Documentary Inspirations

Some people are inspired by art, others by music. Me, I’m a documentary junkie. And one of my favorite ways to get into the writing frame of mind is to watch a good one or three. (I’ve been known to binge.) The best ones not only tell a good story but they challenge the way you think about things—and may even piss you off.  (Or make you marvel, depending on the subject matter.)

Here’s a couple recent faves:

Waste Land (2010)
Waste Land follows renowned artist Vik Muniz as he journeys from his home base in Brooklyn to his native Brazil and the world's largest garbage dump, Jardim Gramacho, located on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. There he photographs an eclectic band of "catadores" -- or self-designated pickers of recyclable materials.  Not only are the setting and people are fascinating (and heartbreaking), but the artist realizes (about half way through the process) that what he’s doing irrevocably changes his subjects.

WASTE LAND Official Trailer from Almega Projects on Vimeo.

Parking Lot Movie (2010)
Over the course of three years, the filmmaker chronicles the lives of the attendants working at a parking lot near the campus of the University of Virginia.  These disaffected asphalt philosophers wrestle with their place in the world in a very well-to-do college town.

Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)
This is the story of how an eccentric French shop keeper and amateur film maker attempted to locate and befriend Banksy, only to have the artist turn the camera back on its owner with spectacular results.

And here’s a few old stand-bys that always get my creative ire flowing:

The Corporation (2003)
The documentary examines the modern-day corporation, considering its legal status as a class of person and evaluating its behavior towards society and the world at large as a psychiatrist might evaluate an ordinary person.

Four Little Girls (1997)
Spike Lee’s masterful documentary about the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama on September 15, 1963.  The genius part of this documentary is that Lee tells the story of the civil rights movement through the lives of the four young girls killed in the bombing.

The Up Series (7 up through 49 up)
In 1963, director Michael Apted made a deceptively simple documentary, 7 Up, for Britain’s Grenada Television. He interviewed a handful of seven-year-olds from a cross section of British classes.  The film's hook was the old Jesuit saying, "Show me the child until seven, and I will show you the man."  Then every seven years Apted returned to interview the same kids (and then adults). The series concluded with 49 Up in 2007.

Any favorite documentaries? What are your inspirations?


Jeff Hirsch said...

Loved Parking Lot Movie and Exit Through the Gift Shop. I'll have to catch the rest of these. We seem to have the same taste!

Angie Smibert said...

We seem to be the only documentary fans, Jeff. The UP series is utterly fascinating, especially if you write for kids and young adults. It's like time-lapse film of these kids lives.

Tez Miller said...

Last month there was a four-part doco on TV called Victorian Pharmacy. I wanted to see it, but wasn't organised, and forgot about it. But it was said to be about people trying to recreate a Victorian pharmacy. Historical medicine, y'all - steampunk authors need to get on that! ;-)

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