October is National Documentary Month. The idea started in a bar and is nerdy, so you know I’m on board. At my library, staff share their favorites all month. It’s a great way for me to get recommendations, because documentaries are some of the only types of movies that Mister BS and I can agree on. We regularly have “documentary date nights” which basically means we watch a documentary in sweatpants, eat pizza, and drink cheap wine. BEST. DATE. EVER.
Here are a few of our favorites.
Between the Folds
Mister BS folds paper. Often. If he’s bored at a play or restaurant, he’ll start folding paper into tesselations or origami. He uses it in math lessons and gives his creations as gifts. So I probably never would have watched this if he hadn’t selected it from Netflix, but I was instantly fascinated. There are so many ways that art and science intersect, and this documentary explores the way both play out on paper. By profiling ten artists who work with paper, BETWEEN THE FOLDS showcases how versatile this form can be. Believe me, these artists are doing more than paper cranes!
We don’t have cable TV, so PBS plays frequently in our house. I’m always impressed with the programming. If you don’t have local access or a Netflix account, you can always check and see if this is available at your local library!
See the trailer:
Exit Through the Gift Shop
I checked this documentary out when I was doing research on read-alikes for Graffiti Moon for a series of posts I do at The Hub. (Find the graphic I made here). Again, Mister BS and I sat down with pizza on a Friday night looking for some mildly engaging entertainment, and were instantly enthralled. I’ll admit that I wasn’t that famiiar with street art culture or Bansky when I began, and I’ve since become a regular follower of Global Street Art (check out their Instagram or Tumblr).
This documentary began as a project of Thierry, a Frenchman living in LA who never went anywhere without a videocamera and happened to be the cousin of one of the early iconic street artists, Space Invader. He became fascinated with street art after visiting his cousin, and began filming artists at work in Paris and LA. He desperately wants to film the notriously secretive British artist Banksy, whose political installations garnered international attention. The beginning of the film is rare archival footage of street artists at work, focusing on their style and technique and brushes with the law. Then, Banksy and Thierry become friends and companions, and Thierry not only films, but participates in the creation of street art. There’s footage of Banksy’s shows in LA and installation on walls in Israel.
But while Thierry had a great guerilla style to his filming, he had no interest in editing the tapes or compiling it into a cohesive story. Banksy took the project over, and turned the camera around on Thierry as he tries his hand at his own massive show.
And what began as a story of the greatest counter culture movement since punk rock became a story of sellouts and commerialization and posers. It’s fascinating, and if you haven’t seen it yet, GET ON THAT.
See the trailer:
Paris is Burning
I first watched this documentary is my favorite class in graduate school: Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Masculinity. It’s an early 90s film about “balls” in New York City where participants compete in “vogueing” contest where (mostly) gay men, who are often homeless, play at a glamourous life for a night. What’s surprising about this intimate portrayal about a very specific cultural phenomenon is how it acts as a microcosm for American desire. If you thought Madonna is responsible for the “vogue” dance movement, think again. This documentary offers you a glimpse into the world that inspired the pop star.
The film is not without a certain sadness. Underneath the glitzy glamour and the sassy competition is a world of violence, of loss, of pain. But the juxtaposition of the play-acting of the balls and the harsh reality of the lives of these people living at the margins of society yet having such a profound impact on pop culture is fascinating, even decades later.
See the trailer:
Do you have a favorite documentary? Share in the comments!