Orson Welles, Werner Herzog, Michael Moore Films Make List of All-Time Influential Docs (Exclusive)

Orson Welles, Werner Herzog, Michael Moore Films Make List of All-Time Influential Docs (Exclusive)

Cinema Eye's roster of 25 movies that inspire current filmmakers ranges from rock docs to political films

Orson Welles’ “F for Fake,” Steve James‘ “Hoop Dreams,” Michael Moore's “Bowling for Columbine” and Claude Lanzmann's “Shoah” are among the 25 films chosen as the most influential documentaries of all time by current filmmakers eligible for the 2014 Cinema Eye Honors, one of the top awards given for non-fiction film.

The wide-ranging list, which ranges from Dziga Vertov's 1929 film “Man With a Movie Camera” to Werner Herzog‘s 2005 doc “Grizzly Man,” was compiled by Cinema Eye Honors organizers from ballots cast by this year's eligible filmmakers.

The list was revealed exclusively to theWrap on Wednesday.

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“For the last few years we've been asking eligible directors to tell us what films inspire them, to help guide us to the films we should consider for our Legacy Award,” Cinema Eye co-founder A.J. Schnack told theWrap. “The list is always interesting, and it changes a little bit each year – so as we were thinking about this year, we thought, why don't we actually release the list to show what films are foremost in filmmakers’ minds from one year to the next?”

Of the more than 100 directors of this year's eligible films who were asked to list and rank five films, more than 75 participated. “We never ask people, ‘What are the best films?’ but, ‘What are the films you constantly look to to inspire you when you're making nonfiction?'” said Schnack.

The only filmmakers to have more than one film on the list are D.A. Pennebaker, who has two (the 1967 Bob Dylan doc “Don't Look Back” and the 1993 political film “The War Room,” the latter made with Chris Hegedus), Errol Morris, who also has two (“The Thin Blue Line” in 1988 and “The Fog of War” in 2003), and Albert and David Maysles, who have three (1968's “Salesman” and 1970's “Gimme Shelter,” made with Charlotte Zwerin, and 1975's “Grey Gardens,” made with Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer.

While a number of influential films from the '60s and '70s made the list, the lineup also testified to the vitality of non-fiction filmmaking in the last two decades, with 10 of the 25 entries released between 1990 and 2005.

The ballot did not set a time frame or limit the choices in any way.

1083_009791.jpgIn a sign of how the Academy has struggled to recognize the most acclaimed docs over the years, only seven of the 25 films were nominated for Oscars in the Best Documentary Feature category. Five of them won — “Hearts and Minds” in 1974, “Harlan County, USA” in 1976, “When We Were Kings” in 1996, “Bowling for Columbine” (right) in 2002 and “The Fog of War” in 2003 – while “1993's The War Room” and 2003's “Capturing the Friedmans” were nominated but did not win.

Schnack said the list has remained relatively stable in the three years Cinema Eye has been compiling it internally. “There are 10 to 15 films that have been on all three lists,” he said, “and five or 10 that seem to come and go.”

The first couple of years, he said, Michael Moore's “Roger and Me” was on the list and Moore's “Bowling for Columbine” was not; this year, “Bowling” was on and “Roger” was not.

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“As a filmmaker, you often find that you have an idea for something, and then you realize that a bunch of other filmmakers have tapped into the same zeitgeist and are working on something similar,” he said. “And that is something we're interested in exploring as we do this list as a yearly thing: Are there films that pop out of nowhere and end up in the air?”

Cinema Eye was founded in 2007 to recognize and promote excellence in nonfiction film. This year's Cinema Eye Honors will take place in January 2014 in New York City, with nominations due to be announced in early November.

The list:

“American Movie” / Chris Smith (1999)
“Bowling for Columbine” / Michael Moore (2002)
“Brother's Keeper” / Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky (1992)
“Burden of Dreams” / Les Blank (1982)
“Capturing the Friedmans” / Andrew Jarecki (2003)
“Crumb” / Terry Zwigoff (1994)
“Don't Look Back” / D A Pennebaker (1967)
“F for Fake” / Orson Welles (1973)
“The Fog of War” / Errol Morris (2003)
“Gimme Shelter” / Albert Maysles, David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin (1970)
“Grey Gardens” / Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer (1975)
“Grizzly Man” / Werner Herzog (2005)
“Harlan County, USA” / Barbara Kopple (1976)
“Hearts and Minds” / Peter Davis (1974)
“Hoop Dreams” / Steve James (1994)
“Man WIth a Movie Camera” / Dziga Vertov (1929)
“Night and Fog” / Alain Resnais (1955)
“Salesman” / Albert Maysles, David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin (1968)
“Sans Soleil” / Chris Marker (1983)
“Sherman's March” / Ross McElwee (1985)
“Shoah” / Claude Lanzmann (1985)
“The Thin Blue Line” / Errol Morris (1988)
“Titicut Follies” / Frederick Wiseman (1967)
“The War Room” / Chris Hegedus and D A Pennebaker (1993)
“When We Were Kings” / Leon Gast (1996)

  • FrankG

    Great list, but surprised that Michael Wadleigh's “Woodstock” isn't here.

  • cthulu48

    Missing “Deliver Us From Evil” and ALL 4 of the West Memphis 3 documentaries are exempt from the list. Those films saved 3 men's lives.

    • cthulu48

      Glad to see “Brother's Keeper” and “The Thin Blue Line” recognized though. Good films on the list… just missing 2 of the best ever in the history of the medium.

  • DocFan

    They're all men… can that really be right?

    • Kane2012

      No. Barbara Kopple

  • eco10530

    I think Baraka should have a spot on this list.

  • mendonik

    I'm glad to see Les Blank's Burden of Dreams on the list. Blank was highly influential in his style of narration-free documentaries where the story comes out from the subjects’ own mouths. Blank died last spring.

  • Jeni Thornley

    A “wide-ranging list”? It's US centric. What about some of the great documentaries from India, China, UK, Canada, Australia, Africa? They exist!

  • BoltBait

    I'm totally disappointed that “Scared Straight!” (1978) is not on the list. When you talk about ‘influential’ documentaries, it must be mentioned. This documentary had a HUGE impact when it came out.