Monday, August 2, 2010

Free E-Book: Kevin Kelly's Favorite True Films

Looking for a good documentary to watch? Kevin Kelly has already done the legwork for you.

He's put together an entire free e-book of what he considers "the best general-interest true films I've found" -- along with a companion Website,, that keeps the list updated (and solicits suggestions from fellow non-fiction film enthusiasts).

I define true films as documentaries, educational programs, non-fiction cinema, instructional how-to's, and what the British call factuals - a non-fiction visual account.

As dogged as I have been in tracking down great true films, I have seen only a fraction of the estimated 40,000 that have been made. So I am ready for more. However I will only list true films and documentaries that are available as VHS tape or DVDs at consumer prices. In other words, films that are easy for most people to see upon request. I won't include films that are only shown in theaters, or available via high-priced rentals, or simply out of print.
Kelly has organized them into quirky yet useful categories, including: Artists at work; Competition stories; Culture Design; Disenfranchised / downtrodden; Explaining Science; Extremists; Hard to believe / extraordinary; History; How to do it; Investigative; Lengendary characters; Living history / reality survivors; Monologues/interviews; Music Performances; People at work / inside view; Play; Sports; True adventures; Visual anthropology; Visual wit / cinematic poetry; Wackos / crazies / eccentrics; Wonders of the living world.

This little book will steer you to the best true films in English. Each film gets a short review of why it is worth your time, and then I feature 4 or 5 screen grabs from the film to show you what the texture and style of the film is. I also include a picture of the cover and indicate where you can rent it (say on Netflix) or purchase it (from Amazon). All the films reviewed are available on DVD or tape at consumer prices.

This is the golden age of documentaries. Inexpensive equipment, new methods of distribution, and a very eager audience have all launched a renaissance in non-fiction film making and viewing. The very best of these true films are as entertaining as the best Hollywood blockbusters. Because they are true, their storylines seem fresh with authentic plot twists, real characters, and truth stranger than fiction. Most true films are solidly informative, and a few are genuinely useful like a tool.

What am I looking for in a great true film? It must be factual. It must surprise me, but not preach to me. If it introduces me to a world or subculture that I never thought about before, even better. There's a plot - a transformation from beginning to the end.
Kevin Kelly himself is a true renaissance man, judging from the fact that his status as co-founding editor of Wired magazine is probably his least impressive credential!

You can download the free 201-page PDF file of True Films 3.0 (2007) here.

True Films 2.0 (2006) is available as a paperback from in black-and-white ($9.50) or color ($37.58).

Kelly's next book, What Technology Wants, will be published by Viking/Penguin in October.

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