Documentary films are at their most powerful when they offer us a window on a different world. That world might be a place (like, for example, the rock face of El Capitan shown in Free Solo) or an experience that, otherwise, we would never know.
Of course, we can never fully know what it is like to be in another person’s shoes. However, even the smallest peak into their world can help - documentaries can help us become better informed about global issues and, as a result, we can start to understand the lives of others.
Nowhere is this more important than when considering the impact of war. Civilians are often confronted with complex moral and ethical questions about combat - questions that are often impossible to answer with no military experience.
However, when watching documentaries such as Restrepo and Armadillo you can start to understand what is was and is like to be a soldier in that situation. You can understand how dangerously easy it is to dehumanise the “enemy” how this is often actively encouraged.
When curating the Documentary 7 collection on war, I decided to look at this sub-genre from a number of different angles. Restrepo and Armadillo as well as Peter Jackson’s stunning film, They Shall Not Grow Old, offer us an insight into what life is like for soldiers involved in active combat.
Meanwhile, Last Men In Aleppo and Taxi To The Dark Side explore the (often horrific) impact of war from a civilian point of view. What happens when your home becomes a war zone? What happens when you are no longer considered human?
Moving away from the front line, Eroll Morris’s superb and iconic war documentary, The Fog Of War, looks at how key military decisions are - for better or worse - made. Robert S. McNamara’s eleven lessons are fascinating… as relevant today as they were when he was US Secretary of Defense in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.
Finally, in McCullin we see the life and experiences of war photographer, Don McCullin. During his hugely impressive career, he covered wars and conflicts in Cyprus, The Congo, Biafra, Vietnam, Northern Ireland, Cambodia and Lebanon. Thanks to his incredible photographs, we have visual evidence of the horrific impact of war.
There are many other documentaries that have changed the world. For example, The Unknown Known, Dirty Wars, 5 Broken Cameras and Hell and Back Again.
Do you have any filmmaking documentaries that you would like to recommend? If so, do let us know in the comments section below or over on Twitter. You can find me @500DaysOfFilm.