I've been watching a lot of documentaries lately. There's something fascinating about a director that can find and extrapolate the story out of the lives of real people. A good documentary can be just as funny, intense, scary, and thought provoking as any carefully scripted piece of fiction. The following is a brief examination of my five recent favorite documentaries.
Many of you are probably familiar with the movie The Boondock Saints, and your interest in seeing this documentary may depend on how you feel about that movie. If you think it's an amazing film, then this documentary may not be for you. Overnight is the stark and vivid story of a man's hubris completely destroying everything he worked for. Troy Duffy is a man who has no lacking in the confidence department. But his never ending faith in himself is completely dwarfed by his sheer paranoid, entitlement attitude. This movie documents the entire course of the filming of The Boondock Saints and in doing so charts Duffy's rise and fall. The man blacklists himself from Hollywood, shatters friendships, and is seemingly ignorant of all the reasons why and how it happened.
THE CALL OF THE WILD
Filmmaker Ron Lamothe goes on a journey following the path taken by the now famous Christopher McCandless. This film both compliments and supplants Sean Penn's biopic about McCandless, Into the Wild, by stripping out the sensationalism, melodrama, and fictionalized facts in favor of taking an existential look at McCandless and, in doing so, an existential look at himself. Lamothe narrates his journey, pontificating about what sends young men out into the world and recalling his own travels to Africa when he was young. Along the way, he visits the same sites and people that McCandless visited, as well as coming into conflict with the production of Into the Wild (the two films were being made at the same time). This is a good film that is less an informative story about McCandless and more a story about the celebration of spirit of freedom. Surprisingly, this film uncovers new truths to the story that Into the Wild had mistaken, ignored, and flat out got wrong. You can find out more about this film at Terra Incognita films' website.
THE KING OF KONG
I'm sure a lot of people have heard about this film, and it's definitely worth seeking out. This is the original story of the underdog. Director Seth Gordon immerses us in the world of classic arcade games as we follow Steve Wiebe and the various trials and obstacles he faces, both in and out of the game, on his quest to hold the world record at playing Donkey Kong. Rivalries, betrayal, lies, double dealing, this film has it all. It's so elegant and easy to watch, you really get drawn into it.
This is another high profile documentary, which should come as no surprise as it's made by master filmmaker Werner Herzog. In this movie, Herzog examines the life and death of Timothy Treadwell, the man who famously lived with, protected, and educated people about the grizzly bears in Alaska. Though it contains some beautiful wildlife footage shot by Treadwell, this film is not about bears. Nor is it an exploitation of his death. Rather, this film is about people and how we perceive and fit in with the society around us. Treadwell was troubled, that comes across clearly in the film, and the death of he and his girlfriend is incredibly tragic. Herzog doesn't spend much time debating about how right or wrong Treadwell was in doing what he did, instead he examines Treadwell's persona and ultimate motivations.
DEAR ZACHARY: A LETTER TO A SON ABOUT HIS FATHER
This is easily the most devastatingly sad and unbelievable story you've ever heard. Filmmaker Kurt Kuenne begins by making a film celebrating the life of his good friend, Andrew Bagby, soon after he was murdered by his ex-girlfriend, Shirley Jane Turner. But the documentary repeatedly shifts gears as new information is continuously revealed. Turner flees to her home country of Canada, where Bagby's family desperately await the extradition trial so that America can put her on trial for murder. It is soon revealed that she is pregnant with the deceased Andrew's child, and the story only gets more stressful and emotional from there. This film is an editing masterpiece and moves at a breakneck pace, relentlessly testing your patience and faith in humanity. This is a film about good and evil. It is truly fantastic in that it is both a celebration of the heights of nobility and selflessness humanity is capable of and also a lamentation of the depths of depravity to which we can succumb.