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The Best Direct Cinema Movies And Documentaries Ever Made

“What are the best Direct Cinema Movies?” We looked at 81 of the top Direct Cinema films, aggregating and ranking them so we could answer that very question!

The top 12 films, all appearing on 2 or more “Best Direct Cinema” movie lists, are ranked below by how many times they appear. The remaining 50+ movies, as well as the sources we used, are in alphabetical order on the bottom of the page.

Happy Scrolling!



Top 12 Best Direct Cinema Movies Ever Made



12 .) Brothers’ Keeper directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky

	Brothers' Keeper

Lists It Appears On:

  • MUBI
  • Wikipedia

This documentary by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky details the murder trial of Delbert Ward. Delbert was a member of a family of four elderly brothers, working as semi-literate farmers and living together in isolation from the rest of society until William’s death.



11 .) Chiefs directed by Richard Leacock

	Chiefs

Lists It Appears On:

  • Letterboxd
  • Wikipedia

Filmed at the October 1968 meeting in Hawaii of several hundred police chiefs of the International Association of Chiefs of Police as they watch demonstrations of gruesome anti-riot weapons, sing patriotic songs, and defend their policies in front of the camera. Although filmed with the permission of the chiefs, the view is not sympathetic, sometimes funny, and more often frightening.



10 .) Meet Marlon Brando directed by Albert and David Maysles

	Meet Marlon Brando

Lists It Appears On:

  • Letterboxd
  • Wikipedia

Journalists from all over America meet Marlon Brando in a New York hotel room to interview him about his new film, Morituri. Seeing this as an opportunity to let the legendary actor promote the film, they find Brando unwilling to talk about it, instead he is more interested in larking about and turning on the charm when being interviewed by a former winner of the Miss USA competition.



9 .) On the Bowery directed by Lionel Rogosin

	On the Bowery

Lists It Appears On:

  • Letterboxd
  • Wikipedia

A mix of documentary and scripted footage on the Bowery, New York City’s skid row. Against a backdrop of men (and a few women) drinking in bars, talking and arguing, and sleeping on sidewalks, we have the story of Ray.



8 .) Primary (1960) directed by Robert Drew

	Primary (1960)

Lists It Appears On:

  • IMDB
  • MUBI

Primary is a documentary film about the primary elections between John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey in 1960. Primary is the first documentary to use light equipment in order to follow their subjects in a more intimate filmmaking style. This unconventional way of filming created a new look for documentary films where the camera’s lens was right in the middle of what ever drama was occuring.



7 .) The Chair directed by Robert Drew

	The Chair

Lists It Appears On:

  • Letterboxd
  • Wikipedia

Follows a crusading lawyer as he embarks on a campaign to save an African-American man, Paul Crump, from the electric chair.



6 .) The Mills of the Gods: Viet Nam directed by Beryl Fox

	The Mills of the Gods: Viet Nam

Lists It Appears On:

  • Letterboxd
  • Wikipedia

A documentary on the war in South Vietnam shot entirely on location. There is no narration and no use of archive footage. The participants speak for themselves. The filmmakers spend time with units from many services: army, tanks, marines, ARVN, air cavalry. They accompany an air force napalm and strafing attack on a Viet Cong bunker complex. There are many scenes both of Saigon streets and of peasant village life. Soldiers speak of their experiences and their mission to fight Communism in Vietnam. One American informant says that the Vietnamese peasant is not interested in ideology, but in social justice, a piece of land, fair taxation, and to be left alone. Some interviews are used as voice-over. Participants, American and Vietnamese, are very natural, with little or no posturing for the camera. There are scenes of dead Viet Cong, and one showing a VC suspect being drowned to aid interrogation. ×



5 .) Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment directed by Robert Drew

	Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment

Lists It Appears On:

  • Letterboxd
  • MUBI
  • Wikipedia

During a two-day period before and after the University of Alabama integration crisis, the film uses five camera crews to follow President John F. Kennedy, attorney general Robert F. Kennedy, Alabama governor George Wallace, deputy attorney general Nicholas Katzenbach and the students Vivian Malone and James Hood. As Wallace has promised to personally block the two black students from enrolling in the university, the JFK administration discusses the best way to react to it, without rousing the crowd or making Wallace a martyr for the segregationist cause. ×



4 .) Dont Look Back directed by D. A. Pennebaker

	Dont Look Back

Lists It Appears On:

  • Letterboxd
  • MUBI
  • Wikipedia

In this wildly entertaining vision of one of the twentieth century’s greatest artists, Bob Dylan is surrounded by teen fans, gets into heated philosophical jousts with journalists, and kicks back with fellow musicians Joan Baez, Donovan, and Alan Price.



3 .) Grey Gardens directed by Albert and David Maysles

	Grey Gardens

Lists It Appears On:

  • Letterboxd
  • MUBI
  • Wikipedia

Edie Bouvier Beale and her mother, Edith, two aging, eccentric relatives of Jackie Kennedy Onassis, are the sole inhabitants of a Long Island estate. The women reveal themselves to be misfits with outsized, engaging personalities. Much of the conversation is centered on their pasts, as mother and daughter now rarely leave home.



2 .) Gimme Shelter (1970) directed by Albert and David Maysles

	Gimme Shelter (1970)

Lists It Appears On:

  • Dostoevsky
  • IMDB
  • Letterboxd
  • MUBI
  • Wikipedia

The landmark documentary about the tragically ill-fated Rolling Stones free concert at Altamont Speedway on December 6, 1969. Only four months earlier, Woodstock defined the Love Generation; now it lay in ruins on a desolate racetrack six miles outside of San Francisco.



1 .) Salesman (1969) directed by Albert and David Maysles

	Salesman (1969)

Lists It Appears On:

  • Dostoevsky
  • IMDB
  • Letterboxd
  • MUBI
  • Wikipedia

This documentary from Albert and David Maysles follows the bitter rivalry of four door-to-door salesmen working for the Mid-American Bible Company: Paul “The Badger” Brennan, Charles “The Gipper” McDevitt, James “The Rabbit” Baker and Raymond “The Bull” Martos. Times are tough for this hard-living quartet, who spend their days traveling through small-town America, trying their best to peddle gold-leaf Bibles to an apathetic crowd of lower-middle-class housewives and elderly couples. ×




The 50+ Additional Best Direct Cinema Films



# Movies Lists
13 A Face of War (1968) IMDB
14 A Married Couple MUBI
15 A People in the Shadows (2008) IMDB
16 Adelheid, Kornelius & die Töde (2018) IMDB
17 Animal Cinema (2017) IMDB
18 Asylum (II) (1972) IMDB
19 Bikini (2014) IMDB
20 Break a Leg (2012) IMDB
21 Breathless MUBI
22 Campaign (2007) IMDB
23 Chronicle of a Summer MUBI
24 Cinéma Vérité: Defining the Moment (2000) IMDB
25 Cléo from 5 to 7 MUBI
26 Cocksucker Blues (1972) IMDB
27 Colossal Youth MUBI
28 Crazy Jeannot (2008) IMDB
29 Domace je najbolje (2009) IMDB
30 Dostoyevsky Reimagined: The Making of Dostoevsky
31 Druga generacija (1983) IMDB
32 Faces MUBI
33 Faces of November MUBI
34 From the Edge of the City (1998) IMDB
35 Georg (1964) IMDB
36 Gummo MUBI
37 Harlan County USA MUBI
38 High Risk Offender (1998) IMDB
39 High School MUBI
40 I Am Curious (Yellow) (1967) IMDB
41 In Transit (I) (2015) IMDB
42 In Vanda’s Room MUBI
43 Independent Lens (1999– ) Episode: The New Americans (2004) IMDB
44 Jean Rouch: paroles données (2005) IMDB
45 julien donkey-boy MUBI
46 Kings of Pastry (2009) IMDB
47 La bête lumineuse (1982) IMDB
48 La lutte (1961) IMDB
49 Le joli mai MUBI
50 Le règne du jour (1967) IMDB
51 Les raquetteurs (1958) IMDB
52 Man Bites Dog (1992) IMDB
53 Mental (2008) IMDB
54 Monterey Pop MUBI
55 Near Death (1989) IMDB
56 Neukölln Unlimited Wikipedia
57 Notes from the New World Dostoevsky
58 Of Whales, the Moon and Men MUBI
59 On Point (2008) IMDB
60 Pour la suite du monde (1963) IMDB
61 Pumping Iron Dostoevsky
62 Punishment Park MUBI
63 Real Life and Documented Truth Dostoevsky
64 Rhythm Thief (1994) IMDB
65 Shadows MUBI
66 Sickfuckpeople – Short Version (2011) IMDB
67 Sofia’s Last Ambulance Wikipedia
68 Sweetheart Deal IMDB
69 Tesis Laboral (2010) IMDB
70 The Blair Witch Project MUBI
71 The Exiles MUBI
72 The Hellacopters: Goodnight Cleveland (2002 TV Movie) IMDB
73 The Rolling Stones’ Dostoevsky
74 The War Game MUBI
75 The World According to David Liebe Hart (2010) IMDB
76 Titicut Follies MUBI
77 Tread Wikipedia
78 Twenty-Seven Stories (2007) IMDB
79 Wanda MUBI
80 Warrendale MUBI
81 Wow (1970) IMDB


5 Best Direct Cinema Film Sources/Lists



Source Article
Dostoevsky The Observational Approach of Direct Cinema Documentaries
IMDB Direct Cinema
Letterboxd Direct Cinema – Documentaries
MUBI Cinéma Vérité & Direct Cinema – Movies List on MUBI
Wikipedia Direct Cinema

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