other. i recognize heidi's reaction to having her mother dreams wrecked and that was no simple wonder-bread cultural overload, but people thought it was, people were only talking about that.
dpowers
post #14  on February 28, 2003 - 6:04 PM PST  
SPOILER.

in other words i thought daughters was a bad miss and i'm very distraught that it's up for an oscar on the basis of its yes very interesting cultural info and its powerful reality-TV angle. but this is a problem for me, because what if that package, a sort of "yes this is why the war was so sad" epic, was bullshit, and the real problem was and is, kids in america get beaten and it fucks them up.
SRhodes
post #15  on February 28, 2003 - 6:14 PM PST  

I haven't seen Panama Deception in years, but i remember it was lots of talking heads really beating you over the head (even though I agreed with most of it). There were also later investigations that seemed to indicate the number of civilian deaths claimed in the film was exagerated.

I did think of First Person Plural when I saw Daughter and Refugee at this year's SF Int. Asian American fest also deals with similar issues (Saigon USA touches on them).

I need to watch Daughter again since it has been about a year since I've seen it.

oldkingcole
post #16  on February 28, 2003 - 8:29 PM PST  
> On February 27, 2003 - 12:17 PM PST underdog8 wrote:
> ---------------------------------
> Any discussion or thoughts on our new list of best US and Foreign Docs? This is the place to toss 'em around.

I thought it was a good list, but I'm still digesting it. There was at least one title I expected to see, but didn't, though maybe it's not "a" documentary in the strict sense of the word (maybe it's several), or maybe made for television documentaries were excluded? But when I finished reading the list, I thought, "Wow, good list, but where's Carl Sagan's landmark Cosmos series?"

I could maybe nitpick with one or two of the choices, but that could also just be a matter of personal taste. I liked The War Room enough that I would've found a way to promote it from "Honorable Mention" to the list proper, and there are a couple on the list that I wouldn't mind demoting to make room.

But like I said, I'm still digesting it. I was glad to see Genghis Blues and Dark Days make the list. I saw those two for the first time within the past year or so, and both made a strong impression on me, especially Genghis Blues which is a really moving and wonderful film.

The great thing about the list, for me at least, is that it contains a lot of documentaries that I haven't seen. So it provides a nice starting point for adding to my (already lengthy!) GreenCine queue.

Kudos to Craig for putting this together.
msilenus
post #17  on March 1, 2003 - 3:52 AM PST  
OK is it just me or isnt Grey Gardens available from Criterion? Why is it on the list of docs not available on DVD?
msilenus
post #18  on March 1, 2003 - 3:53 AM PST  
> On February 28, 2003 - 8:29 PM PST oldkingcole wrote:
> ---------------------------------
> > On February 27, 2003 - 12:17 PM PST underdog8 wrote:
> > ---------------------------------
> > Any discussion or thoughts on our new list of best US and Foreign Docs? This is the place to toss 'em around.
>
> I thought it was a good list, but I'm still digesting it. There was at least one title I expected to see, but didn't, though maybe it's not "a" documentary in the strict sense of the word (maybe it's several), or maybe made for television documentaries were excluded? But when I finished reading the list, I thought, "Wow, good list, but where's Carl Sagan's landmark Cosmos series?"
>
> I could maybe nitpick with one or two of the choices, but that could also just be a matter of personal taste. I liked The War Room enough that I would've found a way to promote it from "Honorable Mention" to the list proper, and there are a couple on the list that I wouldn't mind demoting to make room.
>
> But like I said, I'm still digesting it. I was glad to see Genghis Blues and Dark Days make the list. I saw those two for the first time within the past year or so, and both made a strong impression on me, especially Genghis Blues which is a really moving and wonderful film.
>
> The great thing about the list, for me at least, is that it contains a lot of documentaries that I haven't seen. So it provides a nice starting point for adding to my (already lengthy!) GreenCine queue.
>
> Kudos to Craig for putting this together

For that matter what about Bill Moyers interviews with Joseph Campbell. Fascinating stuff!
underdog
post #19  on March 1, 2003 - 9:18 AM PST  
> On March 1, 2003 - 3:52 AM PST msilenus wrote:
> ---------------------------------
> OK is it just me or isnt Grey Gardens available from Criterion? Why is it on the list of docs not available on DVD?
> ---------------------------------

Actually. it's on the "Honorable Mention" list, not on the N/A list. (And it's there instead of on the main list partially because the list was feeling Maysles-heavy. ;-) ) But it is a great film, and we do have it available to rent /A> at GC. (Though we might only have one copy at this time so be patient if you're trying to get it...)

More from me soon!
C/U
underdog
post #20  on March 1, 2003 - 9:20 AM PST  
> On March 1, 2003 - 9:18 AM PST underdog8 wrote:
> ---------------------------------
> > On March 1, 2003 - 3:52 AM PST msilenus wrote:
> > ---------------------------------
> > OK is it just me or isnt Grey Gardens available from Criterion? Why is it on the list of docs not available on DVD?
> > ---------------------------------
>
> Actually. it's on the "Honorable Mention" list, not on the N/A list. (And it's there instead of on the main list partially because the list was feeling Maysles-heavy. ;-) ) But it is a great film, and we do have it available to rent /A> at GC. (Though we might only have one copy at this time so be patient if you're trying to get it...)
>
> More from me soon!
> C/U

> ---------------------------------

Yeesh, my HTML got all bent out of shape there. Sorry! That should read:
You can't buy Criterion's Grey Gardens disc now, as it's on moratorium. They do that with pretty much all of their DVDs. But we did get a copy before that happened and have it available to rent here (Though we might only have one copy at this time so be patient if you're trying to get it...)

Yikes, nothing like a broken tag to get your day started...


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