Documentaries are an art form, as well as an educational medium. Today’s list showcases films that push boundaries, while still managing to explore their subjects in fair and unbiased ways.
Nobody’s Business is an experimental film produced by New-York based filmmaker Alan Berliner. The film focuses on the work of the author’s father, as well as their relationship and the confrontations surrounding it. It uses found footage, family albums, and an array of amateur images to tell the story in a personal, appealing way. Berliner said the following in regards to his work:
“A good documentary film can also be a mirror that allows us to see many of the simple, even obvious things in our lives-family, community and other kinds of inter-personal relationships, for example—that are often so close to us that we could never see them clearly without the distance of perspective and benefit of reflection.”
Human Remains is another experimental film, created by Jay Rosenblatt: recipient of Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundation awards. The film uses personal footage, intimate voice overs and humanizing approach to tell the story of subjects such as Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini and Franco. Rosenblatt also spoke about the foundation of his theory on filmmaking:
“I come from a therapist background with a strong desire to assist in the healing process,” Rosenblatt observes. “So certain qualities of documentary—a desire to present some sort of truth to present real people in real situations, to enlighten the viewer, to provide a catalyst for positive change in the world—meshed very well with my background.”
Ruins is sometimes referred to as a “fake documentary”, meaning it plays with the medium and audience expectations. It mimics traditional documentaries that explore “primitive” cultures, using this layout to criticize the Western and European approach to such issues. Ruins is produced by Jesse Lerner, and the film was screened at both museums and international film festivals. Archival footage is mixed with nonsensical videos and a kitsch aesthetic.
“The most important thing we can learn from documentary as it is traditionally conceived and practiced is the importance of research, an inquisitive approach to the world that requires the filmmaker to go out and investigate,” says Lerner. “Unfortunately, too often this inquiry does not extend to matters of film form. In other words, too often do filmmakers assume that documentary style is a given, into which any content can be inserted. The films and videos that excite me the most don’t take formal strategies for granted, but rather search for those most suited for the project at hand.”
There are countless ways to experiment with the medium of film, and documentaries are often at the forefront of such experimentation. They may not always make for easy viewing, but if you’re a lover of film you should treat yourself to these pieces: you just might learn something from them.