Roger and Me. March of the Penguins. Man on Wire. Paradise Lost. Grizzly Man. Gates of Heaven. Taxi to the Dark Side. Super-Size Me. Spellbound.
In recent decades, titles like this have raised the profile of documentaries like never before. The appeal of films that rely on the testimony of real life has blossomed in the age of the “indie” and attracted a growing numbers of viewers looking for an alternative to a movie industry that too often seems fixated on the bottom line.
Documentary 101 is a first-of-its-kind anthology, covering the entire spectrum of non-fiction film with entries on over three hundred titles from the years 1895 to 2012. There are 101 full-length reviews of documentaries chosen for their aesthetic prominence and/or historical significance, followed by briefer entries on related titles.
Documentary film has played an integral part in the development of motion pictures since the end of the 19th century, when the Lumiere brothers started screening their exotic fifty-second “actualities” to thrilled audiences in Paris. By 1922, when Robert Flaherty released "Nanook of the North", widely regarded as the forerunner of today’s narrative-style documentary, fictional dramas, comedies and adventures were well on their way to dominating the movie industry. In stark contrast to the relative comfort of Hollywood’s backlots and soundstages, Flaherty travelled 1200 miles north of Toronto to a tundra in the far Canadian wilderness to spend sixteen months filming the Inuit tribes he had admired since his childhood.
Flaherty’s dedication and willingness to work in challenging conditions, as well as his empathy for his real-life subject, has echoed down the decades in many non-fiction films. Documentary 101 follows that legacy into the 21st century, fully recognizing a genre that has carried on a venerable tradition in the arts that emphasizes humanism and social advocacy.