jvv favorite documentaries

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1. Sallie Gardner at a Gallop (1878)

1 min | Documentary, Short

The clip shows a jockey, Domm, riding a horse, Sally Gardner. The clip is not filmed but instead consists of 24 individual photographs shot in rapid succession, making a moving picture when using a zoopraxiscope.

Director: Eadweard Muybridge | Stars: Gilbert Domm, Sallie Gardner

Votes: 1,639

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.

Director: Robert J. Flaherty | Stars: Allakariallak, Alice Nevalinga, Cunayou, Allegoo

Votes: 9,432

3. Grass: A Nation's Battle for Life (1925)

Passed | 71 min | Documentary

The struggles of a hardscrabble Iranian nomadic tribe as they journey through bleak country to reach the grasslands that will save their livestock.

Directors: Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack | Stars: Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack, Marguerite Harrison, Haidar Khan

Votes: 855

4. Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis (1927)

Not Rated | 65 min | Documentary

This movie shows us one day in Berlin, the rhythm of that time, starting at the earliest morning and ends in the deepest night.

Director: Walter Ruttmann | Star: Paul von Hindenburg

Votes: 3,365

5. De brug (1928)

15 min | Documentary, Short

Close shots of a railway train underway: track racing underneath, steam escaping, cars coupling, gears ratchetting, signals changing. The train reaches a lift bridge which must rise to ... See full summary »

Director: Joris Ivens

Votes: 372

6. Man with a Movie Camera (1929)

Not Rated | 68 min | Documentary, Music

A man travels around a city with a camera slung over his shoulder, documenting urban life with dazzling invention.

Director: Dziga Vertov | Star: Mikhail Kaufman

Votes: 19,304

7. À propos de Nice (1930)

Not Rated | 25 min | Documentary, Short, Comedy

What starts off as a conventional travelogue turns into a satirical portrait of the town of Nice on the French Cote d'Azur, especially its wealthy inhabitants.

Directors: Boris Kaufman, Jean Vigo

Votes: 3,320

8. Douro, Faina Fluvial (1931)

20 min | Documentary, Short

A documentary that looks at the people working in the river Douro, around the city of Porto.

Director: Manoel de Oliveira

Votes: 564

9. Olympia Part One: Festival of the Nations (1938)

Not Rated | 111 min | Documentary, Sport

The document of the 1936 Olympics at Berlin.

Director: Leni Riefenstahl | Stars: David Albritton, Arvo Askola, Jack Beresford, Erwin Blask

Votes: 3,872

10. Olympia 2. Teil - Fest der Schönheit (1938)

Not Rated | 90 min | Documentary, Sport

The document of the 1936 Olympics at Berlin, orchestrated as Nazi propaganda.

Director: Leni Riefenstahl | Stars: Sheigo Arai, Jack Beresford, Ralf Berzsenyi, Ferenc Csík

Votes: 3,240

11. Glas (1958)

11 min | Documentary, Short

Documentary about Dutch glass production in the 50s.

Director: Bert Haanstra

Votes: 823

12. Araya (1959)

Not Rated | 90 min | Documentary

73 Metascore

"Araya" is an old natural salt mine located in a peninsula in northeastern Venezuela which was still, by 1959, being exploited manually five hundred years after its discovery by the Spanish... See full summary »

Director: Margot Benacerraf | Stars: José Ignacio Cabrujas, Laurent Terzieff

Votes: 519

13. Zoo (1961)

10 min | Documentary, Short

Who is watching who in the zoo?

Director: Bert Haanstra

Votes: 427

14. Valparaiso (1964)

28 min | Documentary, Short

A travelogue of Valparaiso, Chile, a city built on steep hills. Life is a constant struggle against geography. Neighbourhoods are reached by series of ramps, staircases, and funicular ... See full summary »

Director: Joris Ivens | Star: Roger Pigaut

Votes: 425

15. Titicut Follies (1967)

Unrated | 84 min | Documentary

Documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman takes us inside the Massachusetts Correctional Institution Bridgewater where people stay trapped in their madness.

Director: Frederick Wiseman

Votes: 3,452

16. 7 Plus Seven (1970 TV Movie)

52 min | Documentary, Biography

Director Michael Apted revisits the same group of British-born children after a seven-year wait. The subjects are interviewed as to the changes that have occurred in their lives during the ... See full summary »

Director: Michael Apted | Stars: Bruce Balden, Jacqueline Bassett, Symon Basterfield, Andrew Brackfield

Votes: 2,290

17. Salut les Cubains (1971)

Not Rated | 30 min | Documentary, Animation, Short

A photo montage of Cubans filmed by Agnes Varda during her visit to Cuba in 1963. The film explores Cuban society and culture post-revolution.

Director: Agnès Varda | Stars: Michel Piccoli, Sara Gómez, Nelson Rodríguez, Agnès Varda

Votes: 357

18. Juvenile Court (1973)

144 min | Documentary

An unobtrusive and naturalistic examination of the goings-on of a children's court, Memphis Juvenile Court 616.

Director: Frederick Wiseman

Votes: 161

19. Four Seasons (1975)

29 min | Documentary, Short

The last collaboration of Artavazd Peleshian and cinematographer Mikhail Vartanov is a film-essay about Armenia's shepherds, about the contradiction and the harmony between man and nature, scored to Vivaldi's Four Seasons.

Director: Artavazd Peleshian

Votes: 639

20. 21 Up (1977)

100 min | Documentary, Biography

Director Michael Apted revisits the same group of British-born adults after a seven-year wait. The subjects are interviewed as to the changes that have occurred in their lives during the ... See full summary »

Director: Michael Apted | Stars: Bruce Balden, Jacqueline Bassett, Symon Basterfield, Andrew Brackfield

Votes: 2,041

22. La bête lumineuse (1982)

128 min | Documentary

A documentary film about a group of hunters who gather annually to hunt moose near Maniwaki, Quebec.

Director: Pierre Perrault | Stars: Louis-Philippe Lécuyer, Philippe Cross, Stéphane-Albert Boulais, Maurice Chaillot

Votes: 196

23. Mer dare (1983)

47 min | Documentary

A man paves his own way to his own soul through an intellectual quest, tragedies of nations and personal drama. The road moving through the cosmic distances is a flight into one's internal ... See full summary »

Director: Artavazd Peleshian

Votes: 258

24. 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.

Director: Mark Lewis | Stars: Tip Byrne, H.W. Kerr, Glen Ingram, Bill Freeland

Votes: 1,101

25. Nema-ye Nazdik (1990)

Not Rated | 98 min | Biography, Crime, Drama

The true story of Hossain Sabzian that impersonated the director Mohsen Makhmalbaf to convince a family they would star in his so-called new film.

Director: Abbas Kiarostami | Stars: Hossain Sabzian, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Abolfazl Ahankhah, Mehrdad Ahankhah

Votes: 11,989 | Gross: $0.00M

26. Året gjennom Børfjord (1991)

12 min | Documentary, Short

A portrait of a deserted fisherman's village in Northern Norway called Børfjord - a place with an incredible personality in the middle of a magnificent Arctic nature. The 12 minute short ... See full summary »

Director: Morten Skallerud

Votes: 292

27. Lektionen in Finsternis (1992)

Not Rated | 54 min | Documentary, War

This film shows the disaster of the Kuwaitian oil fields in flames, with few interviews and no explanatory narration. Hell itself is presented in such beautiful sights and music that one has to be fascinated by it.

Director: Werner Herzog | Star: Werner Herzog

Votes: 4,555

29. Hands on a Hardbody: The Documentary (1997)

PG | 98 min | Documentary

Twenty-four contestants compete in an endurance/sleep deprivation contest in order to win a brand new Nissan Hardbody truck. The last person to remain standing with his or her hand on the ... See full summary »

Director: S.R. Bindler | Stars: Sid Allen, Brent Baskin, Greg Cox, J.C. Crum

Votes: 1,437 | Gross: $0.49M

30. 42 Up (1998 TV Movie)

139 min | Documentary, Biography

86 Metascore

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 seven years.

Director: Michael Apted | Stars: Bruce Balden, Jacqueline Bassett, Symon Basterfield, Andrew Brackfield

Votes: 2,073 | Gross: $0.26M

31. Songhwan (2003)

149 min | Documentary

North Korean spies return to their homeland.

Director: Dong-won Kim

Votes: 137

32. Crazy Legs Conti: Zen and the Art of Competitive Eating (2004)

Not Rated | 75 min | Documentary

58 Metascore

Eccentric New York window washer, nude model and sperm donor Crazy Legs Conti uses Zen techniques as he strives to become a professional eater.

Directors: Danielle Franco, Christopher Kenneally | Stars: Eric Booker, Crazy Legs Conti

Votes: 65

33. Jesus Camp (2006)

PG-13 | 87 min | Documentary

62 Metascore

A documentary on kids who attend a summer camp hoping to become the next Billy Graham.

Directors: Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady | Stars: Mike Papantonio, Lou Engle, Becky Fischer, Ted Haggard

Votes: 25,039 | Gross: $0.90M

34. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)

PG-13 | 79 min | Documentary, Biography, Sport

83 Metascore

Die-hard gamers compete to break world records on classic arcade games.

Director: Seth Gordon | Stars: Steve Wiebe, Billy Mitchell, Mark Alpiger, Adam Wood

Votes: 33,021 | Gross: $0.68M

35. My Winnipeg (2007)

Not Rated | 80 min | Documentary, Comedy, Drama

84 Metascore

Fact, fantasy and memory are woven seamlessly together in this portrait of film-maker Guy Maddin's home town of Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Director: Guy Maddin | Stars: Darcy Fehr, Ann Savage, Louis Negin, Amy Stewart

Votes: 4,418 | Gross: $0.16M

36. Please Vote for Me (2007)

Not Rated | 58 min | Documentary

Democracy in China exists, that is, in a primary school in Wuhan where a grade 3 class can vote who they want as class monitor.

Director: Weijun Chen | Stars: Cheng Cheng, Luo Lei, Xu Xiaofei

Votes: 1,219

37. Anvil: The Story of Anvil (2008)

Not Rated | 80 min | Documentary, Biography, Drama

82 Metascore

Since 1978, Anvil has become one of heavy metal's most influential yet commercially unsuccessful acts. In 2006, after a fledging European tour Anvil sets out to record their thirteenth album and continue to follow their dreams.

Director: Sacha Gervasi | Stars: Robb Reiner, Steve 'Lips' Kudlow, Tiziana Arrigoni, Scott Ian

Votes: 14,768 | Gross: $0.67M

38. Big River Man (2009)

100 min | Documentary

68 Metascore

Martin Strel attempts to cover 3,375 miles of the Amazon River, the longest continuous swim in history.

Director: John Maringouin | Stars: Matthew Mohlke, Borut Strel, Martin Strel

Votes: 1,460

39. Selo bez zena (2010)

Not Rated | 83 min | Documentary

On a mountaintop in southwest Serbia lies the womanless hamlet of Zabrdje, where the Jankovic brothers hold the fort. Veering between the utterly hilarious and deeply poignant, this ... See full summary »

Director: Srdjan Sarenac | Stars: Zoran Jankovic, Rodoljub Jankovic, Dragan Jankovic, Velimir Maksimovic

Votes: 157

40. Benda Bilili! (2010)

PG-13 | 85 min | Documentary, Music

77 Metascore

Summer 2009. Five paraplegics and a young able-bodied teenager light up the stage in front of an entranced audience of 8000 people. "Benda Bilili" - in English "See Beyond", is the name of ... See full summary »

Directors: Renaud Barret, Florent de La Tullaye | Stars: Leon Likabu, Roger Landu, Coco Ngambali, Cubain Kabeya

Votes: 726

41. Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)

R | 87 min | Documentary, Comedy, Crime

85 Metascore

The story of how an eccentric French shop-keeper and amateur film-maker attempted to locate and befriend Banksy, only to have the artist turn the camera back on its owner. The film contains... See full summary »

Director: Banksy | Stars: Banksy, Mr. Brainwash, Space Invader, Debora Guetta

Votes: 57,945 | Gross: $3.29M

42. Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)

PG | 81 min | Documentary

77 Metascore

A documentary on 85-year-old sushi master Jiro Ono, his renowned Tokyo restaurant, and his relationship with his son and eventual heir, Yoshikazu.

Director: David Gelb | Stars: Jiro Ono, Yoshikazu Ono, Masuhiro Yamamoto, Daisuke Nakazama

Votes: 30,229 | Gross: $2.55M

43. I Am a Woman Now (2011)

80 min | Documentary

I Am A Woman Now (formerly Casablanca Revisited), the first generation of transsexuals who had their sex change in Casablanca back in the mid-1950s to 1960s take stock of their lives. Do ... See full summary »

Director: Michiel van Erp | Stars: April Ashley, Bambi, Colette Berends, Jean Lessenich

Votes: 98

44. Ouwehoeren (2011)

Not Rated | 80 min | Documentary, Biography

68 Metascore

A documentary on Louise and Martine Fokkens, 69-year-old twin sisters who have worked as prostitutes in the red-light district in Amsterdam for over 40 years.

Directors: Gabrielle Provaas, Rob Schröder | Stars: Louise Fokkens, Martine Fokkens

Votes: 630 | Gross: $0.03M

45. L'equip petit (2012)

9 min | Documentary, Sport

Fourteen little kids go over an unsolved football mystery, and they end up teaching an unexpected life lesson to grown-ups.

Directors: Roger Gómez, Dani Resines

Votes: 111

46. Side by Side (2012)

Not Rated | 99 min | Documentary

82 Metascore

The documentary investigates the history, process and workflow of both digital and photochemical film creation.

Director: Christopher Kenneally | Stars: Derek Ambrosi, Michael Ballhaus, Andrzej Bartkowiak, Dion Beebe

Votes: 12,348 | Gross: $0.03M

47. Volta à Terra (2014)

78 min | Documentary

Volta à Terra tells the story of an endangered community: farmers who practice subsistence farming in a mountainous village of northern Portugal, deserted due to emigration. Between the ... See full summary »

Director: João Pedro Plácido

Votes: 112

48. The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young (2014)

Not Rated | 89 min | Documentary, Adventure, History

67 Metascore

In its first 25 years only 10 people have finished The Barkley Marathons. Based on a historic prison escape, this cult like race tempts people from around the world to test their limits of ... See full summary »

Directors: Annika Iltis, Timothy James Kane | Star: Lazarus Lake

Votes: 3,322

49. ThuleTuvalu (2014)

Not Rated | 96 min | Documentary, News

When the ice melts in Thule, Tuvalu drowns in the ocean. A touching portrait of people whose joint fates are intimately linked though they live at two completely distant corners of the world.

Director: Matthias von Gunten | Stars: Rasmus Avike, Lars Jeremiassen, Patrick Malaki, Takuao Malaki

Votes: 89