BBC News

Silent film tops documentary poll

image copyrightBFI
image captionThe film has been described as "full of an almost incomprehensible lyricism"

A 1929 silent film has been voted the greatest ever documentary in a poll of some 300 film-makers and critics.

Man with a Movie Camera, directed by Dziga Vertov, was picked by more than 100 cineastes who took part in the inaugural Sight & Sound poll.

The magazine launched the survey after Vertov's film, shot in the cities of Odessa, Kiev and Kharkiv, came eighth in their 2012 best film poll.

The magazine called it a "teasingly surrealist" homage to city life.

The British Film Institute magazine conducts a poll every decade to find the best film. When the most recent poll was conducted in 2012, Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo took the top spot.

But Man With a Movie Camera "turned up out of the blue" in eighth place, prompting the decision to run a separate best documentary poll.

"It's part of a genre that was very popular in the 1920s," Sight and Sound's web editor Nick Bradshaw told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"Filming cities, showing you the workings of them, showing you all the layers and intricacies that make up, typically, a day in the life of a city."

"This one has the extra layer of showing you its own filming... so as the title suggests you see quite a lot of Dziga Vertov's cameraman filming the city, you see the editor putting the film together, you see the audience coming into the cinema and watching it."

"It's a film about the city and about society, and about the world; it's also a film about cinema and what cinema adds to the world."

image copyrightBFI
image caption2000's The Gleaners and I is the most recent documentary in the top 10

More than 1,000 films were nominated by more than 200 critics and 100 film-makers from around the world.

Mr Bradshaw described the list as "widespread", including two films about the holocaust in the top 10, and the presence of the recent documentary hit The Act of Killing.

Film-makers including Paul Greengrass, Kevin Macdonald, Senna's Asif Kapadia and Man on Wire's James Marsh were invited to take part in the poll.

Greengrass included Man with a Movie Camera and Marsh's Oscar-winning Man on Wire in his top 10, alongside Primary, by Robert Drew, whose death was announced earlier this week.

Macdonald cited Michael Moore's Roger and Me, saying the US film-maker "brought entertainment back into documentary films - and made it the strange bedfellow of anger".

Kapadia described The Act of Killing as "Astonishing. Shocking. Brave filmmaking."

The poll shows you "just how far the medium can be pushed, and how by getting outside of the formulas of television you can say things a different way", according to Sophie Fiennes.

"Ten is far too little if you are a film-maker," the film-maker told BBC Radio 4. "But it's wonderful to have this rich resource now to go and explore films one hasn't seen."

Related Topics

  • Film

More on this story

  • Pioneer of modern documentary Robert Drew dies aged 90

  • Silent Betty Balfour film 'masterpiece' found in Holland

Related Internet Links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.