Top 10 Documentary Filmmakers
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Top 10 Documentary Filmmakers



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Some of the most ground-breaking and enlightening films of all time have been documentaries, and these are the minds behind them. Join as we count down our picks for the top 10 Documentary Filmmakers. Check us out at and Also, check out our interactive Suggestion Tool at 🙂

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some of the most groundbreaking and enlightened films of all time have been documentaries and these are the minds behind them welcome to watchmojo.com and today we're counting down our picks for the top 10 documentary filmmakers as for the former inhabitants they'd all died or moved on long ago well almost all of them for this list we'll be looking at the most revolutionary and innovative directors of nonfiction motion pictures and some of their best work number 10 Michael Apted I think that there's gonna come a time when I on that has to be told in addition to fiction films this former president of the Directors Guild of America has dabbled in the art of making documentaries to commercial and critical success the shootout at jumping bull the killing of these two FBI agents was the part of the total pattern of violence that was occurring on the reservation bring on the night a concert film based on sting as well as incident at Iguala a look at the murder of two FBI agents or to such successes shortly I have to heed half Oglala housing two cars entered highway 18 behind him his greatest work however has been the up series a documentary series that has followed the lives of 14 British children from the age of seven up to present with a new episode about their lives every seven years a lot of the enjoyment of life has been taken out of it is the natural enjoyment hasn't been taken out of it it's just people it's still there every look for it number nine Morgan Spurlock patient is embarking on a one-month McDonald's binge although active in the field of the performing arts as a playwright this moustached director and humorists first massive success was with the film supersize meet a chronicle of his own attempts to nothing but McDonald's for 30 days my advice to you as a physician is that you got to stop there pickling your liver the second film where in the world is Osama bin Laden premiered at Sundance and was also a critical success as he takes a first-person look at the fight on terrorism while going on a search for bin Laden himself and I'm gonna find out once and for all where in the world is Osama bin Laden with a nomination for the coveted Academy Award in his pocket we can't wait to see what he does next Osama bin Laden's all the other day I wonder Stan I don't know what he's in there's also question what he's alive or dead okay number eight Kevin McDonald while this award-winning Scottish director is known for his fiction motion pictures we've reported that you cried you saw the lost King of Scotland his efforts in the field of documentaries are certainly renowned as well although he won an Oscar for his 1999 film one day in September recounting the murder of a group of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Germany perhaps his most popular documentary his 2003 s touching the void and I had this bizarre idea that if they'd fallen off the mountain they would have just landed to the bottom of it a harrowing tale of two Mountaineers attempt to climb a peak in the Andes mountain it has been called Britain's most successful documentary and is on PBS's list of the 100 greatest documentaries of all time and when I shouted they were there I sort of knew I was dead then number seven James Cameron unbelievable this is the most insane of biomass I ever saw in my life nominated for six Academy Awards and having directed films that have grossed approximately six billion worldwide James Cameron just seems to have the magic touch whether he's directing blue aliens or creating a documentary it is history right there we are touching the legend six years after releasing the box-office smash Titanic the fascinating ghosts of the abyss was released where Cameron revisits the wreckage of the legendary ship and many times when I close my eyes I'm suddenly back there floating over the wreck two years later he teamed up with NASA scientists to explore chains of mountains deep under the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans an expedition that was captured in aliens of the deep the science community was stunned how could these animals be living in these toxic chemicals number six Martin Scorsese now the first Italian films that I remember seeing we're on this little screen my family around me in pretty much a room like this the most nominated living director and certainly one of the most influential this 8-time Oscar nominated filmmaker has drawn us to many fictional worlds I'm funny how I me funny like I'm a clown I am you you I make you laugh but has also created some underrated documentary classics so as a filmmaker I'm kind of caught I've never really felt like a Hollywood director or at least what my idea of a Hollywood directors supposed to be and obviously I'm not an Italian filmmaker reader my voyage to Italy is perhaps the most award-winning effort documenting a journey through the history of Italian cinema and particular movies that influenced the director himself they needed to dissolve the barrier between documentary and fiction and in the process they permanently changed the rules of moviemaking he has also been praised for his treatment of legendary musical artists including his 2011 documentary based on the life of former Beatles member George Harrison the event is so momentous that historians may one day view it as a landmark in the decline of the British Empire the Beatles are breaking up number five Alex Gibney and that is the main entrance to camp x-ray would be extremely difficult for anybody to make an escape out of here praised for his emotionally compelling subject matter and style Alex Gibney has shown numerous times that he isn't afraid to deal with topics that others would be afraid to take on a lot of what needs to be done we'll have to be done quietly without any discussion using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies for instance taxi to the dark side his chronicle of a taxi driver who was tortured and killed for no reason on an Afghan Air Base in 2002 won the 2007 Oscar for the Best Documentary Feature it certainly makes you wonder about whether they just sent these guys on to cover their butts he was also nominated for Enron the smartest guys in the room a film that took an in-depth look into the fall of the Enron Corporation one of the biggest scandals in the history of the United States this is a case of America's largest corporate bankruptcy the question here is what happened who was responsible for it happening and what can we do to prevent this sort of thing from happening again number four Ken Burns Lincoln's been so smothered with stories of his compassion that people forget what a highly intelligent man he was with a unique style that includes simple musical sound tracks and the captivating use of archival footage and images Ken Burns has won numerous Emmy Awards for his vivid all-american documentaries work began on a statue unlike any ever built before it would be a gift from the people of France to the people of the United States he has been nominated twice for an academy award once for 1981's Brooklyn Bridge and another time for 1985's the Statue of Liberty liberty is the absence of constraints and bury an impediment perhaps his greatest achievement however is the film that garnered more than 40 major film and television awards namely 1990s the Civil War it was the establishment of the United States in independence from Great Britain with slavery still a part of its heritage number three Michael war when the second plane hit the tower his chief of staff entered the classroom and told mr. Bush the nation is under attack although he had humble beginnings as a magazine writer he has since established himself as a filmmaking force to be reckoned with I'd spotted an ad in the local Michigan paper that said if you opened an account at North country bank the bank would give you a gun known for his sharp criticism and wit Michael Moore's 2004 hit Fahrenheit 9/11 an examination of terrorism and the American presidency at the time is the highest-grossing documentary of all time there they're not happy they're occupied I wouldn't be happy if I were occupied either everybody here we go several of his other documentaries can also be found on top grossing documentaries lists including Bowling for Columbine which won an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature yes it was a glorious time to be an American number two Errol Boris any prosecutor can convict a guilty man it takes a great prosecutor to convict an innocent man it's not for no reason that the Guardian put him in the top 10 ranking of the world's 40 best active directors have you insane they're at the hotel that night this would never happen not dress perfect not restaurant known for his direct and natural style of documentary making Errol Morris has tried his hand in several life stories and was successful each time he's killed people unnecessarily his own troops our other troops through mistakes who errors a judgement most notably cell with his oscar-winning film the fog of war 11 lessons from the life of Robert S McNamara with the fog of war remains is war is so complex it's beyond the ability of the human mind to comprehend all the variables his critically acclaimed film the thin blue line the story of a man sentenced to a life term for a murder he was probably wrongly accused of was also so powerful that the man in question was released a year after the film's debut oh I don't wanna know before we unveil our top pick here are a few honorable mentions this stands your are fun which is good crying like a fire in the Sun four years ago that's all i used to dream about was playing in NBA i don't really dream about it like that anymore everybody stand together amy and everybody goes together everybody go out on the picket line and we'll win her contract FL i understand it he was only 32 the person lending you the money expected you to pay him or her back you got a loan from a lender who wanted you to pay him back we've since developed securitization whereby the people who make the loan are no longer at risk of there's a failure to repay by show weakness if I retreat I may be hurt I may be killed I must hold my own if I'm gonna stay within this land number 1 Verner Hertzog he has been called the most influential film director alive and American critic Roger Ebert once wrote that even his failures are spectacular I don't know what the variables are but we've gotta have some goddamn rain so if there's a god don't in a sting a director that has narrowly escaped death many times and will go to any extreme to carry through with his creative vision Hertzog has certainly created his share of cinematic masterpieces when I'm driving my car I often hear the voices of my dead friends sometimes my friend Duane Martin calls me and tells me that his feet are cold whether he's following the deaf and blind in the land of silence and darkness a former prisoner of war in little dieter needs to fly but I knew from that moment on that I want to be a pilot I want to be a flier or a grizzly bear enthusiast in grizzly man his films are captivating and always remarkable I would never ever kill a bear in the defense of my own life would not go into a bear's home and kill a bear do you agree with our list do you think are the greatest documentary filmmakers who only once shame on shame on you for more in-depth top 10s published every day be sure to subscribe to watchmojo.com

40 Replies to “Top 10 Documentary Filmmakers

  1. Watching your "unbiased" list, one infers that it is essential to make films in English in order to be a great documentary filmmaker, right?! (Well, maybe you can speak German as long as you release your stuff in English) LOL. If one is making docs in a different language, it means they're not good enough and you can't ever be among the top ten, right? What a "brilliant" list, Mojo. What a "fair", "competent" work you guys have done! LOL

  2. Seriously Watchmojo, I get the idea you don´t know about documentary history when you dare to post this list… excluding french, russian, latinamerican filmmakers among others. A list about documentary directors that doesn´t mention Jean Rouch, Dziga Vertov, Agnes Vardá, Chris Marker, Joris Ivens, Patricio Guzman, Eduardo Coutinho, Godfrey Reggio, Flaherty or Griergson + others, isn´t serious. Redo this or take this list away.

  3. Push Michal Moore out of this list, he is a propagandist, not a film maker. I'd suggest putting British film maker Adam Curtis here instead. His documentaries on the Middle East and its relations with the West are so deep and show multiple points of view.

  4. It is really unprofessional the fact that you dare to do this list, which is so disrespectful to documentary history. Not having "the man with the movie camera" (Dziga Vertov) there and with total absence of filmmakers as Agnes Varda, Alan Resnais, Kossakosvsky, Jean Rouch, Patricio Guzman, among others. Being so unsmart to include directors who are famous and important in fiction but not relevant in documentary show that this list should be named "Top 10 Documentary Filmmakers (that Watch Mojo crew knows a little). It's so focused and centered around british and usa filmmakers just… none latin americans, none from France, none from Germany (Leni Reifenstahl)… Really embarrassing. Keep doing list of pop music and shallow stuffs. You do that really well.

  5. Morgan Spurlock and Micheal Moore don't even deserve to be called documentary filmmakers. Ken Burns and Werner Herzog are the best working today.

    And Louis Theroux really deserves to be in there somewhere, too.

  6. Every one of Frederick Wiseman's 41 Documentaries is better than anything Spurlock has made. Eating Cheeseburgers? Nobody cares. Wandering around the Middle East asking strangers where Bin Laden is? Trying to be edgy and "shocking" but comes off as obnoxious. One Direction film? My 8 year old daughter loves it BUT ANYONE ELSE DOESN'T GIVE A SINGLE SHIT. I feel like he is famous because he is proud to be a yank and is vocal about it.

    James Cameron has made 2 sub-par films about being underwater. He doesn't deserve a place on a top 50 docu-filmmaker list.

  7. I actually respect the way Moore presents some of his films, he does do them well but it's pretty clear he has his own political agenda and he twists a lot of the facts and i definitely don't agree with the way he treated Charlton Heston

  8. This list is soo shitty. The top ten is full of mainstream fiction Filmmakers (such as james cameron, who isnt even good at fiction). The true documentary filmmakers are in the honorable mentions, like steve james and the mayses. Errol moris should definitely be number one, he is considered by many as the greatest ever. Herzog is good, but his best achievements are his fiction movies

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