Best Documentary Movies of 1997

1.

Little Dieter Needs to Fly

4.2
8.0/10

In 1966, Dieter Dengler was shot down over Laos, captured, and, down to 85 pounds, escaped. Barefoot, surviving monsoons, leeches, and machete-wielding villagers, he was rescued. Now, near 60, living on Mt. Tamalpais, Dengler tells his story: a German lad surviving Allied bombings in World War II, postwar poverty, apprenticed to a smith, beaten regularly. At 18, he emigrates and peels potatoes in the U.S. Air Force. He leaves for California and college, then enlistment in the Navy to learn to fly. A quiet man of sorrows tells his story: war, capture, harrowing conditions, escape, and miraculous rescue. Where did he find the strength; how does he now live with his memories?

Starring: Dieter Dengler, Werner Herzog, Eugene Deatrick
Directed by: Werner Herzog
Release date: 1997-12-01
2.

Hands on a Hard Body: The Documentary

4.1
7.6/10
Hands on a Hard Body: The Documentary
Hands on a Hard Body: The Documentary is a 1997 film documenting an endurance competition that took place in Longview, Texas. The yearly competition pits twenty-four contestants against each other to see who can keep their hand on a pickup truck for the longest amount of time. Whoever endures the longest without leaning on the truck or squatting wins the truck.
Starring: Brent Baskin, David Grotheim, Benny Perkins, J.D. Drew, Norma Valverde
Directed by: S.R. Bindler
Release date: 1997-06-01
3.

Fast, Cheap & Out of Control

4.1
7.2/10
Fast, Cheap & Out of Control
Starting as a darkly funny contemplation of the Sisyphus-like nature of human striving, it ultimately becomes a profoundly moving meditation on the very nature of existence.
Starring: Dave Hoover, George Mendonça, Raymond A. Mendez, Rodney Brooks
Directed by: Errol Morris
Release date: 1997-10-03
4.

Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist

3.9
7.5/10
Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist
The story of Robert Flanagan, a man who was born with cystic fibrosis and told he wouldn't live past 20, who through a unique odyssey of masochism, art and love found a way to live decades past his expiration date.
Starring: Bob Flanagan, Sheree Rose, Kirby Dick, Kathe Burkhart, Rita Valencia
Directed by: Kirby Dick
Release date: 1997-01-01
5.

Grateful Dead: Anthem to Beauty

3.9
8.5/10
Grateful Dead: Anthem to Beauty
This installment of the Classic Albums series follows the making of two Grateful Dead albums, the fiercely experimental Anthem of the Sun and the understated masterwork American Beauty, which spawned melodic gems like "Sugar Magnolia" and "Ripple." Between the archival scenes and contemporary interviews with band members, the DVD shows a band making seismic inroads in pop music--and five young guys coming to terms with artistry, mortality, and, yes, the pursuit of happiness. There is priceless footage of Neal Cassady driving Ken Kesey's bus and of the Dead, surrounded by martini-sipping hipsters, on Playboy After Dark. The best scenes involve band members talking about specific songs (you will never hear Phil Lesh's "Box of Rain" again without thinking of it as a gift to his dying father) or deconstructing a tune by playing each track separately. Intimate and surprisingly cohesive, Anthem to Beauty is a rare glimpse into how the Dead's magic was made.
Starring: Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh
Release date: 1997-02-22
6.

Paul McCartney: In the World Tonight

3.7
7.7/10

Documenting the recording process for Paul's 1997 album Flaming Pie, In The World Tonight is a fascinating insight into how a studio album is constructed, following Paul around his home studio and Abbey Road as he creates what would go on to be his first studio album in four years. In many ways there are two Paul McCartneys, the legend and the man. In The World Tonight reveals the man behind the public face, intimately capturing him at work, at ease and as candid as ever.

Starring: Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney, George Martin, Ringo Starr, Jeff Lynne
Directed by: Geoff Wonfor
Release date: 1997-05-02
7.

Trekkies

3.6
6.9/10

A hilarious look at the universe's most fervent fans.

Starring: Denise Crosby, Barbara Adams, Majel Barrett, James Doohan, DeForest Kelley
Directed by: Roger Nygard
Release date: 1997-10-18
8.

Public Housing

3.5
8.0/10
Public Housing
Public Housing is Wiseman’s unflinching portrayal of life at the Ida B. Wells housing project in Chicago, a raw exposition of the daily conflicts between residents and the bureaucratic machinery to which they are continually subjected. With intimate detail and an abiding dedication to his subject, Wiseman unearths the hidden facets of institutions to find humanity and sites of unexpected beauty.
Directed by: Frederick Wiseman
Release date: 1997-06-02
9.

Year of the Horse: Neil Young and Crazy Horse Live

3.4
6.7/10

Indie director Jim Jarmusch lenses a low-tech tribute to protean rocker Neil Young and his long-standing band, Crazy Horse. Stitched together from archival material shot in 1976 and 1986 along with candid scenes of Young and the band kicking back between shows, this rockumentary is as ragged as it is direct. Concert performances include renditions of hits such as "Sedan Delivery" and "Like a Hurricane."

Starring: Neil Young, Frank Sampedro, Billy Talbot, Ralph Molina
Directed by: Jim Jarmusch
Release date: 1997-10-08
10.

The Volcano Man

3.3
5.4/10
Documentary about Swedish author Sture Dahlström.
Starring: Sture Dahlström, Viktor Friberg, Josefine Lund, Björn Runge, Irene Stenberg
Directed by: Björn Runge
Release date: 1997-04-18
11.

U2: Popmart - Live from Mexico City

3.3
8.2/10
U2: Popmart - Live from Mexico City
U2 performs live in Mexico City in support of their 1997 album, "Pop," featuring lavish special effects, cutting edge sound and spectacular multimedia enhancement.
Starring: Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jr., U2
Directed by: David Mallet
Release date: 1997-12-03
12.

Super Speedway

3.3
7.1/10
Super Speedway
We follow the Newman-Haas (Andretti) racing team through the process of building, testing, and racing for a season. This includes extensive race speed on-track footage, including some pre-race footage with a full squad of cars. From time to time, we check in with a small shop building/restoring one of the first roadsters Mario Andretti raced; the finale includes him taking it for a spin.
Starring: Paul Newman, Mario Andretti, Michael Andretti, Jeff Andretti, Christian Fittipaldi
Directed by: Stephen Low
Release date: 1997-01-01
13.

The Making of 'Psycho'

3.2
7.3/10

A retrospective on the entire movie, from start to finish. There are interviews with many of the principle cast and crew (including Janet Leigh and Joseph Stefano), who all talk openly and lovingly about entire process of making the film. The sessions with Janet Leigh are particularly involving, and she talks a great deal about shooting the now infamous shower scene.

Starring: Alfred Hitchcock, Janet Leigh, Joseph Stefano, Clive Barker, Paul Hirsch
Directed by: Laurent Bouzereau
Release date: 1997-01-01
14.

Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y

3.2
6.9/10
Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y
An acclaimed hijacking documentary that eerily foreshadowed 9/11. We meet the romantic skyjackers who fought their revolutions and won airtime on the passenger planes of the 1960s and '70s. By the 1990s, such characters were apparently no more, replaced on our TV screens by stories of anonymous bombs in suitcases. Director Johan Grimonprez investigates the politics behind this change, at the same time unwrapping our own complicity in the urge for ultimate disaster.
Directed by: Johan Grimonprez
Release date: 1997-01-01
15.

Amazon

3.2
6.9/10
Amazon
Explore the mysterious Amazon through the amazing IMAX experience. Amazon celebrates the beauty, vitality and wonder of the rapidly disappearing rain forest.
Starring: Linda Hunt, Adrian Villanueva, Jesse Corti, Sydney Possuelo, Mark Plotkin
Directed by: Kieth Merrill
Release date: 1997-01-01
16.

Pretty as a Picture: The Art of David Lynch

3.1
7.3/10

An in-depth look at artist/filmmaker David Lynch's movies, paintings, drawings, photographs, and various other works of art. Features interview footage and commentary by family members, friends, fans, and people he's worked with, as well as behind-the-scenes antics of some of his most critically praised efforts.

Starring: David Lynch, Angelo Badalamenti, Jack Nance, Patricia Arquette, Balthazar Getty
Directed by: Toby Keeler
Release date: 1997-10-14
17.

Georges Bataille - À perte de vue

3.0
7.3/10
Georges Bataille - À perte de vue
The film contains the interviews with Pierre Klossowski and Jacques Pimpanneau.
Starring: Jean-Claude Dauphin, Bernard Rapp, Pierre Klossowski
Directed by: André S. Labarthe
Release date: 1997-04-30
18.

Obsessed with Vertigo - New Life for Hitchcock's Masterpiece

3.0
6.9/10
Obsessed with Vertigo - New Life for Hitchcock's Masterpiece
A documentary about the making and restoration of Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece "Vertigo". Narrated by Roddy McDowall, with behind-the-scenes talk from Barbara Bel Geddes, Henry Bumstead, Robert A. Harris, Patricia Hitchcock, James C. Katz, Kim Novak, Peggy Robertson and Martin Scorsese. Brings fresh perspective, not just to the film and the director, but to the Fifties Hollywood as well. [Included as extra with DVD release].
Starring: Roddy McDowall, Patricia Hitchcock, Robert A. Harris, James C. Katz, Henry Bumstead
Directed by: Harrison Engle
Release date: 1997-06-01
19.

A Humble Life

2.9
7.0/10
A Humble Life
A Humble Life is certainly true to its title, a documentary study of the day-to-day world of Umeno Mathuyoshi, an old woman who lives in an isolated mountain house in the Nara prefecture in Japan.
Directed by: Aleksandr Sokurov
Release date: 1997-05-22
20.

Mission to Mir

2.9
6.5/10
Mission to Mir
This film shows how far we have come since the cold-war days of the 50s and 60s. Back then the Russians were our "enemies". And to them the Americans were their "enemies" who couldn't be trusted. Somewhere in all this a young girl in Oklahoma named Shannon set her sights on becoming one of those space explorers, even though she was told "girls can't do that." But she did.
Starring: August Schellenberg
Directed by: Ivan Galin
Release date: 1997-10-17

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