The British film magazine Sight & Sound is well known for its polls and surveys. Its most famous poll, The Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time, made news in 2012, when the 846 filmmakers, critics, distributors and programmers polled ended Citizen Kane‘s (Welles, 1941) 50-year reign atop the list. Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1958) took its place.
The ‘zine has just published a new poll, The Greatest Documentaries of All Time, so I thought I’d share a few thoughts. The top ten is a list of true classics:
- Man With a Movie Camera (Vertov, USSR, 1929)
- Shoah (Lauzmann, France, 1985)
- Sans Soleil (Marker, France, 1982)
- Night and Fog (Resnais, France, 1955)
- The Thin Blue Line (Morris, USA, 1989)
- Chronicles of a Summer (Rouch, France, 1961)
- Nanook of the North (Flaherty, USA, 1922)
- The Gleaners and I (Varda, France, 2000)
- Don’t Look Back (Pennebaker, USA, 1967)
- Grey Garden (Maysles, Hovde and Meyer, USA, 1975)
You’ll notice the national distribution, here. France performed quite well, taking five of the top slots. And the country produced or co-produced 15 of the 56 titles listed. An impressive showing.
But where is Canada?
Canada has a long, rich tradition of documentary filmmaking, especially at National Film Board of Canada (NFB), founded in 1939, which makes the country’s omission from the list more than a little disappointing. So, I thought I’d briefly compile (without comment) a dozen Canadian documentaries that could easily have made the Sight & Sound round-up. Of course, this list is driven by personal taste. Where possible, I’ve included a link to the film, so the reader can view it and judge for him or herself. In no particular order:
- My Winnipeg (Maddin, 2007); an excerpt
- Pour la suite du monde/ Of Whales, the Moon and Men (Perrault and Brault, 1963)
- City of Gold (Koenig, 1957)
- Universe (Kroitor and Low, 1960)
- Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance (Obomsawin, 1993)
- Warrendale (King, 1967); an excerpt
- Manufactured Landscapes (Burtynsky, 2006)
- Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows (Jay, 1998)
- VTR St-Jacques (Klein, 1969)
- Churchill’s Island (Legg, 1941)
- Lonely Boy (Koenig and Kroitor, 1962)
- L’Acadie, l’Acadie?!? (Perrault and Brault, 1971); the trailer.
Skim these, and you’ll see why no list of the best documentaries could possibly be complete without Canadian representation.