3 Great Film Documentaries You Have to See

Opinion & writing by Tony Frame

If you’re a filmmaker or simply just a cinephile and you fancy seeing some documentaries about filmmaking and the process of developing a movie then these three documentaries should be right up your street.

American Movie (1999)

This whimsical and fascinating documentary follows aspiring blue-collar filmmaker Mark Borchardt as he tries make his first feature film, Northwestern.

The problem that Mark has is that he has a family to support and has barely got a penny to his name, yet he still pursues what seems an impossible task to get the film made despite barely making ends meet.

What makes this documentary great is the humour and the relationships with Mark and his family and friends as they band together to eventually make a short horror film called Coven (2000).

There’s a particularly endearing relationship with Mark and his grandfather (who partly finances the movie and ends up taking a role in it!) and there’s a bunch of real laugh out loud moments throughout. This is one entertaining documentary that can be watched over and over again.

Director: Chris Smith

Stars: Mark Borchardt, Mike Schank, Tom Schimmels

Overnight (2003)

The title refers to the overnight success Troy Duffy had when Harvey Weinstein bought his script The Boondock Saints and gave him keys to the kingdom to not only direct the movie but for him and his band to produce and record the soundtrack as well. If that wasn’t already enough for Duffy then having his local bar bought for him as part of the deal should have been the icing on the cake, considering he had never directed a movie in his life and he was literally picked out of obscurity.

The documentary follows the story as it unravels with Duffy setting up camp in Hollywood as the newest hottest thing to hit Tinseltown. The access behind the scenes is incredible as Duffy secures an agent with the William Morris Agency and looks to get the ball rolling on making the movie and hitting the charts with his band.

Humble is the last word you will find yourself using watching this as the deal with Miramax starts to turn sour, primarily due to Troy Duffy’s beer swilling, loud mouthed, egotistical attitude which seems to amplify itself on a daily basis.

It’s a tale of success and failure with a protagonist who is also an antagonist and it’s all best summed up with this quote by Albert Goldman that is revealed at the end of the documentary:

‘No man is really changed by success. What happens is that success works on the man’s personality like a truth drug, bringing him out of the closet and revealing… what was always inside his head.’

Directors: Tony Montana, Mark Brian Smith

Writers: Tony Montana, Mark Brian Smith

Stars: Troy Duffy, Jeffrey Baxter, Chris Brinker

Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991)

This documentary probably needs no introduction but there’s possibly a bunch of people out there who haven’t heard about it and it’s still as relevant now as it was back then.

It is basically an all-singing, all-dancing, full access behind the scenes documentary on one of the greatest war movies ever made – Apocalypse Now. Francis Ford Coppola really went out on a limb by not only financing the film himself, but by directing it in the Philippines when a civil war was still taking place in parts of the country.

From day one it’s as if the movie would never be finished. Not only did Coppola replace his leading man Harvey Keitel with Martin Sheen (who suffered a heart attack during production) there was a constantly increasing budget amidst a script that was being re-written on a daily basis and then there was an overweight Marlon Brando turning up to play the main antagonist without having read any of his lines.

And the problems for Coppola didn’t end there. He also had to contend with a drug-induced Dennis Hopper on set as well, antagonising Brando, during a production that was also fraught with tempestuous and unpredictable weather that ruined many expensive sets.

There’s a lot of candid and honest interviews with some of the main cast and crew members throughout, and by the end of it you will appreciate Coppola’s dedication to the craft and his vision of turning what could have been a financial and critical disaster into a highly revered and profitable movie.

Also recommended:

Document of the Dead(1980)

The Heck with Hollywood (1991)

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