Streaming Diary: Great Film Documentaries on Kanopy


After the demise of FilmStruck, I found myself relying more on the free library streaming service Kanopy for my classic, independent and international film fix. In search of the sort of viewing recommendations I used to get from FS, I found myself drawn to the many film documentaries available from Kanopy, which often reference intriguing new-to-me movies. Here are some of my favorites. All titles link to the film:



Behind the White Glasses: The Life and Career of Legendary Director Lina Wertmüller (2015)

The best thing about this exploration of the creative life of Italian filmmaker Lina Wertmüller (Swept Away [1974], Seven Beauties [1975]) is that she seems to have survived a brutal industry not only unscathed, but with utter joy. Whatever the challenges she has faced, her approach to life and work appears to be playful and adventurous. Here she shares memories of her career: the people she knew, the films she made, and how it led to the happy, prosperous life she leads now.



Hitchcock/Truffaut: The Timeless Legacy of Alfred Hitchcock (2015)

This is a must-watch for any fans of the legendary film book Hitchcock/Truffaut in which the young French filmmaker Francois Truffaut spoke at length with Alfred Hitchcock about his films. Lengthy audio recordings from their sessions add an extra dimension to the topics they discussed and how they discussed them. It’s a great companion piece.



Hitler’s Hollywood: German Cinema in the Age of Propaganda (2018)

I was so hoping that the output of World War II Nazi film studios, overseen by sole industry auteur Joseph Goebbels, would be horrible, but it seems there were some intriguing works among the propaganda and cheerful artifice of the era. In this exploration of the stars, films, and tropes of the era, it is clear that these works were made to bolster a regime and could thus lack heart or authenticity, but there are also some stunning images to behold and I have to admit I felt a queasy admiration for and curiosity about several works from the cinematic sampling I saw here.



My Journey through French Cinema: Bertrand Tavernier's Personal Essay on his Native Cinema (2016)

I first saw this expansive exploration of French cinema at the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) and while it is of epic length, every bit of it is fascinating. Director Bertrand Tavernier lends an insider’s wisdom to his observations of several aspects of French film, from the actors and directors to the composers and most enduring classics. The best part of the film is the many film clips Tavernier shares; I watched this again on Kanopy so I could focus on writing down titles of movies I wanted to see. It was a long list.


Hal: The Life and Work of Filmmaker Hal Ashby (2018)


I also saw this lively documentary about director Hal Ashby (Harold and Maude [1971], Being There [1979], Shampoo [1975]) for the first time at SIFF 2018. It’s a fascinating portrait of an unusual filmmaker who, despite the classics under his belt remains underappreciated as an auteur. Amy Scott’s film reveals a work-obsessed, sensitive man who fought to fulfill his artistic vision with varying success.



What is Cinema? The Past, Present, and Future of the Cinematic Medium (2013)

It’s hard to describe the magical feeling this tribute to film inspires. The montage of amazing images, film clips, and music casts a mesmerizing spell, perfectly expressing the wonder of cinema. This collection of clips is juxtaposed with a mix of new and archival interviews with filmmakers including Chantal Akerman, Costa-Gavras, Mike Leigh, and Jonas Mekas, which provide a pleasing international perspective on cinema and its delights.



Side by Side – Can Film Survive the Digital Future? (2011)

Side by Side producer Keanu Reeves is endearingly curious as he speaks with some of the top filmmakers in the industry about the switch from film to digital technology. While a lot has changed since this was released, the conversations he has with a wide array of professionals, including David Lynch, Anne V. Coates, Martin Scorsese, Greta Gerwig and Steven Soderbergh, are interesting in themselves as a document of widely varying perspectives on film.

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