Ghostbusters was a risk back in 1984, which is hard
Documentary and narrative film have always had a weak distinction. On the surface, documentaries are non-fiction films that serve as informational documents, but that definition is so unfair. The line between the two can become even less clear when narrative filmmakers venture into documentary filmmaking. Here are six incredible documentary films that are directed by narrative filmmakers.
F for Fake (1975)
dir. Orson Welles
Orson Welles was always quite the eccentric filmmaker, but his last film before his death is a masterpiece. F for Fake an essay on fakery with magicians, art forgers, Howard Hughes, War of the Worlds, fake biographies, and Pablo Picasso as subjects. What makes this documentary so engaging is Welles’s stream of consciousness approach to the topics making F for Fake a bizarre, thought-provoking film that ranks amongst Welles’s best.
Stories We Tell (2013)
dir. Sarah Polley
Sarah Polley has only had two feature directorial credits before Stories We Tell, but her career in film has been lifelong. With television roles dating back to her early childhood, Polley’s first big role was in Terry Gilliam’s Adventure of Baron Munchausen when she was 9 years old. At 34, Polley directed one of the more engaging films of 2012. Breaking genre borders, Stories We Tell follows a family of storytellers as they engage in storytelling and digging up secrets. After directing a couple of fine films (Take This Waltz and Away From Her), Polley seems to have found the vehicle for her heartfelt, engaging voice.
The Last Waltz (1978)
dir. Martin Scorsese
Martin Scorsese is and will always be remembered as one of New Hollywood’s best directors. Coming out of B-movie crime films like Boxcar Bertha, Scorsese made a huge splash with Mean Streets that gave him the clout to direct almost anything he wanted. With Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, and Raging Bull under his belt, he can do whatever he wants. One of those passion projects was the 1978 documentary The Last Waltz. Following the last concert of Bob Dylan’s former band, The Band, at San Francisco’s Winterland. Scorsese’s camera explores the live performances with lead singers from Ronnie Hawking to Bob Dylan and their interactions backstage. The first great concert documentary, The Last Waltz is a cultural artifact as important to American culture as any.
I Am (2010)
dir. Tom Shadyac
Tom Shadyac is the most unlikely person to direct a film about identity, spirituality, and humanity’s interconnectedness, but he did. Shadyac is the director behind Ace Ventura, The Nutty Professor, and Bruce Almighty, but after a bicycle accident almost kills him, he found a new lease on life and sought answers. His question – what’s wrong with our world, and how can we fix it? His search took him to spiritual leaders, scientists, political thinkers, and philosophers. While this film might seem pretentious from the surface, the result is a heartfelt, inspirational documentary that couldn’t be further from his narrative films.
When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006)
dir. Spike Lee
Spike Lee is not one to shy from social issues, but he it step further with his 2006 documentary When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts. This controversial documentary examines the U.S. government’s role in the events before, during, and following Hurricane Katrina. Unearthing the prejudices and ignorance that led to the disaster, Lee’s film is often engaging, sometimes revolutionary, and always artistic.
And Everything Is Going To Be Fine (2010)
dir. Steven Soderbergh
One of director Steven Soderbergh’s icons is Spalding Gray. Gray, known for his endlessly intriguing stage monologues from the 80s and 90s, was the subject of a narrative film by Soderbergh in 1996 (Gray’s Anatomy), but with And Everything Is Going To Be Fine, Soderbergh turns the camera on the man himself. Gray is a master storyteller and orator, and there this film is an incredible supply of philosophy, humor, and personal history. One of my favorite films and one of the best documentaries of the 2000s.