From Louis Malles Calcutta (1969), which screened last night at Doc Films

  • From Louis Malle’s Calcutta (1969), which screened last night at Doc Films

Watching Louis Malle’s Calcutta last night at Doc Films, I thought that someone could organize a neat repertory series of documentaries by narrative filmmakers. The selections might include Michelangelo Antonioni’s Chung Kuo China, Luis Buñuel’s Land Without Bread, Sergei Eisenstein’s Que Viva Mexico!, Jean-Luc Godard’s Ici et Ailleurs, any number of shorts by Werner Herzog (La Soufrière, God’s Angry Man, etc), Shohei Imamura’s A Man Vanishes (which screens again on Thursday night at the Siskel Center, incidentally), Abbas Kiarostami’s Close-Up and ABC Africa, Spike Lee’s 4 Little Girls, Roberto Rossellini’s India: Matri Bhumi, Agnès Varda’s The Gleaners & I, or Orson Welles’s F for Fake. These examples cover such a wide range of filmmaking styles that I’m impressed there’s a single generic designation that can encompass all of them. Perhaps the term documentary, with its connotation of hard factuality, fails to suggest the possibilities of nonfiction cinema. (Conversely, imagine if Stagecoach, The Seventh Seal, and National Lampoon’s Animal House were all lumped together as “story films.”)