Historical Documentaries

At its core, a documentary is a non-fiction motion picture, a “slice of life” factual work of art. It’s intended to record some aspect of reality primarily for the purposes of educating, maintaining an historical record, instructing or entertaining. By exposing and analyzing real facts and historical events, documentaries can form opinions and set trends. The structure of constructing documentaries gives the filmmaker freedom to manipulate and persuade. Filmmakers, like any other artists, are both privileged and burdened by this power of manipulation. There are six primary styles of documentaries: poetic, observatory, expository, participatory, observational and reflexive. However, as films have become more narrative-based and styles have overlapped, documentary filmmaking is being described as a “filmmaking practice, a cinematic tradition, and mode of audience reception” that is continually evolving and is without clear boundaries.

The three award-winning documentaries in our series are historical documentaries of iconic historical events and public figures who changed the world. Yet, they’ve all been produced within the last several years. The combination of unearthing new information and using new digital and cinematic technology, the docs offer more pieces to the puzzle for a greater understanding of the events and the people that were impacted.

Anne Frank’s Holocaust (2015)

Anne Frank’s world-famous diary comes to an abrupt end several days before she and her companions in the secret annex were arrested on August 4, 1944. This is the story of what happened next as this nameless young girl and her family were absorbed into the Nazi system of work and death camps. Through eyewitness testimony from camp survivors and historic pictures and film, the brutality and horror of Auschwitz, Sobibor and Bergen-Belsen are revealed. Two of Anne Frank’s friends remember both their school days in Amsterdam and the days before Anne’s untimely death at Bergen-Belsen in March of 1945 – just weeks before the camp’s liberation.

The documentary originally aired on National Geographic Channel. Today, it is part of the US Memorial Holocaust Museum’s permanent collection.  National Geographic’s Kathleen Cromley, the executive producer of the documentary will lead a Q&A after the screening.

911: Stories In Fragments (2011)

How do you grasp an event as enormous as September 11? At the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, you start small: a briefcase, a Blackberry, a hero’s nametag, a victim’s sweatshirt. These tragic treasures and personal stories reveal the extraordinary power of ordinary objects. Stories from New York, the Pentagon, and Shanksville, PA are recounted in the donors’ own words as well as curators, giving the perspectives of victims, witnesses and ordinary people.

The film highlights that one of the most important legacies of 9/11 is friendship, courage, and ordinary people pushed by extraordinary circumstances. Originally aired on the Smithsonian Channel, 911: Stories in Fragments was the 2013 winner of the prestigious Cine Master Series Award. Producer/ Director Molly Hermann will lead a Q&A after the screening.

JFK: The Lost Bullet (2013) Thursday,November 29, 7pm, Mainstay

This documentary investigates JFK’s assassination using exclusive eyewitness testimony, reenactments and never seen before footage. With the journalist Max Holland as the guide, the film re-evaluates the original Zapruder Film that captured the 11 seconds of the assassination as well as other home movies from that day.

Using high-resolution scanning methods and high-definition computer technology, the home movies are restored to pristine condition. It’s through these clear lenses that the “lost bullet” is investigated: the first of the three shots believed to have been fired that day, a bullet that was never found or fully accounted for.

It originally aired on the National Geographic Channel and is now part of the permanent collection at the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealy Plaza. National Geographic’s Kathleen Cromley, the executive producer of the documentary, will lead a Q&A after the screening.