Man With A Movie Camera
Credit: Everett Collection

Sight & Sound

Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera tops the list of the greatest documentaries of all time, according to hundreds of film critics, curators, directors, and documentary film specialists surveyed by British film magazine Sight & Sound.

Every 10 years, Sight & Sound polls hundreds of film luminaries from around the world to generate a list of the best films of all time. In 2012, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo knocked Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane off its 50-year perch for the #1 spot. For the first time, the magazine is debuting a separate poll for documentaries. 340 critics, programmers and filmmakers were asked to participate; 100 of them voted for Vertov’s 1929 film, Man with a Movie Camera, securing its place in the top spot.

“What’s remarkable about the Top 50 documentaries list is that it feels so fresh,” Sight and Sound editor Nick James wrote in the list’s introduction. “One in five of the films chosen were made since the millennium, and to have a silent film from 1929 at the top of the list is an absolute joy.”

Claude Lanzmann’s 10-hour documentary Shoah came in second place with 65 votes, followed by Sans soleil, Night & Fog, and The Thin Blue Line. The list, unsurprisingly, holds in high esteem movies that pushed the boundaries of the documentary genre. Man with a Movie Camera demonstrated a dizzying array of cinematic techniques, cut together as a montage, to depict life in a Russian city under Marxist ideology. Shoah is a ten-hour movie about the Holocaust that used only contemporary footage. Voters also embraced essay films, like Sans soleil and F For Fake (#15), and movies that blurred the line between reality and fiction, like Close-Up (#37).

Sight and Sound also put together a list culled from the votes of directors only. Man with a Movie Camera was #1 on that list as well, followed by Sans soleil, The Thin Blue Line, and two Holocaust documentaries: Shoah and Night and Fog. On August 14, Sight and Sound will publish every voter’s individual choices and commentaries.

The Overall Top 10:

1. Man with a Movie Camera (Vertov, 1929)

2. Shoah (Lanzmann, 1985)

3. Sans soleil (Chris Marker, 1982)

4. Night and Fog (Resnais, 1955)

5. The Thin Blue Line (Morris, 1989)

6. Chronicle of a Summer (Rouch & Morin, 1961)

7. Nanook of the North (Flaherty, 1922)

8. The Gleaners and I (Varda, 2000)

9. (tie) Don’t Look Back (Pennebaker, 1967) and Grey Gardens (Maysles, Maysles, Hovde & Meyer, 1975)

The Directors’ Top 5:

1. Man with a Movie Camera (Vertov, 1929)

2. Sans soleil (Chris Marker, 1982)

3. The Thin Blue Line (Morris, 1989)

4. (tie) Shoah (Lanzmann, 1985) and Night and Fog (Resnais, 1955)

Sight & Sound
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