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Sight & Sound Picks 50 Best Docs of All Time

Photo of Jacob Combs By Jacob Combs | Thompson on Hollywood August 2, 2014 at 12:57PM

BFI's 'Sight & Sound magazine'--which for years has conducted a poll of the 50 greatest films of all time--has released the results of its inaugural poll to crown the greatest documentary of all time.
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A shot from Dziga Vertov's "Man with a Movie Camera"--the top film in Sight & Sound's best documentaries poll.
A shot from Dziga Vertov's "Man with a Movie Camera"--the top film in Sight & Sound's best documentaries poll.

BFI's 'Sight & Sound magazine'--which for years has conducted a poll of the 50 greatest films of all time--has released the results of its inaugural poll to crown the greatest documentary of all time.

Top prize goes to Dziga Vertov's "Man with a Movie Camera," a 1929 silent film shot in the Ukrainian cities of Odessa, Kiev and Kharkiv.  The experimental film--which has no story and no actors--examined Soviet citizens at work and in their daily lives and was an important early work of avant-garde film.

"Man with a Movie Camera" took 8th place in Sight & Sound's most recent list of greatest films, the only documentary to crack the top ten.  (Hitchcock's "Vertigo" took number one.)  The documentaries-only list was nominated by more than 200 critics and 100 filmmakers from across the globe, and one-fifth of the films on it were produced since 2000.

The top American film on the list is Errol Morris's "The Thin Blue Line," which took fifth place.  "Nanook of the North," "Don't Look Back," and "Grey Gardens" also made the top ten.

Intriguingly, Sight & Sound also conducted a best documentaries poll of 103 directors, which garnered similar but not identical responses to the broader critics-plus-filmmakers survey.  "Man with a Movie Camera" still took the top spot, but "San Soleil" jumped from 3rd to 2nd, "Shoah" slipped from 2nd to 4th and "The Thin Blue Line" took 3rd instead of 5th.

Here are the top ten films in the critics' pick poll.  You can see the full results of it here, and the full results of the filmmakers poll here.

1. Man with a Movie Camera, dir. Dziga Vertov (USSR 1929)

2. Shoah, dir. Claude Lanzmann (France 1985)

3. Sans soleil, dir. Chris Marker (France 1982)

4. Night and Fog, dir. Alain Resnais (France 1955)

5. The Thin Blue Line, dir. Errol Morris (USA 1989)

6. Chronicle of a Summer, dir. Jean Rouch & Edgar Morin (France 1961)

7. Nanook of the North, dir. Robert Flaherty (USA 1922)

8. The Gleaners and I, dir. Agnès Varda (France 2000)

9. Don't Look Back, dir. D.A. Pennebaker (USA 1967)

10. Grey Gardens, dirs. Albert and David Maysles, Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer (USA 1975)

This article is related to: Sight & Sound, Poll, BFI, Documentaries, Errol Morris, Grey Gardens


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