The Year of Documentary is an opportunity to celebrate the richness of this form of expression, with its award-winning masterpieces and films. Look at five of them.

It is in turn scientific, historical, animal, cultural, musical, political, militant, intimate, social, discovery and travel… The documentary offers a unique look at our world and our society. For several years, he has been invited to the list of the biggest film festivals and meets a wide audience in the dark theaters. On the occasion of the Year of the documentary, a review of five public and critical successes of the past thirty years that show the vitality and diversity of formats and topics addressed by documentary filmmakers.

Fahrenheit 9/11, an anti-Bush firebrand in Cannes


Its title recalls that of the novel Fahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury, to describe the temperature at which the paper in the books is supposed to burn. The science fiction work is said to have been largely inspired by the period of McCarthyism and by replacing the figure with the date of September 11, Michael Moore marks this date as the beginning of the creation of liberticidal laws, such as the Patriot Act, which came into force in October 2001 to combat terrorism.

Winning the Palme d'Or in 2004 at the Cannes Film Festival, Fahrenheit 9/11 became the second crowned documentary since 1956 and The World of Silence by Cousteau and Louis Malle. An award for a committed film, a pamphlet, a slam dunk against the Bush administration. More than a film about war, Fahrenheit 9/11 is a reflection by Michael Moore on American society post-September 11. « I wanted to talk about the time we lived after these attacks and how we got to this point, what happened to us as a people », explained the director at the Cannes Film Festival. In his film, he talks about the powerful role of the oil industry in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the 2000 presidential elections and the ties between the Bush family and bin Laden.

Claimed by the director as a «political act» to prevent the re-election of George W. Bush. Fahrenheit 9/11 In the end, he did not reach his goal, since in November of the year of his release, in the midst of a conflict with Iraq, the American president was re-elected for a second term.

Under the memories, The beaches of Agnes Varda


« If we opened people up, we would find landscapes. I, if I was, we would find beaches. » At almost 80 years old, Agnès Varda has decided to go back on her journey by criss-crossing the beaches that have marked her life. The beaches of Agnes thus takes the form of a ' self-documentary ” in which she takes to the stage amidst excerpts from her films, images and reports with her entire family. “ This idea germinated in my head, when I realized that other beaches had marked my life. A lot of old people want to tell their life stories. I do too. I wanted to share with my loved ones and others some of the facts and work of my life journey. »

The film follows her from the beach of La Panne in Knokke-le-Zoute to the port and canals of Sète in her teens. It continues in Los Angeles on the beaches of Venice and Santa Monica and in Noirmoutier on the beach of La Guérinière, without forgetting Rue Daguerre in Paris, place of life and work with Jacques Demy and their children. A real beach was rebuilt there with six dump trucks of fine sand dumped on the bitumen and their house was rebuilt as it was in 1951.

These beaches have become pretexts and natural chapters of the film. Agnès Varda shares with us her career, from her beginnings as a theatre photographer to her work as an innovative filmmaker in the 1950s and as an independent producer, through her feminist commitment, her travels, or her family life. The whole takes the form of a collage with different film extracts or photographs, and sounds mixed from old interviews and music. In this puzzle, the director has integrated pieces of daydreaming with acts of aerobatics on sea bottom in Sète, filmed from a tower of 10 meters. 

All the beauty and blood shed, artistic and political struggles


A photographer who reinvented the notion of gender and the definitions of normality, Nan Goldin was a tireless activist and the ideal subject of a documentary. It is at the heart of All the beauty and blood shed that takes us in the footsteps of the artist and his artistic and political struggles. Already crowned with the 2015 Oscar for Best Documentary for Citizenfour, the third part of her trilogy on the consequences of the attacks of September 11, the director and journalist Laura Poitras won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival last year for this film.

After surviving the ordeal of opiate addiction, Nan Goldin decided to use her notoriety in the art world to stand up to the Sackler family, owner of Purdue Pharma, which markets OxyContin, a highly addictive painkiller. The family of patrons is also famous for their generous donations to prestigious museums and other artistic institutions.

Nan Goldin then founded with other artists the collective P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now), which advocates the reduction of health risks and the prevention of overdoses and decides, from the beginning, to document their meetings and their actions, before inviting Laura Poitras. For nearly two years, the director visited the photographer at her home in Brooklyn for a series of interviews that, combined with the artist’s slideshows and photographs, form the backbone of the documentary. « In my films, I always portray individuals who are fighting for a certain idea of justice and responsibility. Nan Goldin was one of them ” says Poitras. While P.A.I.N. remains the central theme, the film explores the links between activism, life and the artist’s work through a very precise work of archival research.

The march of the emperor, success on the ice

L'exposition "Antartica" au Überseemuseum de Brême reprend des images du film "La marche de l'empereur" de Luc Jacquet.

A story that mixes love, drama, courage and adventure in one of the most isolated and inhospitable places on the planet: Antarctica. For more than a year, Luc Jacquet and his small team faced this hostile environment with terrifying storms on the pack ice to film the entire penguin breeding cycle. The film follows the story of a couple of emperors and their young, whose three voices are interpreted by Romane Bohringer, Charles Berling and Jules Sitruk for a first-person narrative. In this rugged region, this couple struggle to perpetuate their species and protect their offspring from the cold and predators – penguins giving birth to only one child per year cycle…

In the image of the struggle of these emperors to survive on the ice, The march of the emperor fought to exist in the dark rooms. Despite the technical, logistical and financial difficulties, it ends up coming out in 2005 and meets an immediate success, the adventure of this small family exciting the public. « When the film was released, I was carried away by a whirlwind: nearly two million spectators in France… The success was phenomenal. I fear what happens to me with candor and enthusiasm. A life that is forever changed », remembers Luc Jacquet.

On the strength of this success in France, the film won a César, a Victoire de la musique for the soundtrack composed by Emilie Simon, was exported on all continents until the Oscar where the team paraded on the red carpet with plush emperor penguins. The story goes that shortly after the presentation of the Oscar for best documentary, Lauren Bacall allegedly claimed one of them, « so cute*!
*Too cute

10e chamber, moments of hearings : justice in front


Paris, year 2003. Raymond Depardon’s camera landed for three months in the 10th Chamber of the Paris Correctional Court, which was vice-chair by Judge Michèle Bernard-Requin. The documentary filmmaker attends nearly two hundred cases tried, from drunk driving to petty drug trafficking. He selects twelve, representative of the daily life of justice and its workings. « I was interested in showing not only delinquency but also things that concern us all », explains the director. To better show the reality of this judicial world, 10e chamber, moments of hearings is direct, without comment.

By landing in this courtroom, Depardon continues his humanist exploration of the world, after films about the peasant world, Africa, the world of psychiatry or that of the press. After Flagrant offences, filmed in 1994 in the offices of the 8th section of the Palais de Justice in Paris, this is Raymond Depardon’s second foray into the judicial world. He might even be the next one, since his camera is interested this time in hearings, in business resolutions where the previous film showed their interviews before immediate appearances or trial postponements. This is in any case the first time that a camera is installed in the heart of a correctional court and captures these hearings, the trials being forbidden to be filmed. But Raymond Depardon obtained the exceptional authorization of Jean-Marie Coulon, first president of the Court of Appeal of Paris.