Art of Observation: Documentarians Who Change Our View of the World

April 19, 2024


The camera is not just a recording device for those who master it; it's a gateway to new worlds, emotions, and truths. The relationship between a documentarian and their camera is akin to that of a painter with their brush—it's all about creating visuals that tell stories, provoke thought, and evoke feelings. This intimate dance with the digital is what separates the mundane from the magnificent in the realm of documentary filmmaking.


In recent years, the rise of docuseries has reshaped how we consume documentaries. Platforms like Netflix have pioneered this, but traditional players like National Geographic have not stayed behind. Their latest series, "Photographers," exemplifies this evolution, offering a visceral dive into the lives of those behind the lens. Each episode is a testament to the power of visual storytelling, marrying the immediacy of film with the depth of prolonged engagement, available to watch online on National Geographic channels and supplemental platforms.


What sets these filmmakers apart is their ability to transform ordinary moments into profound narratives. Their cameras are the tools through which complex realities are distilled into comprehensible visuals. The magic lies not in the sophisticated gear they wield, but in their capacity to perceive and present human stories with empathy and artistry. These documentaries aren't just shows; they are windows into the souls of their subjects, crafted by filmmakers who dare to get close, stay long, and engage deeply.


Top Ten Documentaries and Docuseries by Masterful Documentalists:




This new standout series from National Geographic, "Photographers," delves into the risky, thrilling world of professional photography. With each episode focusing on a different expert, it explores hazardous wildlife encounters, war zones, and hidden societal corners through the lenses of its fearless photographers. Dive into the visual feast on the National Geographic Channel and engage with the stories behind some of the most iconic photographs of our times.


Kid Icarus

Eighteen-year-old Leigh calls a modest trailer park on the fringes of Los Angeles home. His life, marked by solitude, unfolds in the backdrop of community college classrooms and the unremarkable aisles of The Home Depot where he works part-time. Leigh's world is largely devoid of companionship—no close friends to speak of and no romantic connections. However, his passion for Steven Spielberg films and a budding interest in filmmaking offer a glimmer of hope. Enrolled in a film production class at his local college, Leigh is determined to alter his trajectory.


Fuelled by his cinematic aspirations, Leigh sets out to create his magnum opus, "Enslavence." He envisions this film as more than just a creative outlet; he sees it as his escape hatch from a life engulfed in mediocrity, a portal to a realm filled with acclaim, affluence, and connections he has long yearned for. With each frame shot, Leigh inches closer to the world he dreams of, but his path is fraught with personal demons and a propensity for self-sabotage.



Laura Poitras’s Oscar-winning documentary "Citizenfour" details her experience with Edward Snowden as he exposes NSA's illegal surveillance activities. Filmed with a palpable intensity, Poitras uses her camera to create a claustrophobic atmosphere that brings audiences into the nerve-wracking situation. 


El Father Plays Himself

Jorge, a young film director, returns to his native Venezuela to create a movie about his father's life in the Amazon jungle, casting his father to play himself in his new film. What starts as a tribute unravels into a deep exploration of their past, revealing his father's struggles with addiction and their fractured relationship. This process not only captures the essence of storytelling as both a healing tool and a destructive force but also highlights the profound impact of cinema in uncovering truths and testing familial bonds.


The Salt of the Earth

This gripping documentary showcases the life and work of Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado, captured by Wim Wenders and Salgado's son, Juliano. The film is a stunning journey through the extremes of human experience, depicted through Salgado’s lens. 


The Peddler

Meet Daniel Burmeister, the unsung hero of filmmaking whose boundless energy and DIY spirit have transformed sleepy Argentine towns into lively movie sets. Armed only with a camera, a lamp for night scenes, and a reservoir of charm, this jolly veteran travels in his timeworn car from town to town. In exchange for room and board, he produces a feature film in just 30 days using his repertoire of adaptable scripts.


With his infectious enthusiasm and natural salesmanship, Burmeister enlivens the local populace, turning them into passionate actors on bustling back lots. Capturing this whirlwind creative process took three filmmakers, whose cameras documented not only his filmmaking journey but also his reflections on life and ingenious responses to myriad on-set challenges.


Faces Places

Iconic filmmaker Agnès Varda teams up with enigmatic photographer JR in "Faces Places," a docuseries that traverses the French countryside, capturing the essence of life in small towns through large-scale portraits. This charming collaboration is a testament to the power of combining different artistic visions. Netflix streams this heartwarming journey, blending film and photography to celebrate everyday humanity.


Wildlife with no Barriers

This captivating two-year natural history documentary project offers a rare glimpse into the lives of various animals living in complete freedom, showcasing their innate behaviors and interactions. The film vividly captures the dynamic relationships between species, from mammals to birds, and delves into the intricacies of breeding cycles, the raw intensity of predation, and the fierce battles for dominance.


It's a journey back in time, portraying life as it existed hundreds of years ago, untainted by modern human influence. Both entertaining and educational, the documentary succeeds in bringing the audience closer to the natural world, revealing the delicate balance and the relentless struggle for survival that defines life in the wild.


Night on Earth: Shot in the Dark

This Netflix original docuseries changes the game in wildlife documentary filmmaking by using cutting-edge technology to illuminate the lives of nocturnal creatures in unprecedented detail. The series offers a unique perspective on the hidden lives of animals after dark, turning night into day with the magic of its cameras. Netflix, where technology meets nature, provides a front-row seat to the unseen nocturnal world.


Oil Gobblers

This award-winning short mockumentary, recipient of a Student Academy Award, tracks the quirky expedition of a zoologist and a biochemist as they venture into an oilfield, accompanied by a cameraman and filmmaker. Together, they delve into the mysterious world of "oil gobblers," elusive creatures rumored to thrive in the harsh environment of petroleum landscapes.


The film creatively blends humor with pseudo-scientific inquiry, capturing the team's earnest but often comical efforts to document these fantastical organisms. As the group navigates the oily terrain, the documentary cleverly satirizes environmental and scientific documentaries, while providing a light-hearted look at the intersection of nature and industry.



These documentarians, through their profound connection with the camera, offer more than just visual documentation; they provide insight, emotion, and reflection. Whether it’s through a docuseries on National Geographic or a deeply personal docudrama on YouTube, these films and shows invite us to see the world differently.


They challenge our perceptions, broaden our understanding, and inspire us to engage more deeply with the world around us. The camera, in these artists' hands, does not just capture reality—it reveals the spirit of humanity and the essence of our planet. As we watch these documentaries online or on various streaming services like Netflix and GuideDoc, we are not mere spectators; we are participants in a global conversation on life, legacy, and the power of seeing.


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