Something I frequently see is people asking for are suggestions of documentaries about movies, movie-making, or the movie industry. I have watched a few myself and, being a fellow film buff and aspiring filmmaker, I figured I was as good a candidate as any to help out! Unlike the last entry, I did not limit the selections by IMDb rating, but I did exclude any title that had an expiration date.
So, with that said, here are 85 documentaries currently available on Netflix Instant that are in any way related to films, filmmaking, or the culture of cinema:
In no particular order (numbered only to keep track):
1. Not Quite Hollywood – The story of “Ozploitation” movies – a time when Australian cinema showed an explosion of sex, violence, horror and action.
2. Woody Allen: A Documentary – A documentary on Woody Allen that trails him on his movie sets and follows him back to Brooklyn as he visits his childhood haunts.
3. Life in a Day – A documentary shot by filmmakers all over the world that serves as a time capsule to show future generations what it was like to be alive on the 24th of July, 2010.
4. Imaginary Witness – Examines the treatment of the Holocaust in Hollywood films over a period of sixty years and the impact of the films on public perception and thinking, and vice versa.
5. Reel Injun – A documentary about the evolution of the depiction of First Nations people in film, from the silent era to today.
6. Best Worst Movie – A look at the making of the film Troll 2 and its journey from being crowned the “worst film of all time” to a cherished cult classic.
7. Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff – In 2001 Jack Cardiff (1914-2009) became the first director of photography in the history of the Academy Awards to win an Honorary Oscar.
8. This Film Is Not Yet Rated – Kirby Dick’s exposé about the American movie ratings board.
9. Exit Through the Gift Shop – The story of how an eccentric French shop keeper and amateur film maker attempted to locate and befriend Banksy, only to have the artist turn the camera back on its owner.
10. Copyright Criminals – A documentary that examines the creative and commercial value of musical sampling.
11. I Ain’t Scared of You: A Tribute to Bernie Mac – Get a behind-the-scenes look at comedian Bernie Mac’s life and career with this documentary packed with footage of his early performances, a look at his more well-known work, and interviews with dozens of his celebrity friends.
12. Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project – Renowned director John Landis offers up a portrait of legendary comedian Don Rickles (in an Emmy-winning role) by blending clips of Rickles’s appearances at the Dean Martin celebrity roasts and on “The Tonight Show” with footage from his stand-up routine and interviews.
13. The Last Mogul – A biography of powerful Hollywood agent and executive Lew Wasserman.
14. Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired – Examines the public scandal and private tragedy which led to legendary director Roman Polanski’s sudden flight from the United States.
15. These Amazing Shadows – Tells the history and importance of The National Film Registry, a roll call of American cinema treasures that reflects the diversity of film, and indeed the American experience itself.
16. A Film Unfinished – A film about an unfinished film which portrays the people behind and before the camera in the Warsaw Ghetto, exposing the extent of the cinematic manipulation forever changing the way we look at historic images.
17. Double Dare – Double-barreled, action-packed documentary about the struggles of two stuntwomen in male-dominated Tinseltown to stay working, stay thin, and stay sane.
18. The People vs. George Lucas – An examination of the widespread fan disenchantment with George Lucas.
19. Two in the Wave – Jean-Luc Godard was born in 1930; Francois Truffaut two years later. Love of movies brings them together. Their friendship and their break-up embody the story of French cinema.
20. Strictly Background – Both a behind-the-scenes look at Hollywood and a character-driven film, this is a dynamic exploration into the pursuit of stardom and the real life struggle to stand out.
21. Strand, Under the Dark Cloth – Takes an in-depth look at Strand’s work, his relationships with his family and contemporaries and his isolated way of creating his art.
22. Smash His Camera – A film centering on the life and work of Ron Galella that examines the nature and effect of paparazzi.
23. Blank City – During the punk rock stage in the late ’70s, downtown New York experienced a wave of “Do it yourself” independent filmmaking.
24. Confessions of a Superhero – Chronicles the lives of four mortal men and women who work as characters on the sidewalks of Hollywood Boulevard.
25. Tales from the Script – War stories and life lessons from the industry’s top writers.
26. Hey, Boo: Harper Lee and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ – Harper Lee’s novel and its Oscar-winning film adaptation both had a deep influence on American culture and racial perspectives. This pensive documentary studies the author’s life and the controversy her work inspired.
27. Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work – A documentary on the life and career of Joan Rivers, made as the comedienne turns 75 years old.
28. The Outsider – Follows director James Toback on the 12-day shoot of his thriller, When Will I Be Loved — a movie made without a script or distribution deal.
29. National Geographic: Beyond the Movie – The Lord of the Rings – A look at the background for Tolkien’s mythology, hence the movie’s mythology.
30. National Geographic: Beyond the Movie – The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King – Explores the facts behind the fantastic world of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
31. Love the Beast – What if you were a Hollywood movie star with an obsession for cars and racing? Eric Bana makes his directorial debut with this documentary about his biggest obsession: his Ford XB Falcon Coupe, aka “the Beast.”
32. The Captains – Follows Shatner as he interviews the other actors whom have portrayed Starship captains within the illustrious science-fiction franchise.
33. No Subtitles Necessary: Laszlo & Vilmos – The lifelong friendship of the great cinematographers Laszlo Kovacs and Vilmos Zsigmond and their impact on American cinema.
34. It’s All True – A documentary about Orson Welles’s unfinished three-part film about South America.
35. Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey – Meet the unlikely man behind the puppet – the heart and soul of Elmo – Kevin Clash.
36. The Life of Bruce Lee – Documentary about martial arts actor Bruce Lee, from his birth in 1940 till his death in 1973, with interviews with his fellow actors and family.
37. The Hollywood Complex – The itch for stardom starts early in America, and this documentary captures the pressure of auditions on kids, shepherded by their obsessed parents
38. I Am Comic – Stand-Up Comedians reveal the art & occupational hazards of their craft.
39. Machete Maidens Unleashed! – A fast moving odyssey into the subterranean world of the rarely explored province of Filipino genre filmmaking.
40. Michael Moore Hates America – Michael Wilson, like the subject of his film, is trying to get an interview with a multi-millionaire; however, in this case, that millionaire is Michael Moore himself.
41. Picasso and Braque Go to the Movies – A documentary that looks at how early filmmaking influenced the Cubist painters Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque.
42. The Making of South Park: 6 Days to Air – Go behind the scenes at South Park Studios with Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and see how an episode is created — in just six days.
43. American Grindhouse – This documentary explores the hidden history of the American Exploitation Film.
44. John Waters: This Filthy World – Jeff Garlin’s documentary on the work of John Waters.
45. Inside Deep Throat – More than 30 years after Deep Throat’s provocative debut, this documentary examines the legacy that the most profitable film of all-time left on society.
46. PressPausePlay – Exploring the connection between fear, hope and digital culture, filmmakers David Dworsky and Victor Köhler profile the leaders of a digital revolution that’s allowed anyone with a creative spark to become an artist.
47. My Date with Drew – Mesmerized by actress Drew Barrymore, 27-year-old filmmaker Brian Herzlinger sets out to ask her for a date in this chronicle of his quest to meet the girl of his dreams.
48. America the Beautiful – In a society where “celebutantes” like Paris Hilton dominate newsstands and models who weigh less than 90 pounds die from malnutrition, female body image is one of the more dire problems facing today’s society.
49. Bruce Lee, The Legend – The Official Golden Harvest tribute to the Master of the Martial Arts Film, Bruce Lee.
50. Inferno: The Making of the Expendables – Sylvester Stallone furnishes an unvarnished look at his career, producing and directing methods, and unprecedented access to the filmmaking process of his retro action extravaganza, The Expendables.
51. Manufacturing Dissent – A documentary that looks to distinguish what’s fact, fiction, legend, and otherwise as a camera crew trails Michael Moore while he tours with his film Fahrenheit 9/11.
52. Lost in La Mancha – Captures Terry Gilliam’s attempt to get The Man Who Killed Don Quixote off the ground. Back injuries, freakish storms, and more zoom in to sabotage the project (which has never been resurrected).
53. Girl 27 – Investigates a notorious Hollywood scandal more than 65 years after it occurred, a rape case involving Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio execs and an underage dancer who refused to stay silent.
54. A/k/a Tommy Chong – Documentary about Tommy Chong’s federal prosecution under the Bush administration for selling bongs over the Internet.
55. Great Directors – Collection of in-depth interviews with David Lynch, John Sayles, Catherine Breillat, Bernardo Bertolucci and six other internationally acclaimed film directors.
56. Rango & ILM: Perfect Asymmetry – Explore the making of Industrial Light and Magic’s first animated feature.
57. Puppet – Centered around the development and staging of a complex work of modern puppet theater, this illuminating documentary offers a look at the history of American puppetry — its cultural roots and influence — as well as its current renaissance.
58. Dalekmania – A trip to the cinema for two kids lands them in the world of Dr. Who and the Daleks. A behind-the-scenes documentary about the two 1960s “Dr. Who” movies.
59. Why We Laugh: Black Comedians on Black Comedy – Chris Rock, Bill Cosby, Whoopi Goldberg and other notables illuminate the evolution and cultural significance of African American comedy.
60. The Swell Season – Exploring the realities of fame and great expectations, this poignant documentary shadows indie folk artists Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová on a whirlwind tour in the wake of their Oscar win for the haunting anthem “Falling Slowly” (from Once).
61. Trumbo – Through a focus on the life of Dalton Trumbo (1905-1976), this film examines the effects on individuals and families of a congressional pursuit of Hollywood Communists after World War II. Trumbo was one of several writers, directors, and actors who invoked the First Amendment in refusing to answer questions under oath.
62. The Reinactors – Unmasks the impersonators who make their living on Hollywood Boulevard, taking pictures with eager tourists and jockeying daily for a small taste of fame.
63. Nightmares in Red, White and Blue – An exploration of the appeal of horror films, with interviews of many legendary directors in the genre.
64. Zombie Girl: The Movie – Youth and inexperience were no deterrents to 12-year-old Emily Hagins when she set out to make her first full-length feature, the zombie flick Pathogen.
65. Iran: A Cinematographic Revolution – Despite political turmoil and cultural isolation — and sometimes even because of them — Iran has served as fertile ground for filmmakers for more than seven decades.
66. Prisoner of Paradise – About one of the leading theatrical figures in 1930s Berlin, Kurt Gerron. A popular actor, director and cabaret performer, Gerron, a German Jew, was later forced to write and direct a Nazi propaganda film while being held prisoner in a concentration camp.
67. Light Keeps Me Company – Lovingly directed by his son Carl-Gustaf, Light Keeps Me Company offers an intimate and moving look at the life of the legendary Swedish cinematographer. Sven Nykvist.
68. It’s Showtime – From cute and cuddly to big and strong, catch some of Hollywood’s most amazing animal performers in action with this delightful movie clip collection.
69. PoliWood – Oscar-winning director Barry Levinson trains his camera on the historic 2008 Democratic and Republican National Conventions as he examines the conflation of celebrity and contemporary politics in this provocative documentary.
70. Full Tilt Boogie – A documentary about the production of From Dusk Till Dawn and the people who made it.
71. Indyfans – The definitive look at the legacy left behind by everyone’s favorite Archaeologist, Indiana Jones.
72. Slapstick, Too – The film takes an in-depth look at the history and evolution of the comedy genre, tracking the careers of slapstick heavyweights.
73. Running with Arnold – A documentary on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s gubernatorial campaign in California.
74. William Shatner’s Gonzo Ballet – With Shatner’s ironically titled album, “Has Been,” as inspiration, choreographer Margo Sappington attempts to create a surreal ballet. Scenes of dancing are melded with those of the actor openly discussing his artistic frustrations and the making of a record that’s full of surprise and candor.
75. Popatopolis – The ultimate B Movie Documentary, focusing on B Movie Giant Jim Wynorski and his attempt to make a feature film in 3 days.
76. The Gospel According to Philip K. Dick – A documentary that plumbs the dark corners of the tortured writer’s life.
77. Welcome to Nollywood – The Nigerian film industry, known as Nollywood, has exploded in the last ten years. In West Africa, Nollywood films have become even more popular than Hollywood and Bollywood imports.
78. Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam – A voyeuristic expose of Heidi Fleiss’s multimillion-dollar call-girl operation, which was busted in the mid-1990s.
79. American Scary – Pays homage to the flamboyant local hosts who introduced horror and science-fiction movies to the masses and helped them gain cult status on the airwaves.
80. Red Trousers – Finally, the spotlight shifts to some of the action film world’s most unsung professionals — the stunt men and women who make Hong Kong cinema hum.
81. Making the Boys – Revered by some for breaking new ground and reviled by others for reinforcing stereotypes, The Boys in the Band was the first gay-themed film to reach a mainstream audience.
82. Texas Chainsaw Massacre: A Family Portrait – Hooper’s gruesome masterpiece has become a cult phenomenon. This fascinating documentary offers a rare glimpse into the making of the landmark film.
83. Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon – The outrageous story of 1970s porn icon Jack Wrangler, and how he rose to the top of the gay, and then straight, adult film industry.
84. Otaku – This documentary explores a group of mostly male Japanese youths who are obsessed with manga and anime subculture, and how this escapist world of comic books, movies, dolls, guns, art and video games began, evolved and is affecting Japanese society.
85. Film School – A group of students in New York University’s prestigious graduate film program are shown scrambling to create their first 10-minute features in this candid documentary series.
If I missed any, or you have other recommendations, please feel free to leave a comment.