TOP 70 Documentarists

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1.
Michael Moore
Michael Francis Moore was born in Flint, Michigan on April 23, 1954, and was raised in its Davison suburb. He is the son of Helen Veronica (Wall), a secretary, and Francis Richard Moore, who worked on an auto assembly line. He has Irish, as well as English and Scottish, ancestry. Moore studied journalism at the University of Michigan-Flint...
 
3.
Leni Riefenstahl
Leni Riefenstahl's show-biz experience began with an experiment: she wanted to know what it felt like to dance on the stage. Success as a dancer gave way to film acting when she attracted the attention of film director Arnold Fanck, subsequently starring in some of his mountaineering pictures. With Fanck as her mentor, Riefenstahl began directing films...
 
4.
Albert Lamorisse
Director, The Red Balloon
A former photographer, he turned to directing short subjects in the late 40s, soon acquiring an international reputation for the poetic quality of his short and medium-length films involving the fantasy world of children. Both his White Mane and The Red Balloon received a grand prize at the Cannes Film Festival...
 
6.
Ken Burns
Celebrated American documentarian who gradually amassed a considerable reputation and a devoted audience with a series of reassuringly traditional meditations on Americana. Burns' works are treasure troves of archival materials; he skillfully utilizes period music and footage, photographs, periodicals and ordinary people's correspondence...
 
10.
Jacques-Yves Cousteau
Jacques-Yves Cousteau was born on June 11, 1910, in Saint-André-de-Cubzac (Gironde) in France. He entered the naval academy in 1930, was graduated and became a gunnery officer. Then, while he was training to be a pilot, a serious car accident ended his aviation career. In order to rehabilitate his body...
 
11.
Louis Lumière
Although no one will ever come up with a definitive answer as to who invented the cinema (probably because no one single person was responsible), Louis Lumiere has one of the strongest claims to the title - for it was he (with his brother Auguste) who invented the cinematographe: a machine that combined...
 
15.
Alberto Cavalcanti
Director, Dead of Night
Born in Brazil in 1897, Alberto Cavalcanti began his film career in France in 1920, working as writer, art director and director. He directed the avant-garde documentary Nothing But Time ("Nothing but Time"), a portrait of the lives of Parisian workers in a single day. He moved to England in 1933 to join the GPO Film Unit under John Grierson...
 
16.
Albert Maysles
Cinematographer, Grey Gardens
 
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18.
“ Sink the Bismarck
The Berlin Airlift
Sugihara ” - quietgiant2
 
20.
Alfred Machin
Alfred Machin started his film work as camera man for Pathe at the beginning of 20 Century. During 1907 and 1909 he was in Africa, shooting documentary shorts. In 1910 he worked at the Pathe studio in Nizza, in 1911 he was one of the founding directors of the Pathe-filiale in Amsterdam, in 1913 he was the same in Brussel...
 
22.
Errol Morris
His documentaries helped spur a rebirth of non-fiction film in the 80s & garnered wide critical success. But until 2003's "The Fog of War," Morris was shunned by the Academy Awards. Morris' first two films won much acclaim (Gates of Heaven and Vernon, Florida). In the second movie, Morris intended to explore "Nub City," the town known for residents trading limbs for insurance settlements...
“ Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara ” - quietgiant2
 
23.
Peter Watkins
Director, The War Game
Peter Watkins began his career in advertising as an assistant producer and turned to amateur filmmaking in the late 1950s. In the mid-'60s he was commissioned by BBC-TV to make two feature-length docudramas incorporating a quasi-newsreel style and nonprofessional actors. The second of these, The War Game...
 
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30.
Eugene Jarecki
Eugene Jarecki is an Emmy and Peabody award-winning director of dramatic and documentary subjects who has twice won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, first in 2005 for Why We Fight and again in 2012 for The House I Live In A public intellectual on domestic and international affairs...
 
32.
Emile de Antonio
The son of a wealthy physician, Emile de Antonio grew up in the tough coal-mining town of Scranton, Pennsylvania, and it made a deep impression on him. His sympathies were always with working-class people (although he was a Harvard graduate, he was at times a dock worker, a peddler, the captain of a river barge and a broker in war-surplus equipment)...
 
33.
Les Blank
Born in 1935 in Tampa, Florida, Les Blank attended Tulane University in New Orleans, where he received a B.A. in English literature and an M.F.A. in theatre. In 1967, after two years in the Ph.D. film program at the University of Southern California, and five years of freelancing in Los Angeles, he began his first independent films...
 
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35.
Dziga Vertov
Born in Bialystok, Poland, studied music and enrolled in St. Petersburg Neurological Institute in 1916. Worked on first Soviet newsreel, Kinonedelia (1918-1919), then on subsequent newsreel series (inc. Kinopravda, 1922-1925).
 
36.
“ Jogo de Cena
Edifício Master
Cabra Marcado Para Morrer ” - quietgiant2
 
37.
Frederick Wiseman
Director, Titicut Follies
Born in 1930, Wiseman is a Cambridge, Massachusetts resident and member of the Massachusetts Bar Association who turned to filmmaking in 1967, after years as an instructor and/or researcher at Boston University, Brandeis University, and Harvard. In 1970 he founded Zipporah Films, Inc., which continues to distribute his documentaries...
 
38.
“ semi-documental style ” - quietgiant2
 
39.
Roberto Rossellini
The master filmmaker Roberto Rossellini, as one of the creators of neo-realism, is one of the most influential directors of all time. His neo-realist films influenced France's nouvelle vague movement in the 1950s and '60s that changed the face of international cinema. He also influenced American directors, including Martin Scorsese...
“ semi-documental style ” - quietgiant2
 
40.
Michelangelo Antonioni
Writer, Blow-Up
Michelangelo Antonioni was born in 1912 into a middle-class family and grew up in bourgeois surroundings of the Italian province. In Bologna he studied economics and commerce while he painted and also wrote criticism for a local newspaper. In 1939 he went to Rome and worked for the journal "Cinema" studying directorship at the School of Cinema...
 
41.
Ken Russell
Director, Tommy
Ken Russell tried several professions, before choosing to become a film director. He was a still photographer, a dancer and even served in the army, but it was film that was to be Mr. Russell's destiny. He began by making several short films, and those paved the way for his brilliant television films of the sixties that are acclaimed for his attention to detail and opulent visuals...
 
42.
Werner Herzog
Director, Grizzly Man
Director. Writer. Producer. Has studied history, literature and theatre, but hasn't finished it. Founded his own production company in 1963. Has staged several operas, besides others in Bayreuth, Germany, and at the Milan Scala in Italy. Herzog has won numerous national and international awards for his films.
 
43.
Louis Malle
Louis Malle, the descendant of a French nobleman who made a fortune in beet sugar during the Napoleonic Wars, created films that explored life and its meaning. Malle's family discouraged his early interest in film but, in 1950, allowed him to enter the Institute of Advanced Cinematographic Studies in Paris...
 
45.
Jean-Luc Godard
Director, My Life to Live
Jean-Luc Godard was born in Paris on December 3, 1930, the second of four children in a bourgeois Franco-Swiss family. His father was a doctor who owned a private clinic, and his mother came from a preeminent family of Swiss bankers. During World War II Godard became a naturalized citizen of Switzerland and attended school in Nyons (Switzerland)...
 
48.
Abbas Kiarostami
Director, Certified Copy
Abbas Kiarostami was born in Tehran, Iran, in 1940. He graduated from university with a degree in fine arts before starting work as a graphic designer. He then joined the Center for Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults, where he started a film section, and this started his career as a filmmaker at the age of 30...
 
49.
Spike Jonze
Producer, Her
Spike Jonze made up one-third (along with Andy Jenkins and Mark Lewman) of the triumvirate of genius minds behind Dirt Magazine, the brother publication of the much lamented ground-breaking Sassy Magazine. These three uncommon characters were all editors for Grand Royal Magazine as well, under...
 
50.
James Cameron
Writer, Aliens
James Francis Cameron was born on August 16, 1954 in Kapuskasing, Ontario, Canada. He moved to the United States in 1971. The son of an engineer, he majored in physics at California State University before switching to English, and eventually dropping out. He then drove a truck to support his screenwriting ambition...
 
51.
Wim Wenders
Wim Wenders is an Oscar-nominated German filmmaker who was born Ernst Wilhelm Wenders on August 14, 1945 in Düsseldorf, which then was located in the British Occupation Zone of what became the Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Federal Republic of Germany, known colloquially as West Germany until reunification)...
 
52.
Shôhei Imamura
Director, The Eel
Imamura's father was a doctor. During the war, his father could not be drafted but his two brothers were. As a result, his eldest brother got killed in action. Imamura spent his youth in the middle of small-time hoods and prostitutes at a time when black market was rampant. He later enrolled in a technical school in Tokyo which he left for the Waseda university where...
 
53.
Néstor Almendros
Cinematographer, Kramer vs. Kramer
One of the highest appraised contemporary cinematographers. He was born in Spain but moved to Cuba by age 18 to join his exiled anti-Franco father. In Havana, he founded a cineclub and wrote film reviews. Then, he went on to study in Rome at the Centro Sperimentale. He directed six shorts in Cuba and two in New York...
 
55.
Ron Fricke
Cinematographer, Baraka
 
56.
Guy Davidi
Guy Davidi, was born In Jaffa to a Jewish family. He grew up in Holon South of Tel Aviv, Israel. When he was 10 years old his father died and the family moved to Kfar-Saba, North of Tel Aviv. In his high school years he studied cinema course and started making short films. In the age of 19 he refused doing his obligatory military service in the Israeli Army after being enrolled for 3 months...
“ see too Guy David ” - quietgiant2
 
58.
Rithy Panh
Rithy Panh was born in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on the 18th april 1964. He is today one of the most acclaimed documentary filmmakers and the most famous Cambodian filmmaker worldwide. After 1975 his family died through the genocidal Khmer Rouge government (1975-1979) while he could escape in 1979 to Thailand...
 
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69.
Mikhail Romm
Mikhail Romm was born in 1901, into a Russian-Jewish family, in the Siberian city of Irkutsk, Russia. He served in the Red Army in 1918-21 as an Inspector of the Special Forces for Food Supplies. He was in charge of confiscations of bread and food from the wealthier farmers (kulaks) in Central Russia...