We are in a Golden Age of Documentary filmmaking. This summer alone yields an incredible crop of documentaries hitting the movie screens: Werner Herzog’s masterful 3D doc, “Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” “Forks Over Knives,” Morgan Spurlock’s “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold,” and the upcoming “Buck,” “The Last Mountain,” and “Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today.” And that’s only a sampling.
Ever since Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” made $119 million at the box office, theatrical distributors and film audiences began to enthusiastically embrace documentaries as quality movie going fare. With a large variety of documentary genres, audiences are realizing that these films aren’t the boring, newsy fodder that one remembers being forced to sit through during high school. In fact, with today’s technological and filmmaking advances, documentaries are incredibly vibrant and often delve deeper into a subject than their news journalist counterparts, who are often forced to report in short sound bites.
In theaters currently is acclaimed filmmaker Werner Herzog’s (“Grizzly Man”) new 3D documentary, “Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” that takes viewers on an incredible journey to France’s Chauvet Cave. In 1994, Paleolithic cave drawings thought to be 32,000 years old were discovered in pristine condition in this cave. With 3D technology, Herzog takes the audience through Chauvet Cave in ways that seem so real that you want to reach out and touch the cave’s walls.
Morgan Spurlock is also back with his take on branded entertainment in “POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold,” a hilarious true look of how Spurlock got product placement advertising dollars for his documentary about “product placement.” Most remember Spurlock from his funny and yet startling 2004 documentary, “Super Size Me,” where he used himself as a test subject to see what would happen if he ate three McDonald’s meals a day for 30 days. (The results were shocking.)
Another expose on eating habits is the thoughtful and informative “Forks Over Knives.” The documentary explores how changing to a whole food plant-based diet can prevent and even reverse ailments such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. The filmmakers offer clear, extensive medical research and real-life examples of people striving to eat better with positive results. Viewers leave the theater wanting to “eat to live, not live to eat.”
Winning this year’s Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival is “Buck,” a film about an authentic horse whisperer, Buck Brannaman (rolling out June 17). Buck is a real-life cowboy with almost magical abilities to transform horses (and their owners) with understanding, compassion, and respect. There’s plenty of advance buzz on this amazing tale, and it’s definitely one to watch for.
Two emotionally absorbing, political documentaries also out this June are “The Last Mountain” and “Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today.” “The Last Mountain” documents the life-threatening hazards of mountain top coal mining in the Appalachians and follows a dedicated citizenry (including Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.) who try and stop it. “Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today,” is the actual, restored documentary from 1948 covering the historic Nuremberg Trial of 1945-1946 and the International Tribunal who prosecuted the top Nazi leaders. Filming the trial itself, including the actual Nazi films that chronicled the Third Reich’s atrocities, this documentary is an amazing piece of history, as horrifying now as it was then. Although shown in Germany in 1948, this film was never shown in the U.S., until now.
These fascinating documentaries are not to miss and will be available this summer at your local theater, through On Demand cable services or DVD. The Golden Age of Documentaries is here to enjoy. And unlike most multiplex popcorn films that always leave you hungry, these documentaries will stay with you and keep your mind working long after the closing credits.