Harvard University's Suggested Film Viewing List: Non-Fiction Films (2011)by mymovieslists | created - 14 Jan 2012 | updated - 26 Jun 2012 | Public
This list is "an educational resource that offers guidance and encouragement as students seek to find points of orientation within the vast history of film and video." It is not a list of the best films of all time. Rather, it reflects a variety of criteria.
The list is divided into 6 sections: I. Narrative Films Hollywood Genres (with an emphasis on the classical studio era) II. Non-Fiction Films III. Animated Films IV. Experimental/Avant-garde/Underground Films V. Videos VI. Video Installations (this section can't be added to IMDb because IMDb doesn't list video installations)
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2. Nanook of the North (1922)
Not Rated | 78 min | Documentary
In this silent predecessor to the modern documentary, film-maker Robert J. Flaherty spends one year following the lives of Nanook and his family, Inuits living in the Arctic Circle.
8. La croisière jaune (1933)
90 min | Documentary
The film tells the expedition, led by Georges Marie Haardt and Louis Audouin-Dubreuil and sponsored by André Citoën, leaving Beirut in Lebanon to rally China through the ancient Silk Road with half-tracks vehicles, between 1931 and 1932.
9. Las Hurdes (1933)
30 min | Documentary, Short
A surrealistic documentary portrait of the region of Las Hurdes, a remote region of Spain where civilisation has barely developed, showing how the local peasants try to survive without even the most basic utilities and skills.
11. Nieuwe gronden (1933)
36 min | Documentary, Short
The film is a documentary portraying a struggle as man tries to subdue nature. To prevent flooding and for purposes of land reclamation, the people of the Netherlands struggle and succeed ... See full summary »
12. Granton Trawler (1934)
11 min | Documentary, Short
Documentary about the fishing trawler, "Isabella Grieg". We follow her from her base in Granton Harbour, in Edinburgh, right up the east coast of Edinburgh, up to the fishing grounds between Shetland and Norway.
16. The River (1938)
Unrated | 31 min | Documentary, Short, History
This documentary short film looks at the devastating and costly problems, including seasonal flooding and erosion of precious topsoil, associated with the Mississippi River system and promotes more Federal projects to remedy the situation.
17. The Spanish Earth (1937)
Unrated | 52 min | Documentary, War
A documentary showing the struggle of the Spanish Republican government against a rebellion by ultra-right-wing forces led by Gen. Francisco Franco and backed by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.
20. The City (I) (1939)
43 min | Documentary, Short
Visionary documentary that contrasts the conditions of life in small towns and in the industrialized cities, starting with a brief portrait of pre-industrial United States, then moving into... See full summary »
21. Der ewige Jude (1940)
62 min | Documentary, History
The Jews of Poland (invaded by Germany in 1939) are depicted as filthy, evil, corrupt, and intent on world domination. Street scenes are shown prejudicially, along with clips from Jewish ... See full summary »
22. Listen to Britain (1942)
Not Rated | 20 min | Documentary, Short
A depiction of life in wartime England during the Second World War. Director Humphrey Jennings visits many aspects of civilian life and of the turmoil and privation caused by the war, all without narration.
23. Prelude to War (1942)
Not Rated | 52 min | Documentary, War
The official World War II US Government film statement defining the various enemies of the Allies and why they must be fought.
24. The Nazis Strike (1943)
41 min | Documentary, Short, War
The official World War II US government account of Nazi international aggression leading up to the British and French declarations of war.
25. Divide and Conquer (1943)
57 min | Documentary, History, War
The World War II US Government account of the European theatre of the war from after the English and French entry to the fall of France.
26. The Battle of Britain (1943)
54 min | Documentary, History, War
The official World War II US government account of Great Britain's stand against the Nazi war machine after the Dunkirk evacuation.
27. The Battle of Russia (1943)
83 min | Documentary, History, War
Documentary revealing the nature and process of the fight between the Soviet Union and Germany in the Second World War.
29. War Comes to America (1945)
Not Rated | 70 min | Documentary, War
Part VII of the "Why We Fight" series of wartime documentaries. This entry attempts to describe the factors leading up to America's entry into the Second World War.
30. Fires Were Started (1943)
63 min | Drama, War
A new man joins the civilian firefighters at a London unit during the Second World War. He meets his fellow firemen and firewomen, manages to enjoy some leisure time with them, and then ... See full summary »
33. Le sang des bêtes (1949)
22 min | Documentary, Short
An early example of ultra-realism, this movie contrasts the quiet, bucolic life in the outskirts of Paris with the harsh, gory conditions inside the nearby slaughterhouses. Describes the ... See full summary »
36. Night and Fog (1956)
Not Rated | 32 min | Documentary, Short, History
The history of Nazi Germany's death camps of the Final Solution and the hellish world of dehumanization and death contained inside.
37. We Are the Lambeth Boys (1959)
53 min | Documentary
Part of the British 'Free Cinema' movement, which included Lindsay Anderson's 'Every Day Except Christmas' (daily life at Covent Garden fruit/vegetable market) and 'O Dreamland' (a ... See full summary »
CBS Reports (1959– )
Harvest of Shame
60 min | Documentary, News
In this CBS News production broadcast on Thanksgiving 1960, Edward R. Murrow points out the plight of migrant farm workers in America. Topics range from the harsh living conditions, endless... See full summary »
39. Chronicle of a Summer (1961)
Not Rated | 85 min | Documentary
Real-life individuals discuss topics on society, happiness in the working class among others and with those testimonies the filmmakers create fictional moments based on their interviews. ... See full summary »
40. Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment (1963)
Not Rated | 52 min | Documentary
Governor George Wallace will not let two black students into an Alabama school, against the wishes of President Kennedy. Loud shouts come from both sides of the issue as JFK stands by his decisions.
41. Le joli mai (1963)
Not Rated | 165 min | Documentary
Chris Marker and Pierre Lhomme's LE JOLI MAI (The Lovely Month of May) is a portrait of Paris and Parisians during May 1962;the first springtime of peace after the ceasefire with Algeria ... See full summary »
Votes: 503 | Gross: $0.02M
42. Seven Up! (1964 TV Short)
39 min | Documentary, Short, Biography
A group of seven-year-old British children from widely ranging backgrounds are interviewed about a range of subjects. Director Michael Apted plans to reinterview them at seven-year ... See full summary »
43. Point of Order! (1964)
Not Rated | 97 min | Documentary
Point of Order is compiled from TV footage of the 1954 Army-McCarthy hearings, in which the Army accused Senator McCarthy of improperly pressuring the Army for special privileges for ... See full summary »
47. Paris vu par... (1965)
95 min | Comedy, Drama
Six vignettes set in different sections of Paris, by six directors. St. Germain des Pres (Douchet), Gare du Nord (Rouch), Rue St. Denis (Pollet), and Montparnasse et Levallois (Godard) are ... See full summary »
Votes: 825 | Gross: $0.01M
48. The Anderson Platoon (1967)
Not Rated | 65 min | Documentary, War
The director, a French veteran of the Indochina war (La 317e Section), returned to follow a platoon of American soldiers for six weeks at the height of fighting in Vietnam in 1966. The ... See full summary »
50. Portrait of Jason (1967)
Not Rated | 105 min | Documentary, Biography
The highlights of a 12-hour interview with Aaron Payne, alias Jason Holliday, a former houseboy, would-be cabaret performer, and self-proclaimed hustler who, while drinking and smoking ... See full summary »
54. The Hour of the Furnaces (1968)
Unrated | 260 min | Documentary
Divided into three segments, namely 1 Neocolonialism, 2 Act for liberation, 3 Violence and liberation, the documentary lasts more than 4 hours this deals with the defense of the revolution ... See full summary »
55. Salesman (1969)
G | 85 min | Documentary, Drama
Four relentless door-to-door salesmen deal with constant rejection, homesickness and inevitable burnout as they go across the country selling very expensive bibles to low-income Catholic families.
57. The Sorrow and the Pity (1969)
PG | 251 min | Documentary, History, War
From 1940 to 1944, France's Vichy government collaborated with Nazi Germany. Marcel Ophüls mixes archival footage with 1969 interviews of a German officer and of collaborators and ... See full summary »
58. A Married Couple (1969)
97 min | Documentary
An "actuality drama" about a real-life marriage in crisis, in which the couple attempts to identify and resolve the conflicts and resentments that have driven them to the brink of separation.
59. Hospital (1970 TV Movie)
84 min | Documentary
Daily activities of the Metropolitan Hospital in New York City, with emphasis on the emergency ward and outpatient clinics. The cases depicted illustrate how medical expertise, availability... See full summary »
61. Chung Kuo - Cina (1972)
135 min | Documentary
A documentary on China, concentrating mainly on the faces of the people, filmed in the areas they were allowed to visit. The 220 minute version consists of three parts. The first part, ... See full summary »
62. Grey Gardens (1975)
PG | 94 min | Documentary, Comedy, Drama
An old mother and her middle-aged daughter, the aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy, live their eccentric lives in a filthy, decaying mansion in East Hampton.
Votes: 9,557 | Gross: $0.03M
64. Mädchen in Wittstock (1975)
20 min | Documentary, Short
Wittstock an der Dosse is located in the German state Mark Brandenburg, apx. 90 kilometers from Berlin. Volker Koepp came into the town in 1974 to interview women and girls about their work... See full summary »
Director: Volker Koepp
67. Deutschland im Herbst (1978)
123 min | Documentary, Drama
Germany in Autumn does not have a plot per se; it mixes documentary footage, along with standard movie scenes, to give the audience the mood of Germany during the late 1970s. The movie ... See full summary »
Directors: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Alf Brustellin, Hans Peter Cloos, Alexander Kluge, Maximiliane Mainka, Edgar Reitz, Katja Rupé, Volker Schlöndorff, Peter Schubert, Bernhard Sinkel | Stars: Wolfgang Bächler, Heinz Bennent, Wolf Biermann, Joachim Bißmeier
68. The Battle of Chile: Part I (1975)
Not Rated | 191 min | Documentary
The chronicle of the political tension in Chile in 1973 and of the violent counter revolution against the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende.
69. The Battle of Chile: Part II (1976)
Not Rated | 88 min | Documentary
Taking place during the Chilean Coup d'état in 1973, this film opens with the attempted military coup of June 1973, which is put down by troops loyal to the government. The left is divided ... See full summary »
70. The Battle of Chile: Part III (1979)
80 min | Documentary
Completed two years after The Battle of Chile: Part I (1975) and The Battle of Chile: Part II (1976), this film deals with the creation of thousands of local groups of "popular power" by ... See full summary »
71. Hitler, ein Film aus Deutschland (1977)
442 min | Biography, Drama
Director Hans-Jurgen Syberberg examines the rise and fall of the Third Reich in this brooding seven-hour masterpiece, which incorporates puppetry, rear-screen projection, and a Wagnerian ... See full summary »
73. The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter (1980)
65 min | Documentary, History, War
Documentary about women working in factories during WWII and resultant loss of jobs after the war. Five women tell their stories. Fascinating clips of racist, sexist propaganda of the era.
78. Koyaanisqatsi (1982)
Not Rated | 86 min | Documentary, Music
A collection of expertly photographed phenomena with no conventional plot. The footage focuses on nature, humanity and the relationship between them.
Votes: 29,487 | Gross: $1.72M
79. The Atomic Cafe (1982)
Not Rated | 86 min | Documentary, History
Disturbing collection of 1940s and 1950s United States government issued propaganda films designed to reassure Americans that the atomic bomb was not a threat to their safety.
81. The Times of Harvey Milk (1984)
Not Rated | 90 min | Documentary, Biography, History
A documentary of the successful career and assassination of San Francisco's first elected gay councilor.
Votes: 4,885 | Gross: $0.01M
83. Sherman's March (1985)
Not Rated | 157 min | Documentary, Biography, Comedy
Ross McElwee sets out to make a documentary about the lingering effects of General Sherman's march of destruction through the South during the Civil War, but is continually sidetracked by ... See full summary »
84. Shoah (1985)
Not Rated | 566 min | Documentary, History, War
Claude Lanzmann's epic documentary recounts the story of the Holocaust through interviews with witnesses - perpetrators as well as survivors.
Votes: 6,646 | Gross: $0.02M
88. Yuki yukite, shingun (1987)
122 min | Documentary, War
A documentary following Kenzo Okuzaki, a 62-year-old WW2 veteran notorious for his protests against Emperor Hirohito, as he tries to expose the needless executions of two Japanese soldiers during the war.
89. The Thin Blue Line (1988)
Not Rated | 101 min | Documentary, Crime, Drama
A film that successfully argued that a man was wrongly convicted for murder by a corrupt justice system in Dallas County, Texas.
Votes: 18,085 | Gross: $1.21M
90. Cane Toads: An Unnatural History (1988)
47 min | Documentary, Comedy
A documentary detailing the spread of Hawaiian sugar-cane toads through Australia in a botched effort to introduce them as counter pests.
91. A Tale of the Wind (1988)
80 min | Documentary
This film travels through fantasy and reality as Joris Ivens goes to China to capture the wind. The film reflects the filmmaker's journey from Pour le Mistral (1966), his first film on the ... See full summary »
93. Roger & Me (1989)
R | 91 min | Documentary
Votes: 23,955 | Gross: $6.71M
96. Tongues Untied (1989)
55 min | Documentary
Marlon Riggs, with assistance from other gay Black men, especially poet Essex Hemphill, celebrates Black men loving Black men as a revolutionary act. The film intercuts footage of Hemphill ... See full summary »
97. 28 Up (1984 TV Movie)
136 min | Documentary, Biography
Director Michael Apted revisits the same group of British-born adults after a 7 year wait. The subjects are interviewed as to the changes that have occurred in their lives during the last ... See full summary »
98. Paris Is Burning (1990)
R | 71 min | Documentary
A chronicle of New York's drag scene in the 1980s, focusing on balls, voguing and the ambitions and dreams of those who gave the era its warmth and vitality.
Votes: 6,344 | Gross: $3.78M
99. Black Harvest (1992)
90 min | Documentary
Joe Leahy is the half-caste son of one of the first explorers of the Papua New Guinean interior. His relations with the local Ganiga tribe who work his coffee plantation on their land are ... See full summary »