Comment Central lists the five best political documentaries ever made.
Love him or hate him, the former Secretary of State for ‘War’, Donald Rumsfeld, is without remorse in this 2013 documentary film by the Academy Award winning filmmaker, Errol Morris.
The Unknown Known explores the life and times of Donald Rumsfeld. A significant portion of the film is devoted to the content of some of the countless memos Rumsfeld wrote during his five decades in political office. The documents cover his time as a congressman and advisor to four different presidents, twice as United States Secretary of Defense. The content of the memos are varied, covering everything from the aftermath of Watergate, to the torture and abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
Another of Errol Moris’ masterpieces secures second spot in our rankings. In the Fog of War, the acclaimed documentary maker explores eleven lessons from the life of former Defence Secretary, Robert McNamara.
The film depicts McNamara’s life and illustrates his observations of the nature of modern warfare. It begins by looking at his birth during the First World War remembering the time American troops returned from Europe. Next it looks at the Second World War and McNamara’s role as a Whiz Kid military officer, being the Ford Motor Company’s president, to his serving as Secretary of Defense for presidents Kennedy and Johnson (including his involvement in the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War).
Best of Enemies is a 2015 documentary film co-directed by Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville about the 1968 televised debates between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley, Jr., and their aftermath.
The film examines the ten televised debates between William F. Buckley, Jr. and Gore Vidal in August 1968 that were moderated by anchorman Howard K. Smith during ABC News’ coverage of the Republican National Convention in Miami Beach and the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. It especially focuses on a specific incident of on-air insults directed at each other by Vidal and Buckley, and follows their subsequent thoughts and actions, including articles each wrote for Esquire magazine and the protracted litigation that resulted.
A British entry at number four, this superb Channel 4 documentary by Martin Durkin presents the case for Margaret Thatcher as a working class revolutionary. Criticised by some as an unbalanced homage, the film explores this great and visionary politician who not only changed Britain for the better but had an influence on the world like few others.
The documentary features contributions from a host of notable commentators, including Kenneth Baker, Cecil Parkinson, Neil Kinnock, Kelvin MacKenzie, Norman Tebbit, Bernard Ingham, Charles Powell, Nigel Lawson and David Cameron.
Last but by no means least, Weiner is a 2016 fly-on-the-wall documentary film by Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg about Anthony Weiner’s campaign for Mayor of New York City during the 2013 mayoral election.
The film follows Weiner and his wife Huma Abedin, beginning with his time in Congress and his 2011 resignation after photos of his bulging underwear appeared on Twitter. The bulk of the film is about his 2013 campaign for Mayor of New York City. At first his campaign is going well, with many New Yorkers willing to give him a second chance as reflected in polls putting him at or near the top of a crowded field. Then additional examples of his online sexual activity surface, including explicit text conversations with women that occurred well after his resignation from Congress. The mood of the campaign switches from exuberance to pain. Intimate views are captured of Weiner, his wife and his campaign staff struggling with the new revelations and the media firestorm that ensues. In only a couple of instances is the camera asked to leave the room. The result is a compelling portrait of a man, a woman and a political campaign in crisis.