The following list features five of the best books I have encountered during my studies. They are the books I would recommend any film student to acquire as they make valuable additions to any film buff’s library. As well as offering a comprehensive history of non-fiction film making, the codes and conventions of documentaries many of the books also provide insight into the mind of documentary directors.
Documentary Superstars takes an in depth look at how documentary trends have evolved over the years, from cinema vérité to on-screen auteurs. The book features exclusive interviews from Michael Moore, Albert Maysles, Lauren Greenfield, Henry Corra and Errol Morris.
This book was on the top of my MA course reading list, some say it is the best book ever written about film making. In this extensive guide, it’s nearly 600 pages, Rabiger provides an in-depth analysis of the both the creative and practical implications of production. The book is filled with advice and resources for documentary filmmakers, including guidance on grant writing and fundraising, proposals and pitching. It also has a companion site that has a wide variety of resources including online film examples and production checklists.
If you have done any academic study on documentary it is highly likely Bill Nichols is a name you will recognise. His writing is very accessible, he breaks down several traits and conventions of documentary styles into a conceptual scheme he calls ‘modes’: the observational mode, reflexive mode, participatory mode, reflective mode and expository mode. Whilst it would be impossible to fit every film perfectly into one of the six categories, these categories help scholars and makers alike understand different approaches filmmakers take to share their stories. I believe this is the perfect book for someone looking to broaden their understanding of documentary form.
Each chapter in this book is centered around a different part of the film making process and features an essay from some of, arguably, the best documentary filmmakers of all time. Nick Broomfield, Albert Maysles, Kim Longinotto and Asaf Kapadia are just some of the contributors to the book.
The book is more personal than the others on the list and features a more conversational style. I would recommend this book to somebody looking to gain insight into how well established documentarians think.
John Grierson is thought of as the father of the non-fiction genre. ‘Documentary’ was actually a term he coined when talking about ‘Moana‘ a 1926 film directed by Robert Flaherty, not the Disney animation. This book is the only biography included on the list. It includes information about Grierson’s career and offers insight into the true contributions he made to documentaries.