Steve James top 10 documentaries


The Interupters is on tonight on BBC4 and it is one off the finest documentaries of recent years and indeed one of my all time favorites so make sure to tune in. It is directed by Steve James who also directed Hoop Dreams and No Crossover:the Trial of Alan Iverson both of which were incredible. Earlier this year Steve James was honored at the IDFA and he was asked to pick his top ten doc’s of all time. So in honor of “The Interupters” being on tonight here they are

28Up – Michael Apted, 1984
The Up Series is a series of documentary films that have followed the lives of fourteen British children since 1964, when they were seven years old. The children were selected to represent the range of socio-economic backgrounds in Britain at that time, with the explicit assumption that each child’s social class predetermines their future. Every seven years, the director, Michael Apted, films new material from as many of the fourteen as he can get to participate. Filming for the next installment in the series, 56 Up, is expected in late 2011 or early 2012, with a scheduled premiere from 13-15 May 2012.[1] In 2005, the Channel 4 programme The 50 Greatest Documentaries saw the series topping the list in first position.
Watch the full film here

American Movie – Chris Smith, 1999
American Movie: The Making of Northwestern is a 1999 documentary directed by Chris Smith. The film chronicles the real 1996-1997 making of Coven, an independent horror film directed by an independent filmmaker named Mark Borchardt. Produced for the purpose of raising capital for another film that Borchardt intends to make, the epic Northwestern, Coven suffers from numerous setbacks, including poor financing, a lack of planning, Borchardt’s burgeoning alcoholism, and the ineptitude of the friends and family Borchardt hires to staff the production team.[1] The documentary follows Borchardt’s filmmaking process from script to screen, and is interspersed with footage from both developing projects. American Movie was produced by Sarah Price, edited by Jun Diaz and Barry Poltermann and directed by Chris Smith. Filming for American Movie began in September 1995 and concluded in August 1997.[2] The film was a critical success upon its debut and went on to win the Grand Jury prize for Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival, and has since gone on to become a cult film.

Fallen Champ: The Untold Story of Mike Tyson -Barbara Kopple, 1993
This is a 1993 film made by acclaimed American documentary filmmaker Barbara Kopple.(I’m not really a fan, her film on the Yankees for 30for30 which beyond awful and the low point of that series)
Though Tyson was in jail serving a sentence for rape, Kopple used existing interviews with the boxer, as well as her own extensive interviews with those closest to Tyson, to explore the man’s history. The film traces Tyson’s story from his troubled and tumultuous upbringing, through his rapid ascendancy in the ranks of the boxing world and his subsequent struggle with the trappings of fame. Fallen Champ earned Barbara Kopple a Directors Guild of America (DGA) award as Best Documentary Director of 1993.
Again, watch the whole film here.

Golub: Late Works Are the Catastrophes – Jerry Blumenthal & Gordon Quinn, 2004
This is the sequel to Golub, a 1988 documentary film, produced by Kartemquin Films, that examines the life and work of controversial painter, Leon Golub. Inspired by war, political oppression and the fight for Free Speech, Golub and his paintings are famous for their depictions of extreme violence. Also featured prominently in the film is his wife, anti-war feminist and artist, Nancy Spero. The documentary tracks Golub from starting with a blank canvas to a touring North American exhibition and eventually to an exhibition in Northern Ireland.
In 2001, the filmmakers revisited Leon Golub in his final years with the 2004 documentary, Golub: Late Works Are The Catastrophes. With his previous work being more relevant than ever in the aftermath of September 11, Golub’s later paintings have become less graphic and violent. At one point, Golub admits, “my work these days is sort of political, sort of metaphysical, and sort of smart-ass. I’m playful and hostile.” With his wife Nancy Spero still by his side, the documentary captures the final steps of an artist’s journey.
Produced by Kartemquin Films and directed by Jerry Blumenthal and Gordon Quinn, Golub (1988) was the winner of the Silver Hugo Award at the 1988 Chicago International Film Festival. The film went on to be an Official Selection at multiple international film festivals including the Cinematica of Portugal and the Sydney International Film Festival. In a February 1989 review of Golub, The Chicago Reader’s Jonathan Rosenbaum hailed the documentary as a “masterpiece” and “virtually perfect”.The film made its television premiere on PBS’s POV in 1990. Golub: Late Works Are The Catastrophes would also received world-wide recognition as an Official Selection at the 2004 International Documentary Festival Amsterdam as well as the Montreal International Film Festival of the Arts.
In 2006, Kartemquin Films released Golub/Spero a DVD compilation of Golub: Late Works Are The Catastrophes that also features two documentary shorts created by filmmaker, Irene Sosa, that highlight the work of Nancy Spero.

Grey Gardens -Albert Maysles & David Maysles, 1976
This is a 1975 documentary film by Albert and David Maysles,. The film depicts the everyday lives of two reclusive socialites, a mother and daughter both named Edith Beale, who lived at Grey Gardens, a decrepit mansion at 3 West End Road in the wealthy Georgica Pond neighborhood of East Hampton, New York. The film was screened at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival, but was not entered into the main competition. Its one of my all-time favourite documentaries and made by filmmakers at the height of their powers
In 2010, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

Le joli mai -Chris Marker, France, 1963

Chris Marker is mostly famous for the pretty incredible film La Jetee, which still continues to inspire filmmakers but James selected the follow up too that film for his list. its a film i have to admit I’ve never heard of but its on my list of things to see now. It was While making La Jetee, Marker was simultaneously making the 150-minute documentary essay-film Le joli mai, released in 1963. Beginning in the Spring of 1962, Marker and his camera operator Pierre Lhomme shot 55 hours of footage interviewing random people on the streets of Paris. The questions, asked by the unseen Marker, range from their personal lives, as well as social and political issues of relevance at that time. Like he had with montages of landscapes and indigenous art, Marker created a film essay that contrasts and juxtaposes a variety of lives with his signature commentary (spoken by Marker’s friends, singer-actor Yves Montand in the French version and Simone Signoret in the English version). The film has been compared to the Cinéma vérité films of Jean Rouch, and criticized by its practitioners at the time. It was shown in competition at the 1963 Venice Film Festival, where it won the award for Best First Work. It also won the Golden Dove Award at the Leipzig DOK Festival.

Our Trip to Africa – Peter Kubelka, 1967
Peter Kubelka is an Austrian experimental filmmaker. His films are primarily short experiments in linking seemingly disparate sound and images. He is best-known for his 1966 avant-garde classic Unsere Afrikareise (Our Trip to Africa).
It’s a collection of images from an African safari cut together through the bizarre, inter-frame dictated editing for which Kubelka is known.
Scenes of both a zebra and giraffe being held down and slaughtered, intercut with bourgeois European travellers chatting on a ferry, mark some of the most vivid moments.
Though the images and content are quite engaging in and of themselves, it is the pacing and cutting that link the film to Kubelka’s other works. Probably shot on Super 8mm or 16mm, the film is hard to get a hold of today but I present it to you in full below (its very short)

The Staircase -Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, 2004
I hadn’t hear of this until seeing james list and I cannot wait to try and get my hands on it as it sounds exactly my cup of tea.
Soupçons (also known as Death on the Staircase and The Staircase) is a 2004 television miniseries by Jean-Xavier de Lestrade documenting the trial of Michael Peterson, accused of murdering his wife.
Following from de Lestrade’s Oscar winning Murder on a Sunday Morning, filming began soon after Peterson’s indictment. Camera crews were given access to the accused’s extended family, the defense attorneys, and to the court room. The film features a brief appearance by Mike Nifong, a future figure in the Duke lacrosse case, working with the team prosecuting Peterson.
The film, told mostly from the point of view of Peterson, his family, and defense attorneys, strongly suggests that Peterson is innocent and that the deaths of his wife and one time neighbor in similar fashions were merely accidents.
An abbreviated version of the film was broadcast on the American news show Dateline NBC.

The Times of Harvey Milk -Robert Epstein, 1984
The Oscar-winning film The Times of Harvey Milk documents the political career of Harvey Milk, who was San Francisco’s first openly gay supervisor. The film documents Milk’s rise from a neighborhood activist to a symbol of gay political achievement, through to his assassination in November 1978 at San Francisco’s city hall, and the Dan White trial and aftermath. The film was the primary source material for Gus Van Sants film Milk from a few years ago.

Tongues Untied -Marlon Riggs, 1989
The 1989 film Tongues Untied, a highly personalized and moving documentary about the life experiences of gay African-American men, was aired as part of the PBS television series P.O.V. The film employs autobiographical footage as well as performance, including monologues, songs, poems, and nonverbal gestures such as snapping, to convey an authentic and positive black gay identity. In order to demonstrate the harmful effects of silence on self-esteem, the film contrasts this image with negative representations of gay black men as comic-tragic stock caricatures and drag queens in contemporary American popular culture. The three principle voices of Tongues Untied are those of Riggs as well as gay rights activists and men infected with HIV Essex Hemphill and Joseph Beam. Riggs characterized the film as his legacy, his “last gift to the community,” that displays him as both a filmmaker and a gay rights activist. He described the production as his own personal “coming out” film celebrating black gay life experiences and that he ultimately became “the person, the vehicle, and the vessel” for these experiences. Riggs explained that Tongues Untied was a catharsis for him: “It was a release of a lot of decades-old, pent-up emotion, rage, guilt, feelings of impotence in the face of some of my experiences as a youth. . . It allowed me to more past all of those things that were bottled up inside me. . . I could finally let go.”
In 1988, while working on Tongues Untied, Riggs was diagnosed with HIV after undergoing treatment for near-fatal kidney failure at a hospital in Germany. The film shows the pain as well as the mentally and physically agonizing therapy that Riggs had to go through in order to deal with his kidney failure. But despite his deteriorating health, Riggs decided to continue to teach at Berkeley and make documentaries.

Thats Steve James top 10 but heres one more documentary worth checking out. And for no other reason than it is Werner herzog’s favorite film of all time and indeed one of mine heres a clip from Cane Toads

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