Documentaries Film List

12th April, 2017

Non-fiction film has long proven itself to be every bit as diverse, dynamic, challenging and cinematic as its fictional sibling. From stories about the natural world, to polemical political stories about injustice, the medium has often been used to change attitudes - and even policy - in remarkable ways.

But documentary cinema can also be fun and inspiring; opening up areas of the world we had no idea we were interested in, and giving a voice to those rarely heard in local multiplexes. While documentaries should never be confused with telling the "truth", they can always open up new perspectives and dig deeper into stories than other mediums allow themselves to. Here are some other crucial and important titles in the history of this rich genre of filmmaking, along with some of our own favourites.


Night MailNight Mail U (9+)

Duration: 23mins
Year: 1936
Director(s)Basil WrightHarry Watt
CastJohn GriersonStuart LeggRobert Rae

An incredibly successful fusion of music, sound and voice, you can almost feel the rhythmic clatter of metal upon metal.

One of the earliest documentaries, Night Mail is still hugely significant. British filmmaker John Grierson’s behind-the-scenes account of the Postal Service up and down the country presented a portrait of working-life in the country that had never been seen. A huge commercial hit, it paved the way for a strain of realism in British filmmaking that continues to this day.

An Inconvenient TruthAn Inconvenient Truth U (11+)

Duration: 95mins
Year: 2016
Director(s)Davis Guggenheim
CastAl Gore

Thought-provoking assessment on the causes and symptoms of climate change from former US presidential candidate Al Gore.

Documentaries are particularly suited to telling stories of climate change and environmental policy, shocking the audience with hard scientific facts about the impact of global warming and what should be done about it. One of the most impactful was An Inconvenient Truth, featuring former Vice President Al Gore, which garnered worldwide attention and is about to receive a sequel.

The Eagle HuntressThe Eagle Huntress U (7+)

Duration: 87mins
Year: 2016
Director(s)Otto Bell
CastDaisy Ridley

Inspiring documentary about a 13 year-old girl seeking to defy tradition and become an eagle hunter in her isolated Mongolian community.

This inspirational documentary is a perfect introduction to the genre for young audiences and demonstrates what non-fiction films can do best – make us interested in worlds and cultures we previously knew nothing about, teaching us empathy along the way. In this case, it’s the remarkable life of young eagle huntress Aisholpan and her life in the mountains of Mongolia.

Winged MigrationWinged Migration U (5+)

Duration: 86mins
Year: 2001
Director(s)Jacques PerrinMichel DebatsJacques Cluzaud
Cast: N/A

Oscar-nominated nature documentary that follows the paths of migrating birds from all over the globe.

This film follows the paths of migrating birds all over the globe, from the Arctic to the Antarctic, and all points in between. The directorsused light aircraft and even hot air balloons to capture some of the aerial shots - with the results revealing how hard life can be for the birds, with predators (both human and animal), bad weather and other perils to contend with on their long journeys.


Fires Were StartedFires Were Started U (9+)

Duration: 65mins
Year: 1943
Director(s)Humphrey Jennings
CastPhilip DicksonFred GriffithsGeorge GravettJohnny HoughtonLoris Rey

Groundbreaking film about the day-to-day work of a group of firemen during the London Blitz of World War Two, with all parts played by real firemen.

During the Second World War, film was often used as a propaganda tool to showcase the heroism of ordinary people to the public. This is perhaps the most celebrated example: a document of the working lives of a group of ordinary London fireman, justly celebrated for their heroic, unstinting bravery in the face of relentless bombing. An important, fascinating document of the time.

BlackfishBlackfish 15 (14+)

Duration: 83mins
Year: 2013
Director(s)Gabriela Cowperthwaite
CastSamantha BergDave DuffusDean GomersallKim AshdownDaniel DukesTilikum

A harrowing documentary looking at the ethical dilemmas of keeping dangerous animals in captivity, taking its lead from one tragic incident.

Some documentaries change public attitudes in profound ways. Following this heart breaking account of the treatment of whales at the Sea World resort in Florida, public demand for the animals to be treated more humanely became increasingly vocal. This lead to a dramatic decline in attendance at Sea World and eventually a dramatic change in policy.

Bowling for ColumbineBowling for Columbine 15 (14+)

Duration: 115mins
Year: 2002
Director(s)Michael Moore
CastMichael MooreMatt StoneMarilyn MansonCharlton Heston

Riveting documentary by controversial filmmaker Michael Moore on the Columbine High School mass shootings and the role of guns in the US.

Michael Moore remains perhaps the best known documentary filmmaker working today. Incendiary, provocative and controversial, his films are rallying calls to action for perceived social injustices. Nowhere was this more powerfully articulated than in this examination of US gun culture, winning Moore an Oscar and international attention for his controversial acceptance speech.

This Is Spinal TapThis Is Spinal Tap 15 (14+)

Duration: 79mins
Year: 1984
Director(s)Rob Reiner
CastRob ReinerMichael McKeanHarry ShearerChristopher GuestEd Begley Jr.

This mockumentary about the worst - or quite possibly the best - rock group of all time is a hysterical cult classic.

This spoof documentary remains one of the funniest films of all time and has influenced comedians across all mediums. It is also eerily reminiscent of real bands (although they'd never admit it). Following the fortunes of an over-the-hill British band’s increasingly disastrous comeback tour, the fictitious Marty Barron drills down into the life of a rock star like nobody before.

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