The Genius Factor: 10 Documentaries that explore the Lives and Works of Iconic Personalities

April 16, 2023

Genius is the ability to put into effect what is on your mind." - F. Scott Fitzgerald

Genius comes in many forms, from writers and artists to filmmakers and thinkers. These individuals possess unique perspectives and abilities that have the power to inspire and transform the world around them. While their achievements often overshadow their personal lives, documentaries and docuseries offer an intimate look into the people behind the genius.


A group of intellectuals, older men in tuxedo suits inhabiting a cosmos

From the surrealist filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky to the experimental filmmaker Kazimierz Karabasz, there are countless individuals who have left a mark on the world through their work. Some, like Munch and Francis Bacon, expressed themselves through art, while others, like Marceline Loridan-Ivens, used their voices to document the atrocities of war. Despite their varied backgrounds and fields of expertise, these geniuses share a common trait: their unyielding dedication to their craft and their ability to see the world through a unique lens.


From Kafka to Francis Bacon, the top 10 Best Documentaries About the Lives and tragedy of Great Minds:




An older man with curled hair with a smile

Produced by National Geographic, is a series that delves into the complex and fascinating lives of some of history's greatest minds, such as the brilliant physicist Albert Einstein and the iconic artist Pablo Picasso. The show provides a window into the unique personalities, motivations, and challenges that drove these individuals to become true geniuses in their respective fields. Through stunning cinematography, insightful interviews, and captivating storytelling, the series paints a vivid portrait of the extraordinary lives and minds of these legendary figures, offering a glimpse into their genius and the profound impact they had on the world.


Joan Didion - The Center Will Not Hold

A woman sitting inside a white car

Is a poignant and intimate documentary that delves into the life and work of the legendary writer, Joan Didion. The film, directed by her nephew Griffin Dunne, presents a personal and insightful look into Didion's life, including her early years in Sacramento, her meteoric rise to fame in the 1960s, and her influential works that have captivated readers for decades. The documentary features interviews with Didion's friends, family, and colleagues, providing a rare and touching glimpse into the world of this literary icon. With stunning visuals and a captivating soundtrack, "Joan Didion - The Center Will Not Hold" is a must-watch for fans of the celebrated author, as well as those who appreciate the art of documentary filmmaking.


Munch In Hell

A very famous oil painting, it is a figure that screams

This Documentary tells the story of Norwegian painter Edvard Munch, who was once reviled in his homeland but admired abroad. Despite donating all his life's work to the City of Oslo, Munch's legacy was neglected after his death. His ambitious goal was to bring light to the dark for both himself and humanity.


Marceline. A Woman. A Century

A portrait of a woman with short hair

Is a dazzling documentary tribute to the life and work of the iconic French director, author, and actress. A key figure in the French avant-garde film movement of the 1950s, Marceline was also a Holocaust survivor and a radical chronicler. Alongside her husband, Dutch filmmaker Joris Ivens, she captured the struggles for independence in Vietnam and the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution in China.


Francis Bacon: A Brush with Violence

A portrait of Francis Bacon in a messy studio

This Documentary delves into the life and work of this enigmatic artist, exploring his influences, motivations, and creative process.

Featuring interviews with art experts, Bacon's friends and colleagues, as well as footage of the artist himself, the film provides a comprehensive and insightful look at one of the most important figures in modern art.


The Jodorowsky Constellation

An older man with white hair flying through the universe

Explore the enigmatic and multi-talented artist Alexandro Jodorowsky. From his cult movies like "El Topo" and "The Holy Mountain" to his provocative happenings and successful comic strip writing, Jodorowsky's creativity knows no bounds. This documentary delves into his various artistic endeavors, including his "psycho-magic" therapy, and features interviews with those who have been closely connected to him, such as Fernando Arrabal, Peter Gabriel, Marcel Marceau, and more. Through their reflections, the film explores the idea that the most important journey is the one of self-discovery.



A portrait of Kafka with a black hat

Is a 2012 documentary film directed by Hannes Schalle that explores the life and work of the enigmatic author Franz Kafka. Through interviews with scholars, biographers, and Kafka's close family members, the film examines Kafka's personal struggles and how they influenced his writing. The documentary also delves into the historical context in which Kafka lived and worked, shedding light on how his experiences were shaped by political and cultural forces. With stunning visuals and insightful analysis, Kafka offers a captivating portrait of one of the most celebrated writers of the 20th century.


Intensity Of Watching

a portrait of a old man in black and white

The documentary explores the life and work of Kazimierz Karabasz, the acclaimed Polish documentary filmmaker who pioneered the creative concept of the "patient eye." Rather than focusing on historical or political themes, Karabasz sought to capture the transient moments of human existence, those everyday moments that often go unnoticed. The film takes us through his artistic journey, from his early days in film school to his most recent work, showcasing his unique perspective on the art of cinema.


Separation of Trails

A rocky landscape and some bushes.

Is a personal and poetic documentary that intertwines the life and art of its filmmaker. Through a mix of archival footage and digital experiments, the film takes us on a journey from the middle of the 20th century to the present day. Themes of childhood, loneliness, and memory are explored, as well as the discovery of filmmaking and the power of images and sounds.



Scientist Steven Hawking in his wheelchair and behind the projected planet Earth

Discover the awe-inspiring life and revolutionary work of Stephen Hawking, the world-renowned physicist whose profound insights into black holes and the cosmos redefined our understanding of the universe. Through intimate interviews and rare footage, 'Hawking' (2013) offers a captivating glimpse into the mind of a brilliant scientist and the challenges he faced while battling a debilitating illness.


Genius and artists people are often known for their unique and complex personalities. They are often highly creative, and intuitive, and have a deep connection with their emotions. These individuals are often passionate about their work and driven by a desire to express themselves in a way that is both meaningful and impactful. They are often seen as eccentric or unconventional in their behavior, which can sometimes make them difficult to understand or relate to others.


A digital collage


However, their ability to see the world in a different way allows them to approach problems and challenges with a fresh perspective and often leads to groundbreaking discoveries and innovations. Their personality traits are often seen as a double-edged sword, as they can be the source of both their greatest successes and their most profound struggles.

The documentaries and docuseries listed above showcase this sentiment, providing us with a glimpse into the world of some of the most extraordinary individuals to have ever lived. Through their stories, we can learn not only about their contributions to society but also about the complexity and beauty of the human mind.


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