Alfred Hitchcock famously said, “In feature films the director is God; in documentary films God is the director.” Documentary directors produce films for a variety of reasons, whether to educate, incite action or uncover some unknown truth.
The following list highlights documentaries and historical dramas that cover significant events, whether well-known or not, in insightful and thought-provoking ways.
‘1987: When The Day Comes’
Plot: The road to democracy was neither simple nor easy in South Korea. Military dictators led regimes filled with corruption.
This film, which is a drama based on real events, depicts a student uprising against such a regime. Here’s how IMDB describes its plot: “In 1987 Korea, under an oppressive military regime, a college student gets killed during a police interrogation involving torture. Government officials are quick to cover up the death and order the body to be cremated. A prosecutor who is supposed to sign the cremation release raises questions about a 21-year-old kid dying of a heart attack, and begins looking into the case for the truth. Despite a systematic attempt to silence everyone involved in the case, the truth gets out, causing an eruption of public outrage.”
- Film director Jang Joon-hwan said in an interview with Eastern Kicks, “This film is 90% historically accurate,” while acknowledging that some information about the depicted events was very difficult to uncover.
- In the same interview, actor Kim Yoon-seok added that the villain in the movie represents a certain type of brutal leader, rather than one, independent person.
Plot: HBO produced this series and described its plot this way: “On April 26, 1986, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Soviet Union suffered a massive explosion. This gripping five-part miniseries tells the powerful and visceral story of the worst man-made accident in history, following the tragedy from the moment of the early-morning explosion through the chaos and loss of life in the ensuing days, weeks and months.”
Although Business Insider called Chernobyl “hauntingly accurate, the director did take two notable “artistic liberties.”
- The female scientist in the miniseries, “Ulana Khomyuk,” was not a real person but represented a team of scientists that helped containing the Chernobyl disaster.
- In Episode 2, a helicopter malfunctions midflight and crashes due to radiation. While a helicopter did crash, writer Craig Mazin explained that the event was moved up chronologically. He told Men’s Health, “I wanted people to know that this was one of the hazards that these pilots were dealing with — an open reactor — radiation was flying over it.”
‘They Shall Not Grow Old’
Plot: Producer and director Peter Jackson collaborated with the Imperial War Museum to let a modern-day audience “see that war the way they saw it,” Jackson told the Radio Times.
The documentary gave an intimate view of what it would have been like to be a WWI soldier by “combining the footage with interviews conducted by IWM and the BBC,” according to The Imperial War Museum. The footage covers their lives “from what they ate and wore to what it was like to participate in battles and tend to the wounded.”
- Jackson told the Lowly Institute, that the whole goal of this movie was to portray the WWI soldier experience. He said, “This is not a story of the First World War, it is not a historical story, it may not even be entirely accurate but it’s the memories of the men who fought — they’re just giving their impressions of what it was like to be a soldier.”
- Radio Times reported on how Jackson’s crew modified the original footage. Jackson pulled from his experience making fantasy films like “The Lord of the Rings” look crisp. The difference “came when they started to work on the speeded-up jerkiness, the ‘Charlie Chaplin effect’ as he calls it, of the old film,” the article said. His team “used computers to create artificial frames between the existing footage, making it 24 frames a second, smooth, modern and lifelike.”
‘102 Minutes That Changed America’
Plot: IMDB describes this documentary as a compilation of 9/11 accounts from New Yorkers.
“All videos are recorded with common people’s cameras from the moments that anticipate the impact of the first plane, till the collapse of the WTC 1 and 2,” IMDB says. “The 102 minutes that changed an entire continent are completely narrated by the people who have directly lived that frightening day.”
- Director Seth Skundrick compiled several statements regarding this documentary’s accuracy on his website, including thoughts from Suzanne Sebert of the FDNY Family Assistance Unit. She said, “There is no question that ‘102 Minutes’ is the most comprehensive and accurate record of the events of that day, told from a number of very human perspectives.”
- The New York Times said that the film is, “A minute-by-minute account of the unfolding catastrophe by piecing together footage from numerous sources and locations. Some of the footage was shot in the very shadows of the World Trade Center; some shows the scene in Times Square or New Jersey … what pervades these 102 minutes is a sense of utter helplessness.”
‘March of the Penguins’
Plot: This film is different from the other documentaries and films listed, but no less moving. It depicts the Emperor Penguins of Antarctica making a journey to their mating ground “where they have returned year after year for hundreds of generations,” according to Dove.
- While the American version of this documentary is narrated by Morgan Freeman, the French version “used the voices of human actors to make it appear as if the penguins were speaking,” per History. That approach sparked a debate about family values.
- French director Luc Jaquet criticized this debate, saying, “I find it intellectually dishonest to impose this viewpoint on something that’s part of nature. It’s amusing, but if you take the monogamy argument, from one season to the next, the divorce rate, if you will, is between 80 to 90%. … The monogamy only lasts for the duration of one reproductive cycle. You have to let penguins be penguins and humans be humans.”
Source : Deseret News