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Ask HN: What documentaries are worth watching?
157 points by chunky1994 on June 26, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 151 comments
I'd really like to know, which documentaries truly provide insight into what they are documenting, and what sort of documentaries other hackers out there watch.



The best documentary I've seen in a while is Restrepo (2010) [1,2].

Probably the best insight you can get on a platoon's experience in what is (or rather, was) probably the most contested area in Afghanistan.

[1] - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1559549/

[2] - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Restrepo_%28film%29


Armadillo is even more real: they put cameras on the soldiers helmets and filmed a real shooting with the Taliban soldiers. You see the Danish soldiers shooting Taliban soldiers, and you see the Danish solders dragging the dead bodies out of the hiding place. They even show a shell shocked Danish soldier after he was hit.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1640680/ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armadillo_(film) The film won the Grand Prix de la Semaine de la Critique at Cannes. It created a huge debate in Denmark about the engagement in Afghanistan.


Warning: NSFA (not safe for anything).

The shooting: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9PcvDrYd8-4&t=15m45s

The dead taliban scene: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jfke2X6joko&t=3m10s

Trailer (switch to HD!): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0DDuRraJbOg


Restrepo is great. I thought it captured two things very well: what modern war is like from a grunt's perspective, and the disconnect between US officers and the local Afghani leaders they are supposed to be working with.

It's also got some amazing handheld footage of firefights. After the third or fourth time the cameraman dives for cover and the people around him begin shooting, you start to think, "hey, this seems like it was pretty dangerous to make." That only makes it sadder that the guy holding the camera was recently killed in Libya while doing more or less the same thing.


Just watched it, amazing!!!!


Enron - The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enron:_The_Smartest_Guys_in_the...

March of the Penguins (2005) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/March_of_the_Penguins

Code Rush (2000) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Code_Rush

Losers and Winners (2006) http://www.losers-and-winners.net/index_en.htm Documentary about the dismantling of a German coking plant, the most modern in the world, by Chinese workers in 2003, who shipped the plant to China and built several clones of it there. The plant was sold to China for a minor sum when the steel price was at an all time low and politicians believed the price would stay there. The steel price has since skyrocketed.

Weltmarktführer (2004) http://www.weltmarktfuehrer-derfilm.de/ Excellent documentary about the rise and fall of IT-startup Biodata and its founder Tan Siekmann during the dotcom boom and bust, alas only available in German.


"Enron - The Smartest Guys in the Room" seconded! It is by far my most favourite documentary.

In addition, I like the following documentaries:

- "Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer" http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1638362/

- "Planet Earth" IMHO one of BBC's best productions with some of the most amazing nature shots ever (e.g., a [presumably stratospheric] shot that looks like fog or fire but is really a swarm of flies) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0795176/

- BBC has also two of the best documentary series regarding the second world war: "The World at War" (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0071075/) and "The Nazis: A Warning from History" (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0207907/)

- Errol Morris' "The Thin Blue Line" (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0096257/) and "The Fog of War" (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0317910/)


Really? I thought "The Smartest Guys in the Room" was very boring -- I learned literally nothing about the Enron scandal other than "some guys were pretty greedy." Most of the documentary was segments of people describing how unethical management was, while barely elucidating on what actually happened.


The World at War is a series that I believe shaped large parts of my life. It still colours my thinking to this day; particularly with respect to the Middle East.

I was 11 or 12 when this series first aired in the UK. It was on quite late at night, but my parents decided I should "stay up" and watch it. Good parents. The war was still raw with them, though they were tiny kids at that time. My mum was born in 1937, my dad was as bit older.

It is graphic, honest, and a since folk rewrite history as time passes, an essential historical document of what transpired in those times.

I urge you to watch it. Our recent history is the most relevant.

But let me put this in perspective. The American Civil War started 100 years before I was born. WWII started 72 years ago. What seems almost unreachable history, becomes almost tangible as you get older. And I'm not that old!


Watching Code Rush now - thanks for the recommendation!


If you liked it, the Mozilla Memory Project offers even more first-hand accounts on Mozilla's history: http://mozillamemory.org/

I've found the interview with Mike Pinkerton (nowadays at Google working on Chrome for the Mac) to be particularly interesting because of his candidness: http://mozillamemory.org/detailview.php?id=7277


Banksy's documentary/mockumentary : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exit_Through_the_Gift_Shop


Just saw it. Glorious. A two hour guide on how to hack the art market, and a fine piece of film. Do recommend.


I've recently enjoyed several episodes of the Vanguard series. There are full episodes of the first 3 seasons available on YouTube:

http://current.com/shows/vanguard/

http://www.youtube.com/show?p=8NtSYAZY9Y8&s=3

On a similar note, The Vice Guide to Travel:

http://www.vbs.tv/watch/the-vice-guide-to-travel

Adam Curtis is the creator of various interesting pieces. Some of his documentaries are mentioned in this thread:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adam_Curtis

I've also enjoyed many of Werner Herzog's films.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Werner_Herzog#Filmography

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Encounters_at_the_End_of_the_Wo...

The Yes Men are quite entertaining.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Yes_Men_Fix_the_World

http://theyesmenfixtheworld.com/

Man on Wire.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man_on_Wire

Cocaine Cowboys.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cocaine_cowboys


+1 on Cocaine Cowboys. That was a pretty ridiculous doc. It's on netflix. I suggest watching it with someone from miami.


Les Blank did a great documentary about Herzog filming Fitzcarraldo, as well. A very interesting pair of films to watch -- it's titled "Burden of Dreams."

Herzog has several short docus worth seeing too. I know the one is on youtube where he goes to an evacuated town and up a volcano that's set to blow, to find a man who has refused to leave his home on the volcano's side.


+1 Herzog. His latest 'documentary', Cave of Forgotten Dreams, is wonderful.


For those that don't know Werner, he's the kind of guy that says "It's not a significant bullet" after getting shot with a pellet gun:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ylXqc8TQ15w


I saw that in 3d in the theater. It absolutely blew my mind. It was so beautiful. It was the first (new) 3d movie I've seen. Seeing mammoth skulls covered in blankets of crystals jutting out in 3d was almost an orgasmic experience.


Great list, The Vice Guide to North Korea was what I was going to recommend


+1 Adam Curtis. Even his old works are interesting, even if they seem dated politically.


After watching some short pieces of his, he came off much too much like a British and slightly cleverer version of Michael Moore -- entertaining to watch, the editing is great, but the documentarian techniques are wholly deceptive. He'll link unrelated things with a sleight of hand, then sneak in several ideas during the shock that follows.

Do I have the wrong impression?


Based on one thing I saw, I think you may be right. One of Curtis' documentaries linked the Scottish (anti-)psychiatrist R.D. Laing to the cold war game theorists of RAND as if they were collaborators in social control. You don't have to know much about Laing to know this is spurious.

It's a pity, because I've learned things from watching Curtis. The Bernays-Freud material at the start of Century of the Self is riveting.


Ah, that's too bad. The editing and sound and done so well, he really knows how to make an engaging docu.

One of his latest ones, "It Felt Like a Kiss" is a new direction for him and pretty interesting from what I saw of it. It's almost mocking his own style in some ways -- it uses the techniques of typical TV news media to show a series of absurd and shocking material, with the context switching rapidly enough that there's no chance to reflect on what you've just seen. I suppose it's a meta-criticism of the TV news medium, mimicking it in an extreme way to show how ridiculous and harmful it is. It's an exciting trip to watch, though the content is nonsense and it doesn't have a whole lot to say -- it's more just a way to get you to reconsider the usual media you might consume.


You should check out his latest 'All watched over by machines of loving grace' -- probably his best yet.


Thanks. Can you tell me if my impression of his older stuff ("Felt Like a Kiss" aside) still applies to to this one though? Or has he changed his approach now?


I guess it depends on why you consider Michael Moore to be a bad film maker. Quite a few of Michael Moore's critics dislike his films because of his political positions, not because of his film making techniques. If you believe his political positions have no merit, one will disagree with the presentation of them.

Adam Curtis does have political opinions about society. If opinionated films bother you, and particularly ones that lean left or are not decidedly right leaning, it may be worth skipping Adam Curtis' work.


This excellent adam curtis parody about sums it up:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x1bX3F7uTrg


I'm fine with opinionated filmmaking, and I even agree with much of Moore's messages, but at more moments than I'm comfortable with I find Moore's filmmaking to be dishonest, insincere and deceptive. Very well edited and engaging though, so I wish I could like him.


Triumph of the Nerds is inspirational and makes you feel like geeks can make something out of nothing.

Ken Burns' documentary on Frank Lloyd Wright makes you feel like you identify with a singular drive for vision above all else (The SC Johnson headquarters in Racine, WI are heavenly but the roof leaks buckets)

Not truly a documentary but "My Architect" is a moving journey by Louis Kahn's son to try to understand his father he never really knew through the works he left behind

http://www.pbs.org/flw/

http://www.myarchitectfilm.com/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_X._Cringely


found triumph of the nerds on Google videos,

=> http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-2539790754467363791...


Kevin Kelly has an extensive collection of what he calls True Films [1]: "I define true films as documentaries, educational films, instructional how-to's, and what the British call factuals - a non-fiction visual account."

He has also released an ebook where he offers rave reviews of 150 great true films. Each film gets a short review of why it is worth your time, and then features 4 or 5 screen grabs from the film to show you what the texture and style of the film is. It also includes a picture of the cover and indicate where you can rent it (say on Netflix) or purchase it (from Amazon).

What is he looking for in a great true film? "It must be factual. It must surprise me, but not preach to me. If it introduces me to a world or subculture that I never thought about before, even better. There's a plot - a transformation from beginning to the end."

[1] http://truefilms.com/ [2] http://www.kk.org/books/true-films.php


James Burke's Connections, with each episode showing how one idea sparks a chain of inventions and innovations resulting in something seemingly unrelated several centuries later.

http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/james-burke-connections/


You should also check out Bronowski's Ascent of Man, it was made with many of the same people, before Connections. Later, they again worked on Carl Sagan's Cosmos.


I have a bias against Bronowski from years ago, when I heard him say that man is unique among animals because only man plays, and science is his play. I remember thinking - good lord, man, have you never seen a cat?


I had a lot of problems with him in the documentary, especially his dismissals of certain cultures based on extremely sparse data from archeological records. But it was still good overall.


Great documentary. Especially the first season.


One of my favorites is The Fog of War (2003) - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_fog_of_war

Besides being an incredible individual, I found Robert McNamara's lessons to be surprisingly relevant to the startup world.


I love Errol Morris's documentaries (the maker of The Fog of War). You might want to check out Gates of Heaven. It's one of my favorite documentaries. It's about the owners of 2 pet cemetaries and is one of the most profound movies I've ever seen. Also, the cinematography in it is amazing.

Errol Morris said that the way he gets such amazingly candid confessions out of people is that he asks a question, the interviewee answers it, then Errol Morris just sits there. The interviewee feels the need to fill the silence and that's where the gold comes out.


If you find things like graphic design, typesetting or industrial design interesting, you will definitely enjoy "Helvetica" and "Objectified" from Gary Hustwit.


In my case, I enjoyed the former much more than the latter.


King of Kong. Donkey Kong was a little before my time, but the characters are so amazing that it's almost hard to believe it's a documentary.

Cosmos. Because it's Carl Sagan.


Keep in mind King of Kong's accuracy is quite widely disputed, including by the people who were the subjects of the film. The filmmaker pumped up the drama between everyone quite a bit. Still a fun documentary.


IF you want to see a documentary without the pumped up drama, check out "chasing ghosts". Not as good as King of Kong, but still interesting.


I turned off King of Kong about 30 minutes. Everybody involved were such douchebags that I didn't care how it turned out.


The Colonel Comes to Japan -- only about 30 minutes long IIRC, about KFC's foray into Japan in the late 1970s. Absolutely fascinating, both for the Japan angle and for the CEO's take on running a business. (He attributes most of their success to finding the right people and trusting them to do their job correctly rather than imposing his will from the top.)


I failed to find it except as a VHS in a few university libraries, none of which are in my country. Where did you purchase your copy?


Sorry, I watched it at university. I do not know where one would purchase a copy these days. You might try sending a letter to KFC Investor Relations (seriously -- this department bends over backwards to say Yes in most companies).


It seems to be a WGBH (Boston area PBS station) documentary from the 80s. All the libraries around here have it (we have two copies), but only on VHS, betamax, or film. It's likely out of print and you're probably best off downloading it online.

If you're at a university, you could probably order it through interlibrary loan. There are actually a lot of libraries with this item and it'll likely be loaned (we do international loans all the time).


Werner Herzog has made a number of excellent documentaries. Here are a few of them with brief summaries.

Lessons of Darkness: the aftermath of the first Gulf War in Kuwait.

Little Dieter Wants to Fly: A young German emigrates to the USA, become a Navy pilot, and is shot down in Vietnam. He escapes and lives to tell the tale. Herzog later re-made this as Rescue Dawn, but the original version is better.

Encounters at the End of the World: Herzog travels to Antarctica.

My Best Fiend: Herzog recounts his movie-making with Klaus Kinski. (For the counterpoint, read Kinski's autobiography, "Kinski Uncut.)

The White Diamond: an experimental zeppelin flies over Guyana.

Grizzly Man: Bear aficionado gets too close and is eaten. Herzog assembled this one from the aficonado's footage and narrates.

Out of all of these, I'd rate "Dieter" as the best.


I didn't really like Little Dieter. Herzog's best films were made in the early part of his career (back in the 1970's), and he's gotten a lot weaker with age.

Herzog's masterpiece is Aguirre:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0068182/

It is head and shoulders above anything else he's ever made.

Fitzcarraldo and Nosferatu are also good:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0083946/

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0079641/

The rest of his films range from awful to meh.


Objectified - a great documentary about good industrial design and what makes products usable.


+1. I watched this on a whim on Friday and absolutely loved it. The film is worth watching just for the interviews with Jonathan Ive, Apple's senior VP of industrial design.

Also, The Pixar Story is terrific. Plus, both documentaries are on Netflix Instant.


I quite like that director's previous documentary: Helvetica (http://www.helveticafilm.com/)


True Films, as suggested by BioGeek, has an extensive list of documentaries and offers thorough reviews.

Personally I use Movielens.org to keep track of movies - and based on your ratings it'll predict which other movies, including documentaries, you might enjoy.

Some of the documentaries I enjoyed are: - Armadillo (2010). Armadillo centers on a group of soldiers, as do Restrepo, and in particular a mission where Taliban soldiers allegedly are liquidated. The documentary does a good job depicting the chaos of war situations with helmet-mounted cameras. - Sharkwater (2006). To me, much more moving and worrying than The Cove. - Surfwise (2007). A surf movie that isn't about surfing, but instead tells the story of being brought up in an alternative lifestyle.


Startup.com

It's a reminder of how crazy things were during the .com boom. Also, on how not to start a company.


I came here to say startup.com, I'd add "Pseudo" as a very good one for a bust of the video streaming space. Silicon Valley pirates, although not entirely factual, is very good for the few who have yet to watch it.


+1 Startup.com - great movie



Beautiful Young Minds: Youngsters hoping to represent Britain in the International Maths Olympiad 2006.

Tetris: From Russia with Love - This is the fascinating story behind the game set against the backdrop of Cold War tensions between East and West.

Revolution OS

Triumph of the Nerds: The Rise of Accidental Empires

N is a Number: A Portrait of Paul Erdös

The Ascent of Man: Written and presented by Jacob Bronowski.

Cosmos: Carl Sagan



I liked Waiting for Superman a little better, but The Lottery is also good and touches on very similar themes. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1515935/


The Fog of War is fantastic as mentioned, but the best part is you can watch it in full, for free on Google Video: http://video.google.com.au/videoplay?docid=-8653788864462752...


The Century of the Self by Adam Curtis http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UcYBSXgtmKQ - Episode 1 of 4, the rest are also on youtube

It's a bit tendentious but overall insightful and interesting IMO.


Marwencol. It's about an alcoholic guy who in his late 40s gets beaten up by a gang of teens, get's brain damage. Has to relearn everything, essentially forming a second life. He also creates this entire miniature WWII town that he vividly details/photographs and creates elaborate stories. It is superbly done: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1391092/


AskReddit has numerous discussion about this topic [1]. Also check out Documentaries subreddit [2].

[1] http://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/search?q=documentary&r...

[2] http://www.reddit.com/r/Documentaries/


Here are some nerdy ones:

"BBS: The Documentary" and "Get Lamp" by Jason Scott are a couple great hacker docs, about BBSs and Interactive Fiction Games (though I would have to say they have a more Apple/wintel PC bent over other computers, but still historically interesting). Both have many great interviews with BBS and interactive fiction luminaries.

Tilt - The Battle to Save Pinball, this one covers the trials and tribualtions of Pinball 2000 the development of a digital/analog pinball hybrid. There's also The History of Pinball, its not as fancy but it's interesting.

The King of Kong is slightly entertaining about the world of Donkey Kong high scores and a peek into competitive arcade game competitions.

Revolution OS - About Linux/GNU kinda dry but interesting interviews.

Deathbed Vigil...and other tales of digital angst. Documents the last days of Commodore when it went bankrupt in 1994. I think mainly interesting to Commodore fans or folks who enjoyed seeing commodore fail...


If you only ever watch one film, watch American Movie http://bit.ly/lXSB8X

It's a film about art, entrepreneurialism, and delusion. Also friends and family.


Very strongly second this. Excellent film that will make you look hard at what you're doing with your time.


Thirded – remarkable, loving, yet fierce documentary. A real favorite.


Any documentary by Louis Theroux, true gems when it comes to documentaries; http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0857621/

He will surprise you every time with the kind of stuff he asks and that people will give him actual answers, really great stuff.


Here's the best documentary I've seen in years: Please Vote for Me, a film covering 3rd graders in a Chinese primary school running for class monitor:

http://pleasevoteforme.org/

(Available for streaming on Netflix.)


Bigger Stronger Faster* - Awesome documentary on steroid use in weightlifting, really thought provoking.

Alone in the Wilderness - A guy that is built like Popeye goes into the Yukon and builds a log cabin by hand. I think its really inspirational.


Art & Copy (http://www.artandcopyfilm.com/). It's the story of how advertising went from a staid, "old boys" industry to one where creative talent prevailed.



Roger and Me -- Michael Moore's first documentary. It's a bit more subtle, level headed and even than his later stuff. A really good look at what happened to Michigan after the big three started moving factories out.

God Grew Tired of Us -- About Sudanese refugees who come to live in America. They'd literally never seen any modern conveniences ever. For example they had to be taught how to use a toilet. Very fascinating. http://www.godgrewtiredofus.com/about.html


"Animals are beautiful people" is great : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animals_Are_Beautiful_People


Dark Days is great. It's about people living in a train tunnel in NYC: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0235327/

Errol Morris' movies are all good. Fast, Cheap and Out of Control is pretty widely known. But also check out The Thin Blue Line, which is built around multiple reconstructions of a crime scene and got a death penalty sentence reversed: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0096257/


I also recommend Fast, Cheap and Out of Control. Before seeing it, I didn't really understand that documentary is an art form of its own, not just a collection of facts put together.

The film is composed of four interviews that seem to have nothing in common at all. Yet somehow it is compiled in a way that it makes very much sense in a way I cannot really describe. I have to watch it again, it will be interesting to see how it makes me feel nowadays.


This is the kind of thread that would have benefited from seeing Karma... just saying (and I thought the vote a few weeks back indicated they were coming back).

Ah well.


Brian Cox's various physics and astronomy series [1]

I hear high praises for Carl Sagan's Cosmos[2]

Michael Mosley is very good at telling you about medicine [3]

David Attenborough is just him really, world's most famous natural history presenter? Watch again every time you upgrade your TV [4] [5]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Cox_(physicist)#Televisio... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmos:_A_Personal_Voyage http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_J._Mosley http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Attenborough#Filmography http://www.amazon.co.uk/Life-Collection-David-Attenborough-D...



"Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills"

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0117293/

A group of young men are accused of murder because, basically, they look like goths and have the misfortune of living in a conservative Christian community.

---

The "Seven Up" series:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0058578/

A group of British kids from various socio-economic backgrounds are interviewed starting when they are 7 years old, and interviewed again every 7 years.

---

"Manufacturing Consent"

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0104810/

Based on Noam Chomsky's book about the influence the mass media and other institutions have on Americans.

---

"Crumb"

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0109508/

The life of Robert Crumb, a hugely influential underground cartoonist.

---

"Born Rich"

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0342143/

About kids who are born in to insanely wealthy families.


Two great documentaries that focus on China, which I have not seen listed:

Manufactured Landscapes: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manufactured_Landscapes

Up The Yangtze: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Up_the_Yangtze


The overall best general history documentation I've seen is Simon Schama's "A History of Britain":

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_History_of_Britain_%28TV_seri...

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0273359/


Steve Blank on the Secret History of Silicon Valley: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFSPHfZQpIQ

History of electronic warfare -- very surprising, recently declassified stuff. Plus the history of Silicon Valley itself, from a pro-valley perspective.


I've been enjoying the Discovery channel's "Through the Wormhole" (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1513168/). They cover a lot of the latest theories of the universe, time, physics etc, in an accessible way.


Food and Health:

Fat Head (2009) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1333994/ Especially if you've seen "Super Size Me", but even if you haven't, an amusing yet educational take on the obesity "epidemic".

Food, Inc. (2008) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1286537/ - Exposing the absurdity of our industrial food economy.

Music and Entertainment:

Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2008) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1157605/ Talk about never giving up on your dreams.

Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (2004) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0387412/ The other side of fame.


Some Kind of Monster was one of the funniest movies I've ever seen.


Inside Job - the best documentary I've seen on the financial crisis of 2008 and what led to it.


'Status Anxiety' is a very well done documentary on the question of why money doesn't really buy you happiness: http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/status-anxiety/ Highly recommended!


"From the Earth to the Moon" - a 12 part series about the American space program from Mercury through to the end of the Apollo program, told as stories from a number of different perspectives, narrated by Tom Hanks: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/From_the_Earth_to_the_Moon_(TV_...

"When We Left Earth" - a history of NASA from Mercury through to the mid 200Xs, including many interviews with engineers and astronauts, narrated by Gary Sinise http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/When_We_Left_Earth


I went down to Ann Arbor this week to see the debut of this documentary on the birth of the venture capital industry and it was quite good:

http://www.geekosystem.com/something-ventured-documentary/

Did you know that Intel's business plan was a single page double spaced and full of typos?

That Steve Jobs offered his then boss Nolan Bushnell half of Apple Computer for $50K? Bushnell passed and joked in the movie that he refused to calculate the return on that investment because it would be too painful ;<).


---China:

Last Train Home http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1512201/

Up The Yangtze http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1114277/

Discovery Channel - The People's Republic of Capitalism - 4 parts series

China Rises, 4 parts CBC series

---Megacities:

Megacities http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0169024/

BBC Megacities, BBC 3 parts series

---War:

Fog of War: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0317910/

Restrepo: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1559549/


You won't find many documentaries as revealing, hopeful, sad, and full of wisdom about the world of black kids in the American inner city than the documentary "Hoop Dreams". It's so much more than a story about kinds playing basketball.

It's almost 3 hours long but it will grab your attention and you'll forget about time. When I watched it at the movie theatre in the mid-90s I was blown away by it's depth. I have never watched a better documentary since.

It's free online: http://www.hulu.com/watch/249576/hoop-dreams


Riding Giants: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0389326/ Pretty light fare, but the film footage is beautiful.

Driver 23: http://fenrisfilms.com/films.html Awkward, almost painful to watch, but hard to look away.

Bigger, Stronger, Faster: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1151309/ Unfortunately, this is the only one of these three available on Netflix Instant.


Joseph Campbell: The Power of Myth

OK. So It's not quite a documentary... but a wonderful introduction to Campbell and his ideas taken from interviews with Bill Moyers at the end of his life.


If you like eSports, I enjoyed watching BoxeR's wings. Best documentary of a professional esports player (also the most famous one in the world). It's about his return to the pro scene and playing starcraft 2 and trying to compete as an older player who has finished his military service (required in korea, often quitting point for top pros).

Part 1: http://gosu.com/2011/06/boxers-wings-part-1/


I once made a little list with many of the documentaries I've seen - browsing through that list; here are my recommendations:

God Grew Tired of Us - about three of the "Lost Boys of Sudan", a group of some 25,000 young men who have fled the wars in Sudan since the 1980s, and their experiences as they move to the United States. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_Grew_Tired_of_Us

Darwin's Nightmare - about the environmental and social effects of the fishing industry around Lake Victoria in Tanzania. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darwins_Nightmare

Deliver Us From Evil - tells the true story of Catholic priest Oliver O'Grady, who admitted to having molested and raped approximately 25 children in Northern California between the late 1970s and early 1990s http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deliver_Us_from_Evil_(2006_film...

Shadow Company - an introduction to the mercenary and private military company industry, concentrating on the role the industry has been playing in recent conflicts http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shadow_Company

Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers - about the ongoing Iraq War and the behavior of companies with no-bid contracts working in Iraq. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iraq_for_Sale:_The_War_Profitee...

'Meet the Stans' - a four-part BBC Four series on the stans (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan etc) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meet_the_Stans

'Places That Don't Exist' - a five-part BBC Four series on breakaway states and unrecognised nations http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Places_That_Dont_Exist

War Photographer - As well as telling the story of an iconic man in the field of war photography, the film addresses the broader scope of ideas common to all those involved in war journalism, as well as the issues that they cover. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_Photographer

Pretty much all seasons/episodes of Vanguard http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vanguard_(TV_series) of which ' The Oxycontin Express' is the most famous for winning a Peabody award.

Pretty much all episodes of Vice Guide to Travel - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vice_Guide_to_Travel

Many documantaries are available on youtube. Do note though that some of these documentaries discuss horrible topics, aren't fun to watch and will be stuck in your mind for a very long time, if not ever.


You would probably like King Corn http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1112115/


+1 for Darwin's Nightmare...



The Linguists:

http://www.thelinguists.com/ | http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1172995/

David and Greg are "The Linguists," who document languages on the verge of extinction. In the rugged landscapes of Siberia, India, and Bolivia, their resolve is tested by institutionalized racism and violent economic unrest.


I recently saw Morgan Spurlock's latest, "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" about advertising and product placement in film, and found it unbiased and quite funny. It's also got a pretty clever recursive theme that I think a lot of HNers would enjoy. (edit to add, in case anyone doesn't know, it's a movie about securing funding for a film about product placement through product placement)


His talk at TED was also quite interesting: http://www.ted.com/talks/morgan_spurlock_the_greatest_ted_ta...


The Take by Naomi Klein is a really interesting documentary about workers in Argentina breaking into the factories their corrupt bosses closed down after the economic collapse and working them themselves (sometimes having to barricade themselves in with the police outside and smuggle the product out the back of the factory to complicit neighbors who took it to distributors for them).


Startup.com a great first-hand account of the rise and fall of your typical 1999 .com startup right before and during the dotcom bust



Well interest in documentaries could be varied by your personal domain of interest. Since you've not mentioned any particular domain, I'll give you a list of the ones I think were great.

1. Century of Self 2. BBC Horizon Infinity and Beyond 3. BBC Horizon Is Seeing Believing 4. BBC Dangerous Knowledge 5. The Shadow Factory 6. Get Lamp 7. Human Experience

Hope that helps.


Our Brand is Crisis for insight into modern political campaigns Armadillo for an experience that approximates being a soldier


Our brand is crisis was a great, great, great production.


The Smashing Machine is incredible. It's about the early days of mixed martial arts.

Restrepo is popular now too, with good reason.


"Manufacturing Consent:The Political Economy of the Mass Media," by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky


A few of my favourite docs:

Spellbound: story about kids entering a spelling bee - great film about the fabric of America Fog of War: Former Sec of Defence talking about war Capitalism- a love story: humorous look at our economic system Planet Earth: Breathtaking view of our environment


Did anyone watch "Capitalism: A Love Story" by Michael Moore? I remember it being announced and seeing a trailer for it just after the banking collapse in 2008, but I can't remember ever seeing a formal release for it in the UK or worldwide

did it tank in the theatres or something?


It is a really good watch and is on netflix. If you like Capitalism : A love story - then do watch "The corporation"


I watched The Corporation on Hulu. It was hilarious to watch it perforated by commercials. Needless to say they didn't have the desired effect.



Run From The Cure:The Rick Simpson Story I usually can't stand pot documentaries, but I found this movie to be really good and not about getting high.

Having said that about pot documentaries, I have to add Super High Me to the list, because I enjoyed that film as well.


I enjoyed "An Unreasonable Man" ... a biography of consumer advocate and U.S. presidential candidate Ralph Nader:

http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/unreasonableman/nader.htm...


Professor Marcus du Sautoy has made documentaries with the BBC about famous mathematicians; they're pretty good.

Also, I'm not sure if they qualify as documentaries in the strict sense of the word, but you can't go wrong with BBC natural history programmes.


I recently saw Something Ventured, which is a very entertaining documentary about early silicon valley venture capitalists. http://www.somethingventuredthemovie.com/


Floored -- A documentary of the floor traders working on Chicago's floors and how the electronic business is changing their lives. http://flooredthemovie.com/community/


If you understand spanish, you might enjoy "Comprar, Tirar, Comprar" (buy, throw away, buy): http://www.rtve.es/v/983391/

It's about the fact that most products now have a "programmed lifespan".


I loved Fermat's Last Theorum: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=8269328330690408516#

And the recent 'Senna' for both capturing the passions involved.


Louis Theroux has an incredible set of documentaries http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Louis_Theroux_Documenta...


Bobby Fisher 5 Parts .About Bobby vs Spassky http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HKAW173cSjY&feature=relat...


The Money Masters: How International Bankers Gained Control of America. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cIjxXEZyhzU


Riot On - a very entertaining and well produced story of dotcom bubble madness http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0427783/


Documentary about amoral corporations of the modern-day society. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0379225/



"Crumb" is a charming, interesting and often sad look at Robert Crumb's work as an artist and his idiosyncratic personal life and relations.




Overnight is a fascinating documentary on the self destruction of someone who experiences overnight success in Hollywood.


Harlan County U.S.A and Hoop Dreams are pretty much mandatory viewing. For a laugh, I quite enjoyed Monster Camp.



The Batle of Argel - the intriguing difference of point of view of a liberation army or a terrorist group.


If you're interested in education policy, "Waiting for Superman" and "The Lottery" are both excellent.


Errol Morris: "The Thin Blue Line". If you are pro-death penalty, then you need to watch this film.


The thin blue line is a great movie about those who fall through the cracks of justice.


Wild China is pretty amazing, and it's on Neflix Instant.


This is turning out to be a really awesome list; here are a few others I feel should be mentioned:

- Dear Zachery: one of my all time favorite documentaries. Amazingly tragic, depressing, and infuriating, but extremely well made. (http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/Dear_Zachary_A_Letter_to_a...)

- The Great Happiness Space: an interesting look into the lives of japanese male 'escorts'; the unfolding of the moral dilemmas they face in doing their job is quite fascinating. (http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/The_Great_Happiness_Space/...)

- Heavy Metal In Baghdad: If you think running a startup is hard, multiply that difficulty a couple times just to get an idea of what these guys had to go through just to be able to play the music they enjoy. Don't have to be a metalhead to enjoy this one, but it helps \m/ (http://www.vbs.tv/watch/acrassicauda--2/heavy-metal-in-baghd...), Also, be sure to checkout their follow-up, 'Heavy Metal in Istanbul' (http://www.vbs.tv/watch/acrassicauda--2/dvd-extra-heavy-meta...)

- Metal A Headbanger's Journey: Another one of my favorites, definitely a must watch if you're at all into metal; it basically traces the roots of metal, and explores all the different sub-genres and cultures it has spawned (http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/metal-headbangers-journey/)

- Standing In The Shadows Of Motown: Great doc about the greatest band no one has heard of; "This unheralded group of musicians had played on more number ones hits than the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, Elvis and the Beatles combined - which makes them the greatest hit machine in the history of popular music. They called themselves the Funk Brothers." (http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=7&v...)

- This Film Is Not Yet Rated: about the craziness that happens behind the film rating process (http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=3&v...)

- E=mc2 - Einstein and the World's Most Famous Equation: A look into the history behind all the scientific descoveries that led to Einstein's famous equation (http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=4144497206440839046#)

- Maxed out: Great look into the american credit card situation (http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/Maxed-Out/70058892?trkid=4...)

- Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock?: A really cool, unique ride through the business of art (http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/Who-the-Is-Jackson-Pollock...)

- Mr. Death - The Rise and Fall of Fred A Leuchter Jr.: About the fascinating life of an expert executioner (http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=654178281151939378#)

- American Drug War: a look into what the war against drugs has done to the U.S. (http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/american-drug-war/)

- Between The Folds: A surprisingly interesting oragami documentary (http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/Between-the-Folds/70120179...)

I'm sure I know of plenty more great ones, but these are all that came to mind at the moment...


I love Between the Folds as well. It totally inspired my 10 year old son, who has turned origami into a hobby.


+1 for Mr. Death. Another Errol Morris documentary.


Zeitgeist


Food Inc.


All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All_Watched_Over_by_Machines_of...


I would recommend watching the parody http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x1bX3F7uTrg after "All Watched Over" :)


The Man from Earth (2007) is a worth watch.


Another vote for War Photographer.




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