Well Documented: The Essential Documentaries That Prove The Truth Is More Fascinating Than Fiction by Ian Haydn Smith

The Blurb On The Back:

Documentaries have the power to change the way you think, to stop you in your tracks, bring tears to your eyes and put your heart in your mouth.

Well Documented brings together a collection of films by international directors that have been astounding viewers for the last 100 years, delving deep into how these films were made, why you should see them and what you should watch next.

Featuring a range of powerful tales, from Barbara Kopple’s Oscar-winning gritty depiction of working-class America in Harlan County, USA to James Marsh’s breathtaking Man on Wire, plights of human endurance such as Kevin Macdonald’s Touching the Void or stories of injustice like Ava DuVernay’s 13th, Ian Haydn Smith writes with passion and knowledge, while images highlight what makes these films so unique.  From Oscar winners to unseen gems, each of these documentaries will make you tell people, ‘You NEED to see this film’.

WELL DOCUMENTED: THE ESSENTIAL DOCUMENTARIES THAT PROVE THE TRUTH IS MORE FASCINATING THAN FICTION was released in the United Kingdom on 4th October 2022.  Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

You can order WELL DOCUMENTED: THE ESSENTIAL DOCUMENTARIES THAT PROVE THE TRUTH IS MORE FASCINATING THAN FICTION by Ian Haydn Smith from Amazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Ian Haydn Smith is editor of BFI Filmmaker Magazine and Curzon Magazine.  This is a really informative summary of 100 documentaries divided into 7 categories and taken from around the world and over the history of cinema.  The summaries of the films – although brief – are very informative and the foreword to each section gives a lot of useful background.  I came away from this with a list of documentaries that I really want to see.

The book is divided into 7 categories:

– People & Places

– Politices & Society

– Art & Culture

– History & Conflict

  Science & Nature

– Crime & Injustice

– Short Films

There is a really diverse range of films discussed here and each section has a good introduction to give you an idea of the themes and films being discussed.  I find that I’m increasingly drawn to documentaries as I get older and I came away from this book with a list of films that I wanted to check out.  Some of the films I was aware of (either because I’d seen them or had heard of them) but the summaries gave me a new insight into them and made me want to see them either again or for the first time.  I particularly liked the fact that Smith has included films from early 20th century, as it demonstrates the history of the genre and where its roots are.

If I have a criticism of the book it’s that most of the films skewer towards the US and Europe.  There are examples of films from other countries like Iran, Japan, Brazil and Mexico but I was disappointed that there wasn’t much from Africa (the exception being a Cameroon/UK him).  I would have liked a bit more diversity in terms of searching for films, but I will hold my hands up that this may be due to the fact that there is less going on there in terms of documentary film making.

That criticism aside, I did genuinely find this to be a really informative book and I very much enjoyed reading it.  If you are into film or documentaries, then I definitely think that this is worth a look.  

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