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Cinema: Documentary


Nanook Of The NorthNanook of the North (directed by Robert J. Flaherty, 1922)

Streaming Available At Films On Demand

Considered to be the first documentary, Robert Flaherty’s classic film tells the story of Inuit hunter Nanook and his family as they struggle to survive in the harsh conditions of Canada’s Hudson Bay region. Enormously popular when released in 1922, Nanook of the North is a cinematic milestone that continues to enchant audiences. This film is instrumental in opening the questions of what makes a documentary a documentary.


American MovieAmerican Movie (directed by Chris Smith, 1999)

Streaming Available at Academic Video Online (AVON)

It takes a village to make a movie, but when that village is Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin and not Hollywood, CA, the results are at times bizarre, comical, and very American. With the help of his mother, his 82-year old uncle, and local cast of hilarious and lovable characters, filmmaker Mark Borchardt fights his way through internal and external roadblocks to achieve his goal-to make his movie, his way.Mark’s vision for his dream film is unlike most in independent filmmaking today. His inspiration comes from films as desarate as Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Seventh Seal, as well as his experiences growing up amidst the grey skies, rusty cars, and ranch houses of Milwaukee’s Northwest side.AMERICAN MOVIE is the story of filmmaker Mark Borchardt, his mission, and his dream. Spanning over two years of intense struggle with his film, his family, financial decline, and spiritual crisis, AMERICAN MOVIE is a portrayal of ambition, obsession, excess, and one man’s quest for the American Dream.

Gather (directed by Sanjay Rawal, 2020)

Streaming available at Kanopy (Expires: 01/07/2023)

GATHER follows the stories of natives on the frontlines of a growing movement to reconnect with spiritual and cultural identities that were devastated by genocide. An indigenous chef embarks on a ambitious project to reclaim ancient food ways on the Apache reservation; in South Dakota a gifted Lakota high school student, raised on a buffalo ranch, is proving her tribes native wisdom through her passion for science; and a group of young men of the Yurok tribe in Northern California are struggling to keep their culture alive and rehabilitate the habitat of their sacred salmon. All these stories combine to show how the reclaiming and recovery of ancient food ways is a way forward for native Americans to bring back health and vitality to their people.


Crumb (directed by Terry Zwigoff, 1994)

Streaming Available at Academic Video Online (AVON)

Filmmaker Terry Zwigoff creates a complex but affectionate portrait of his longtime friend, underground cartoonist Robert Crumb. A notorious curmudgeon who would prefer to be alone with his fellow cartoonist wife Aline Kominsky-Crumb and his beloved vintage jazz records, Crumb reveals himself to be a complicated personality who suffered a troubled upbringing and harbors a philosophical opposition to the 1960s hippie underground that first celebrated his work.



The Sorrow And The Pity (directed by Marcel Ophuls, 1971)

Streaming Available at Kanopy (expires: 01/07/2023)

From its first release at an underground theater in Paris, this account of France's occupation under Nazi regime has been acclaimed as one of the most moving and influential films ever made. Director Marcel Ophüls interviewed the residents of Clermont-Ferrand who remembered the occupation, as well as government officials, writers, farmers, artists, and German veterans. Here, in their own words, is the story of how ordinary citizens and leaders alike behaved under military siege. Originally refused by French TV, the film garnered international success and acclaim – including an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary – while shattering the myth of an undivided and universally resistant France under the Vichy government. A triumph of on-the-ground filmmaking, THE SORROW AND THE PITY remains gripping, appalling, and exhilarating for its transparent view upon humanity.


The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (directed by Errol Morris, 2003)

Streaming Available at Academic Video Online (AVON) 

The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara is a 2003 American documentary film about the life and times of former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara illustrating his observations of the nature of modern warfare. The film was directed by Errol Morris and features an original score by Philip Glass.


Abacus, Small Enough To Jail (directed by Steve James, 2016)

Streaming Available at Films On Demand

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail is a 2016 American documentary film directed by Steve James. The film centers on the Abacus Federal Savings Bank, a family-owned community bank situated in Manhattan's Chinatown in New York City which, because it was deemed "small enough to jail" rather than "too big to fail", became the only financial institution to actually face criminal charges following the subprime mortgage crisis.


The Decline of Western Civilization (directed by Penelope Spheeris, 1981)

Streaming Available at Academic Video Online (AVON)

Penelope Spheeris' THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION was perceived as shocking and outrageous at the time of its original release in 1981 and its two follow-up films were no less extraordinary and revealing. Today, museums and educational institutions around the world present them as a historically significant works of art. Featuring some of the most influential and innovative musicians and groups of all time – Germs, Black Flag, X, Fear, and Circle Jerks.



When The Levees Broke (directed by Spike Lee, 2006)

Streaming Available at Films On Demand

One year after the August 2005 disaster that forever changed New Orleans, acclaimed director Spike Lee presents this four-hour, four-part documentary event that recounts Hurricane Katrina through words and images. The film tells the personal stories of survivors while also exploring the pronounced divide along race and class lines in the areas devastated by Katrina.



Further Reading

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