Slade Offers Indie Documentary Recommendations

The cover of “Who Killed the Electric Car?” Photo courtesy of

Jonathan Slade, Associate Professor of Communication & Cinema, specializes in the production and critical analysis of American independent film, movies that are made well outside the Hollywood studio system. This includes the documentary genre. Below are ten micro-budget documentaries from the last decade that he highly recommends:


1. “Anvil! The Story of Anvil” (2008) Directed by Sacha Gervasi

“The documentary is about a guy who never let go of his dream. To me it is a wonderful portrait of an artist and how lonely it can be, but also how rewarding. It is a wonderfully sincere film.”


2. “Capturing the Friedmans” (2003) Directed by Andrew Jarecki

“You never really get to know the answer to this film by the end. It is a very dark documentary about child molestation. It has amazing use of archival footage. It is an emotional movie about growing under the suspicion of abuse. The family is slowly torn apart. The documentary is actually helmed by a member of the family, giving it a very personal touch.”


3. “The Fog of War” (2003) Directed by Errol Morris

“The director is one of the most amazing documentary filmmakers out there who uses highly-stylized archival footage. He uses revolutionary techniques like reenactments and jump cuts. The documentary focuses on the life of Secretary of War Robert McNamara. It came out at a time where people had forgotten how devastating war could be. It is both analytical and emotional.”


4. “Gasland” (2010) Directed by Josh Fox

“It is a very recent film. I first saw it on HBO and it blew my mind. Everyone should see this film. It focuses on corporations that are destroying environments to drill for gas. It has amazing shots only using a handheld camcorder.”


5. “The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters” (2007) Directed by Seth Gordon

“It has great characters! I love documentaries that take you into a world that you would never enter in real life. It is a classic David and Goliath story. Can a guy who lost his job beat this guy who is a legend?”


6. “Man on Wire” (2008) Directed by James Marsh

“It has wonderful use of reenactments. It sets up as a caper movie. How do they get in and how do they get out? It surprises you as how it presents the story. It is an absolutely gorgeous film. It is transformational by the end of it.”

7. “Restrepo” (2010) Directed by Tim Hetherington (who sadly just tragically died filming the Libyan conflict) and Sebastian Junger

“It is the best portrait of the futility of war that I have ever seen. The two things that jump out at you are that they are forced to leave after working so hard to push the line and then their effort is just lost. The scenes just blew my mind in how the two cultures collided. It is a heartbreaking movie.”


8. “My Kid Could Paint That” (2007) Directed by Amir Bar-Lev

“I love it because the filmmaker becomes a part of the story halfway through the film. It starts out focused on this painting prodigy, but it turns into the filmmaker becoming suspicious of the kid’s “skills.” At that point he decides to discover whether the kid is actually painting the pictures.”


9. “Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson” (2004) Directed by Ken Burns

“It is a great historical documentary done in almost all black and white film and pictures. It is about racism and how a black boxer, Jack Johnson, takes away a title from a white boxer. He is kind of an arrogant guy, but it is a story about how his life is crushed by racism. He was his own man at a time when that could get you killed.”


10. “Who Killed the Electric Car?” (2006) Directed by Chris Paine

“It is an eye-opening film about the death of American innovation. After California makes a law about forcing the creation of an electric car GM goes out to create the first one. Later, California repeals that same law and GM, along with oil companies, destroy all of the electric car prototypes to cover up the new technology. It is an expose on how large corporations want to keep selling what they want to sell and how they force it on you.”