Current TV, the still-finding-its-identity network co-founded by Al Gore and newish home to left wing commentator Keith Olbermann, concludes its 5-week documentary film countdown - "50 Docs to See Before You Die" - tonight with the naming of its top 10 choices.
Revealed yesterday by the NY Times' Mike Hale, the top choice of the show's expert panel is Steve James' 1994 classic HOOP DREAMS, with Errol Morris' THE THIN BLUE LINE and Michael Moore's ROGER & ME coming in 2nd and 3rd. The latter two films had previously been identified by the show as the demarcation of the beginning of the current "golden age" of documentary filmmaking on which the "50 Docs" list would focus.
It's this take on the modern age of documentary that seems to have brought the list and the series the most criticism: the late '80s cutoff forms a handy but ultimately confusing way for the series to eliminate any of the classic films by the Maysles, Robert Drew, Fred Wiseman, early Pennebaker, KOYAANISQATSI, HEARTS AND MINDS, HARLAN COUNTY, SHERMAN'S MARCH and any number of other influential works from contention.
Despite the fact that the Times' Hale notes the "modern documentary" angle and bemoans the focus on "a relentless preference for the story-based or issue-based films that people now seem to think define the documentary field", commenters on the story still wrestle with the series/list's artificial construct - where is WOODSTOCK? THE LAST WALTZ? 7 UP? THE TIMES OF HARVEY MILK? SHOAH? The fact that potential viewers are still confused or find the current (get it) focus impractical suggests a basic problem with the premise.
Still, these are lists and lists are supposed to be fun, right? Get past the confusion and the Times' comment section is filled with people's righteous indigation that their modern favorites have been overlooked. Or those who argue that something should be higher on the list or lower or not on the list at all.
So if it gets people talking about documentaries, then who's to quibble, right?