The lives of others


Want to be inspired, amazed, amused by real life stories? Reality TV is not the answer. Vatsala Chhibber lists 10 of the best documented lives that make for essential viewing

10. Marley

Bob Marley: The story of the music legend as told by some of his closest friends and relatives.
This documentary captures the charm, the rhythm, the soul and the compassion that was characteristic of Marley’s music and his life, while exploring related themes of Jamaican culture, Rastafarianism and reggae music. Marley fans will relish the unknown facts and unheard music unveiled in this film.

9. Misa’s Fugue

Frank Grunwald: An account of how art and music helped Grunwald survive the trauma of the Holocaust.
A high school media professor, along with his students, decided to document Grunwald’s experiences during the Holocaust, which included living in various concentration camps. Misa’s Fugue, while heartbreaking in its tragedy, is ultimately testament of human survival and endurance.


8. Woody Allen: A documentary

Woody Allen: The talented, quirky, neurotic, self-confessed recluse finally agreed to be filmed for a two-part doumentary.
The exact volume of Woody Allen’s work, ranging from film scripts to short stories is almost as incomprehensible as his eccentric mind. In this documentary, Woody’s peers describe him as ‘gifted’, ‘intelligent’,  ‘not normal’, ‘an idiot’ and ‘a little nutty’. Highly recommended for writers, actors, comedians, filmmakers, anyone with creative pursuits and of course, Woody Allen fans.


7. Running from crazy

Mariel Hemingway: Ernest Hemingway’s granddaughter reveals details about the family’s history of depression and suicide, while battling her own demons.
Seven members of the Hemingway family lost their battle with depression and committed suicide. Mariel’s revelations about her family’s fight with depression, including that her grandfather, celebrated writer Ernest Hemingway, is a bold attempt at understanding mental turmoil.


6. The most hated family in America

Westboro Baptist Church: The family that pickets funerals of dead soldiers with signs like ‘God hates fags’.
Documentary filmmaker Louis Theroux spends three weeks with the Westboro Baptist Church, popularly known as ‘the most hated family in America’, in an attempt to understand their controversial beliefs. You might want to count the number of times you shake your head in disapproval/disgust/disappointment as you watch this.


5. Man on wire

Philippe Petit: A man in possession of an incredible talent and an incredibly reckless spirit, who decided to perform a high-wire walk between the World Trade towers.
Man on Wire features in almost every top ten list involving documentaries. And why wouldn’t it? The film documents the preparation and unfolding of Petit’s unbelievably risky, borderline illegal plan to walk across the World Trade towers with no harness. Watching Petit aggressively follow his outlandish dream will definitely inspire you to follow yours.


4. Fire in Babylon

West Indian cricket team of the 1970s: How one team managed to dominate world cricket in the seventies. This one is more thrilling than a World Cup final.   
It’s no secret that in the world of cricket, the drama continues off the field. Fire in Babylon captures the drama that took place on and off the field in the seventies when the Windies formed their indomitable team of fast bowlers to end the Australian rule on the cricket field.


3. Grizzly Man

Timothy Treadwell: This quirky, entertaining man filmed his interaction with his beloved grizzly bears in Alaska. Treadwell was ultimately killed by one of them.
“If I die, if something happens to me, make that movie. You make it. You show ’em.” This was Treadwell’s message to his friend and co-founder of Grizzly People, an organisation that propagates the fair treatment of bears. Treadwell’s story, most of which consists of footage shot by Treadwell himself, is now an award-winning documentary. This is one story you will never forget.


2. Searching for Sugar Man

Sixto Rodriguez: The musician who was unaware of his own success for nearly thirty years. A must-watch for music lovers and musicians.   
Never heard of Sixto Rodriguez? That’s not surprising since most of the world had never heard of this failed American musician with two unsucessful albums. However, in South Africa, Rodriguez aka Sugar Man (named after his popular single) gathered a mammoth fan following. One such fan embarks on a mission to find Sugar Man; what follows is a fairy tale involving fate, redemption, humility and great music.


1. Senna

Aryton Senna: The Formula One champion whose victories, rivalries and techniques make for a gripping, memorable watch, even for those who are not fans of the sport.
Director Asif Kapadia manages to tell the Brazilian racer’s story, who died tragically during one of his races, with commendable skill. The documentary relies heavily on footage from various interviews, press conferences, races as well as the family’s personal videos, making you less of a distant viewer and more of a participant in Senna’s dramatic life.


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