Essential Documentaries

Essential Documentaries

A selection of standout non-fiction films from the Metrograph library.

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Essential Documentaries
  • Hale County This Morning, This Evening

    Directed by RaMell Ross | 76 mins | 2018

    The results of five years of living among African American families in rural Hale County, Alabama—also the setting of Walker Evans and James Agee’s photo-essay Let Us Now Praise Famous Men—Ross’s debut feature documentary is a lyrical and loving treatment...

  • Did You Wonder Who Fired The Gun?

    Directed by Travis Wilkerson | 90 mins | 2017
    A particularly lacerating take on the “home movie,” Wilkerson’s film excavates the buried story of his own great-grandfather’s murder of a Black man in c. 1946 Dothan, Alabama, an inquest that puts him in conflict with contemporary residents of the to...

  • And When I Die I Won't Stay Dead

    Directed by Billy Woodberry | 89 mins | 2015
    Assembled from archival footage, new interviews, and readings from such figures as Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, this high-spirited screen portrait of the late African American Beat poet and bon vivant Bob Kaufman is given an appropriately nimble, jazzy fo...

  • Kate Plays Christine

    Directed by Robert Greene | 112 mins | 2016
    Greene’s rug-pulling docufiction—luminously shot by DP Sean Price Williams—follows actress Kate Lyn Sheil through her increasingly obsessive and mentally deleterious preparations to take on the role of Christine Chubbuck, a Florida newscaster whose live...

  • Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin

    Directed by Arwen Curry | 68 mins | 2018
    Released in the year of its subject’s death, Curry’s detailed, decade-in-the-making documentary about the extraordinary life and legacy of Le Guin gives the writer a chance to hold court on her work. Featuring a who’s who of science fiction and fantasy aut...

  • !Women Art Revolution

    Directed by Lynne Hershman Leeson | 83 mins | 2010
    Multimedia art pioneer Leeson’s eye-opening documentary combines archival footage and original interviews collected over the course of 40 years to provide a “secret history” of feminist art from the 1960s to the 21st century. Features such lumina...

  • A Day On The Grand Canal With The Emperor of China

    Directed by Philip Haas and David Hockney | 46 mins | 1988
    David Hockney leads the viewer on a charming and illuminating guided tour through 17th-century China as depicted in the 72-foot scroll The Kangxi Emperor’s Southern Inspection Tour (1691-1698), the work of painter Wang Hui and his assista...

  • Act of God

    Directed by Jennifer Baichwal | 75 mins | 2009
    Interviewing a host of individuals who’ve survived being struck by lightning—including author Paul Auster, musician Fred Frith, and a former CIA assassin—Baichwal creates a captivating, visually astonishing investigation into the metaphysical afteref...

  • Anthropocene: The Human Epoch

    Directed by Jennifer Baichwal | 87 mins | 2019
    Inspired by the work of the Anthropocene Working Group, an international organization of scientists committed to the study of humanity’s dangerous transformation of the planet since the mid-20th century, Bachwal’s four-years-in-the-making film is an ...

  • Beuys

    Directed by Andreis Veil | 107 mins | 2017
    A rich trove of never-before-seen archival footage shows how the charismatic and controversial German artist Joseph Beuys’s teachings, installations, happenings—such as covering himself in honey and gold leaf in How to Explain Paintings to a Dead Hare—an...

  • Beyond the Visible: Hilma Af Klint

    Directed by Halina Dyrschka | 94 mins | 2019
    The Swedish painter and mystic Hilma af Klint was, for decades after her death, a nearly forgotten figure, but her coterie of admirers swelled to an army after a blockbuster 2018 exhibition. Dyrschka, in her assured debut, continues the crucial work of...

  • Goodbye to Language

    Directed by Jean-Luc Godard | 70 mins | 2014
    An innovator to the end, Godard’s penultimate feature finds him experimenting with the possibilities of digital 3D, using the technology to plot the disintegration of both a couple’s relationship and the images of the relationship. A film of unpreceden...

  • Grace Jones: Bloodlight & Bami

    Directed by Sophie Fiennes | 115 mins | 2018
    One doesn’t have to do much to make a film about the towering, tempestuous Jamaican-born Grace Jones visually stunning and frequently outrageous, but Fiennes goes above and beyond in this documentary portrait of the powerful and pansexual glam-pop diva...

  • Helmut Newton: the Bad and the Beautiful

    Directed by Gero von Boehm | 93 mins | 2020
    Released on the centenary of its late subject’s birth, von Boehm’s fascinating documentary investigates the German-born photographer and provocateur Helmut Newton’s complicated legacy as the maestro of “porno chic” through interviews with muses like Cha...

  • In The Mirror of Maya Deren

    Directed by Martina Kudlacek | 103 mins | 2001
    Using footage from Deren’s groundbreaking experimental films of the 1940s—among them Meshes of the Afternoon and At Land—and interviews with Deren’s contemporaries, Kudlacek’s film provides penetrating insights into the mind of its legendary subject ...

  • Last Train Home

    Directed by Lixin Fan | 87 mins | 2009
    Using the microcosm of one family, the Zhangs, Chinese Canadian documentarian Fan explores an annual exodus that’s been described as the largest mass movement of people in the world: the annual homecoming journeys of nearly 130 million Chinese migrant worker...

  • Matthew Barney: No Restraint

    Directed by Alison Chernik | 72 mins | 2006
    Shot during the development of Barney’s massively ambitious film Drawing Restraint 9, made in collaboration with Björk, Chernick’s behind-the-scenes documentary offers a first-hand account of the artist’s artistic process, as well as the logistical chal...

  • The Competition

    Directed by Claire Simon | 121 mins | 2016
    The Competition begins, significantly, with the image of a locked gate—that of La Fémis, one of the most prestigious film schools in the world, offering hands-on training from working professionals and accepting only 40 students per year from hundreds of...

  • The French

    Directed by William Klein | 130 mins | 1982
    “For me, this film encapsulates everything I loved and love about the tennis of that moment; and in the hands of the great and singular William Klein, it is at once a gripping sports page, a fascinating piece of reportage, and a work of art.”

    —Wes Ande...

  • The Image Book

    Directed by Jean-Luc Godard | 84 mins | 2019
    A cinematic collage, an esoteric essay film, a wide-reaching, freewheeling ontological history of the moving image, and a sorrowful survey of the fallen world at the beginning of the 21st century, Special Palme d’Or winner The Image Book is a labyrinth...

  • The Projectionist

    Directed by Abel Ferrara | 81 mins | 2019
    Ferrara’s fond, often funny portrait of Nicolas “Nick” Nicolaou, a Cypriot immigrant who got his start in movie houses working in the Times Square porno theaters in the 1970s and has held on into the 21st century as an independent exhibitor in spite of ov...

  • The Raft

    Directed by Marcus Lindeen | 97 mins | 2018
    In the summer of 1973, a young international crew of six women and five men embarked together on a most unusual sea voyage—a close-quarters trip across the Atlantic from Spain to Mexico on a free-floating raft christened the Acali, initiated by Mexican ...

  • The Windmill Movie

    Directed by Alexander Olch | 82 mins | 2008
    “What if someone else wrote your autobiography?” That is the question posited by Alexander Olch as he tells the life-story of his former Harvard professor, the filmmaker Richard P. Rogers. For twenty years, Rogers worked on an autobiographical portrait ...

  • Behemoth

    Directed by Zhao Liang | 90 mins | 2015
    Shot in the coal mines of Inner Mongolia, Zhao’s nonfiction symphony of industrial rapacity is a mythic-realist work of harrowing close-ups and infernal long shots beggaring belief, evoking Dante and Bosch en route to a haunting climax in an ultramodern pre...