The 10 Best Documentaries About Great Filmmakers

5. Directed by John Ford (1971; dir. Peter Bogdanovich)

In 1971 we could see the director of the classic film “The Last Picture Show” (1971) helming a documentary about one of the most iconic American directors.

“Directed by John Ford” is about the many aspects in the life and career of the director of masterpieces such as “The Grapes of Wrath” (1940), “The Searchers” (1956) and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” (1962).

Narrated by Orson Welles and with footage of actors such as John Wayne, Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart and Henry Fonda, this documentary might seem to have a little problem with its rhythm and it ends up seeming longer than it really is, but still is a mandatory one for fans of John Ford (or for anyone who loves film).

Including his thoughts on life, his methods and his artistic approaches, everything is told by some of the brilliant artists who worked with him. A documentary about an amazing director that should without a doubt be watched.

John Ford movies you should watch:

– The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
– The Searchers (1956)
– The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)


4. Spielberg (2017; dir. Susan Lacy)

This HBO documentary helmed by Susan Lacy follows the life and work of a true Hollywood legend: Steven Spielberg.

From the home movies he used to make in his teenage years to his first television productions, until the stardom he acquired with films such as “Jaws” (1975), “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981), “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” (1982) and many, many others, this nearly two-and-a-half-hour long documentary is mandatory for fans of the director.

With interviews with Martin Scorsese, Tom Hanks, J.J. Abrams, John Williams and Spielberg himself, among many other members of the film industry and Spielberg’s family, this is probably the definitive documentary about one of the most acclaimed, influential and versatile Hollywood directors of all time.

An amazing work by Susan Lacy and a movie that should definitely be watched by any fan of Spielberg’s works.

Steven Spielberg movies you should watch:

– Duel (1971)
– Jaws (1975)
– E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
– The Color Purple (1985)
– Jurassic Park (1993)
– Schindler’s List (1993)
– Saving Private Ryan (1998)


3. De Palma (2015; dir. Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow)

De Palma

An amazing documentary about one of the most underrated (and one of the most brilliant) American filmmakers in history.

Directed by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, this movie follows the life and career of director Brian De Palma, and approaches every single film he has ever done with the director himself commenting them.

Although this form might seem to be simplistic, it is truly amazing to hear De Palma himself talking about each one of his films and the importance they had in his career. This is truly one of the best documentaries ever made about a filmmaker’s life and career.

Brian De Palma is an underrated genius, and Jake Paltrow and Noah Baumbach helmed an amazing documentary about a brilliant filmmaker that should definitely be watched by any cinephile.

Brian De Palma movies you should watch:

– Carrie (1976)
– Blow Out (1981)
– Scarface (1983)
– Carlito’s Way (1993)


2. Tokyo-Ga (1985; dir. Wim Wenders)

In 1985, acclaimed German director Wim Wenders released a documentary about Yasujiro Ozu, one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. A big fan of the work of the Japanese master, Wenders traveled to Japan in pursuit of the places and the atmosphere he saw in the movies made by Ozu.

Having poetical imagery and respecting the slow-paced and contemplative atmosphere of the movies made by Ozu, this is definitely among the best documentaries ever made about a filmmaker.

With the participation of cinematographer Yûharu Atsuta, legendary actor Chishû Ryû and director Werner Herzog, this is a movie you can’t miss. An amazing documentary about a director that is truly among the best in history.

Yasujiro Ozu movies you should watch:

– Late Spring (1949)
– Tokyo Story (1953)
– Floating Weeds (1959)
– An Autumn Afternoon (1962)


1. How Strange to be Named Federico (2013; dir. Ettore Scola)

How Strange to be Named Federico

Three years before his death, legendary Italian director Ettore Scola released a film about another legend from his country: Federico Fellini.

With amazing writing by Ettore, Paola and Silvia Scola, this documentary is such a poetical way to approach the life and work of a filmmaker as important as Fellini and a beautiful tribute made by his friend Ettore Scola.

Staging some key moments of Fellini’s life and approaching his work in a very unique way, this is one of the most beautiful documentaries of the 2010s, especially because we’re talking about one truly brilliant master making a moving tribute to another.

“How Strange to be Named Federico” is a documentary that should definitely be watched by any cinephile and really can be considered among the best movies in Scola’s career. A mandatory film for fans of both directors.

Federico Fellini movies you should watch:

– The Nights of Cabiria (1957)
– La Dolce Vita (1960)
– Eight and a Half (1963)
– Juliet of the Spirits (1965)
– Amarcord (1973)

Author bio: Vítor Guima is a filmmaker, writer and musician from São Paulo, Brazil. Every day he watches a movie, reads a few pages from a book, listens to an album and freaks out with the feeling of not having enough time to see everything. You can follow him on Instagram on @ovitorguima.