I need a documentary to show my class

I am teaching my class how to make documentaries. I think it would be a good idea for them to see a well-made one so they can see how all the elements like interviews and using natural sounds and voiceovers and background music at various places in the documentary come together. I would prefer something that is online (i.e. free) and it needs to be appropriate in a school.

Any ideas out there?

I’d recommend Forgotten Silver, mostly because it is a mockumentary and it will be fun to tell them at the end! :wink:

Super Size Me is a popular documentary that showcases a lot of the techniques you mentioned. (It’s free but there are commercials in it.)

Riding Giants is one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen. It especially excels at the sort of A/V editing you’re talking about. There are a couple of “fucks” and “shits” here and there, but nothing frequent or terrible. It’d be worth sending a permission slip home if needed. Also, it is easily worth the price of the DVD.

The stories, history, and personalities are so great that even landlocked kids who couldn’t care less about surfing will be enthralled.

Well, Errol Morris (Fog of War) is widely considered the finest documentary director alive… but his subjects are probably too intense for a classroom.

How about something from the 30 for 30 series? A lot of them are available in youtube , sports are fairly relevant to the kids, and the people involved are usually top notch filmmakers.

Herzog’s Texting documentary.

Free, only about 30 minutes (so it can be seen during classtime), incredibly well made, and as far as I’m concerned, required watching for everyone, especially teens.

I would find an episode of Frontline that you think would interest the class and use that. They are almost always well made and are usually less than an hour. The recent one about Football would be good (although that is 2 hours). You can find them streaming here.

My Life as a Turkey is one of the finest documentaries I have ever seen and it is absolutely G rated. I have never heard of anyone that didn’t like it. The narration and the camera work are top notch even though it is a very simple story. It really shows you what a good documentary maker can do with even the most basic themes.

I am fond of The Parking Lot Movie. Made by amateurs and well-received. And quite funny.

The disaster of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition is a great story. Here are the IMDB pages of two documentaries about it:


Everyone on The Endurance survived the expedition. Every single one of them. It’s amazing that any of them survived, let alone all of them. That’s why the historical view of Shackleton has gone from “also-ran” to “stone hero”.

When I took Film Aesthetics in college, the token documentary was The Thin Blue Line. I think it’s an excellent documentary with all the right pieces, including Philip Glass music and an unexpected shift in the viewer’s perception of the situation.

The subject matter may be a little advanced depending on the age of the students, but I would recommend any Adam Curtis documentary.
The Power of Nightmares is probably his most famous one, but The Trap is my favorite.
I think Adam Curtis is one of the best documentary makers out there. His documentaries are really linear where pretty much every scene leads to the following one. His documentaries are pretty much the opposite of those meandering ‘personal growth’ style documentaries, of which I am very much not a fan.

While Morgan Spurlock’s style works well his knack for glossing over or inventing data to me doesn’t jive with a real documentary. He’s much too invested in his version of the story much like Michael Moore.

I second the notion of Errol Morris docus and he even had a series of shorter subjects that could be suitable for the classroom. First person - Wikipedia

I also recommend the Werner Herzog documentaries like Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Encounters at the End of the World, The White Diamond all ought to be classroom friendly

A classic from the 70s: Hearts and Minds. Don’t know if it’s PD yet.

I think this is a winner. A little longer than the students’ documentary and a good blending of all of the elements. The only thing is it is almost all interviews with no narrator voiceovers so I may use a clip from Ken Burns’ docs to illustrate those elements.