London: The results of the BFI’s Sight N Sound magazine’s first ever poll to decide the world’s greatest ever documentaries are now in. The winner of the title of Greatest Documentary goes to Dziga Vertov’s extraordinary silent film Man with a Movie Camera (1929), shot in the cities of Odessa, Kiev and Kharkiv.
Vertov created a film of dazzling beauty and bewitching complexity, which unleashed the camera in a teasingly surrealist fashion to capture everyday life in a unique and hugely influential way. As the world’s eyes are focused on Ukraine for other reasons this is a timely celebration of an enduring achievement of Ukrainian and world culture.
The well-known Sight & Sound magazine poll of filmmakers and critics to decide the Best Film has taken place once a decade since 1952, with Hitchcock’s Vertigo receiving the most votes in the last edition in 2012. The vast majority of films nominated were fiction features although in the most recent poll Man With a Movie Camera came in at a surprising 8th place and was the only documentary in the Top Ten. Now, for the first time, the magazine has launched a poll to discover the greatest documentaries. Over 1,000 films were nominated by over 200 critics and 100 filmmakers from around the world; over 100 of them voted for Man with a Movie Camera.
Nick James, editor, Sight & Sound said:
“What’s remarkable about this Top 50 is that it feels so fresh. One in five of the films were made since the millennium, and to have a silent film from 1929 at the top is equally surprising. That essay films feature so strongly here shows that nonfiction cinema is not a narrow discipline but a wide open country full of explorers.”
Ivan Kozlenko, Deputy Director, Oleksandr Dovzhenko National Centre, Kyiv: “Man with a Movie Camera was created at the Odessa VUFKU Film Factory in Ukraine in 1929. It is full of an almost incomprehensible lyricism which offers a powerful sense of the city. Researchers often overlook the fact that the film was made mostly in Odessa, Ukraine but to ignore it makes a thorough interpretation of the film impossible. This is a very “Odessian” film: it has so much sun, sea, and space in it; its emotion is lively and vital likely inspired by “romantic vita-ism” a popular theme in Ukrainian art in 1920s. It comes from a long line of brilliant propaganda films by Vertov but is in fact itself totally apolitical, although its “non-Russian” aesthetic was rejected by Sovkino in Moscow and it could only be made in the Ukraine, which had become a haven for artists fleeing from Russia where attacks on dissent had begun. We are absolutely thrilled that such a great film should win the Sight & Sound poll for best documentary.”
The Greatest Documentaries of All Time | Sight & Sound
This magazine has been conducting its famous once-a-decade poll of the greatest films in history for most of that history.