National Film Festival for Talented Youth | Seattle Youth Film Festival | Student Film Festival


Documentary Specials by Stefanie Malone

Tips & Resources

It’s no secret in the NFFTY office that I am a fan of documentaries.  Don’t get me wrong, my love of film spans many genres.  Nothing will cause me to laugh quite as hard as the Marx Brothers.  But documentary films are a sweet spot.  I mean, truth is stranger than fiction (think: Grizzly Man, Dancing Outlaw, Anvil), and there is nothing quite like the stories of humanity that help us make sense of the world and understand our place in it.

Films stick with us for a variety of reasons, and these are only a few of many that I love.  That make me think. That inspire me. That will stick with me for years to come.

Central Park Five (2012)

It’s difficult to select just one Ken Burns’ film.  Afterall, he is America’s storyteller and the man who makes history come to life.  This is the story of the five black and Latino teenagers from Harlem who were wrongly convicted of a crime in New York City’s Central Park in 1989. It’s an emotional film that breaks your heart.  Ken Burns has a unique approach in exploring social issues and drawing out people through interviews, pulling together this final masterpiece.  This is one of many films that I love of Ken’s (Prohibition, The Dust Bowl, The Civil War).  Produced with his daughter, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon.


Don’t Look Back (1967)

D.A. Pennebaker’s portrait of a young Bob Dylan in 1965. A wonderful film of one of our most important songwriters, following Dylan during the period when he shifted from acoustic to electric – a transition that not many fans embraced.  A bonus is the opening sequence of Dylan holding up words to “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” with Allen Ginsberg in the background.

Watch trailer here. 


Harlan County USA (1976)

This film by Barbara Kopple is intense and powerful, documenting the coal miners’ strike against the Brookside Mine in Kentucky in 1973. This film reveals itself solely through the eyes of the coal miners, following violent battles between gun-toting company thugs and the picketing miners and their supportive women-folk.  This won the Oscar for Best Documentary in 1976 and is a must see.


Hype! (1996)

Seattle has a history of being a hotbed for music, most famously as a launching point for grunge scene back in the late 1990s. This documentary serves as a time capsule, capturing music history, while exploring the ensuing hype surrounding the whole grunge scene. Directed by the talented Doug Pray (Surfwise, Art & Copy) and produced by Pete Vogt (Icons Among Us).

Watch trailer here

Salesman (1968)

The Maysles Brothers follow door-to-door salesmen who are trying to make a living by selling expensive bibles to low-income Catholic families.  This mesmerizing documentary can conjure up a lot of emotions – funny at times but also one of the saddest films you will see.  Essentially a look at a by-gone era, its themes still resonate today as this film explores the human condition.


The Thin Blue Line (1988)

Errol Morris is an artist, who creates documentaries employing event recreation and other tactics that result in poetry on screen.  His unique style pushes the boundaries of documentary filmmaking into new territory.  In this film, Errol Morris explores the story of a murdered Dallas police officer through re-enactments and interviews. This documentary led to the exoneration of an innocent man who was tried by a corrupt justice system in Texas.


Have a documentary done and interested in having it up on the big screen? Submit to NFFTY now and stand a chance for your film to be showcased in the world’s largest youth film festival. NFFTY submission deadline has been extended to February 13, 2014. Also, remember to check out our newly added category: HUSTLE category presented by vitaminwater. Winner of that category stands to win $5,000.

Grab the opportunity and submit now! 

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