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All posts by Sean Axmaker

Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. His work appears in Parallax View, Turner Classic Movies online, Keyframe, and he writes a weekly newspaper column on streaming video column, which you can find at www.streamondemandathome.com.

Memorial Day: Docs That Capture the Human Experience of War

There is no shortage of documentaries on war. The subject fascinates us as history, as sociology, and as drama. Some documentaries chronicle history in great detail, some grapple with the issues and forces behind the conflicts, and some flat-out propagandize. But very few of those documentaries actually engage with the human experience. So for Memorial … READ MORE

Meet the Trailblazers of Documentary Activism

We think of the cinema of activism in documentary filmmaking as a relatively modern phenomenon, something first awakened in the 1960s and 1970s and popularized by the likes of Michael Moore and Laura Poitras and Alex Gibney. But the success films like Bowling for Columbine (2002) and An Inconvenient Truth (2006), both Oscar winners and box-office … READ MORE

The Offspring of Birth of a Nation

D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation is inarguably one of the landmarks of American cinema. The distillation of the storytelling techniques, editing ideas, framing and visual composition, and nuanced approaches to performance that Griffith spent years exploring and experimenting with in short subjects and mid-length films, it was the longest and most ambitious American … READ MORE

Based on a True Story: 8 Documentaries that Inspired Feature Films

True stories have been a prime inspiration for movies for as long as there have been movies. Early films recreated historical events and breaking news for eager audiences and films as disparate as I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1921) and In Which We Serve (1942) to All the President’s Men (1976) and … READ MORE

Blood Guilt: 12 Movies about Healing after Heinous Crimes

Niklas Frank and Horst von Wächter are the adult children of high-ranking Nazi officers. As we learn in My Nazi Legacy, their fathers sent tens of thousands of people to their deaths, and Niklas and Horst spent decades dealing with the legacy of that birthright, though not in the same way. While both men speak … READ MORE

The Unmaking of: Stories of the Greatest Films Never Made

The “making of” documentary has become a lively subgenre of nonfiction filmmaking, thanks in large part to the explosion of home video and the proliferation of cable channels in the past few decades. Once a purely promotional creation to run in theaters or on entertainment TV shows, the mix of behind-the-scene peeks, production footage, and … READ MORE

Cinema Verite: The Movement of Truth

This piece is part of an ongoing Independent Lens series exploring documentary film history. Check out the previous entry, Silent Real-Life Adventure Films, and stay tuned for more installments. The birth of documentary filmmaking is the birth of cinema. The very first films were documents of people, places, and events, whether scientific studies or the moving … READ MORE

Early Silent Documentaries: Real-Life Adventure Cinema

This piece is part of an ongoing Independent Lens series exploring documentary film history. Stay tuned for more installments. Since the dawn of cinema, cameras have been taken around the world to capture unique and exotic sights previously available to audiences only in still photographs. Motion picture pioneers the Lumiere brothers sent their cameras to get scenic … READ MORE