In the last decade, Scott Derrickson has emerged as one of the most exciting and successful genre filmmakers around. He directed the immensely lucrative horror features The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Sinister, as well as the globally profitable sci-fi remake The Day the Earth Stood Still, and recently he joined the very big leagues with Marvel tasking him with bringing Doctor Strange to the big screen.
As a screenwriter, he has worked with the likes of Wim Wenders, for the war drama Land of Plenty, and he co-wrote Atom Egoyan’s Devil’s Knot, which gives new perspective on the events surrounding the West Memphis Three, whose case was brought to public attention by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s Paradise Lost trilogy and Amy Berg’s West of Memphis.
Derrickson’s movies tend to be visceral and raw, evoking a verisimilitude that speaks to his love of nonfiction cinema. Recognizing that appreciation, we asked him to list his favorite documentary films, and his picks prove as eclectic and interesting as his own work.
Stop Making Sense (Jonathan Demme, 1984)
“David Byrne, an undeniable genius working in his prime, presented through pure cinema by a visionary director. The only documentary I repeatedly re-watch.”
Gates of Heaven (Errol Morris, 1978) / Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe (Les Blank, 1980)
“These two films should be seen together, as the latter was made to present the former. Gates of Heaven is a case study in the creative artistry of documentary filming as well as an incisive look into the American dream. Les Blank’s short film is a hilarious and inspiring message on filmmaking itself.”
Streetwise (Martin Bell, 1984)
“This film shattered me. The tragedy near the end left me in tears, and it took days for me to shake the harrowing feeling it gave me.”
Don’t Look Back (D.A. Pennebaker, 1967)
“I have the poster for this in the entryway to my kitchen. A mesmerizing portrayal of the greatest musical artist of the century.”
Crumb (Terry Zwigoff, 1994)
“I paced back and forth in front of L.A.’s Nuart theater for 20 minutes after seeing this. A disturbing yet highly entertaining film about the brutality of male darkness and dysfunctional intelligence. I still marvel that freak-genius Robert Crumb is actually the normal one is his family.”
Salesman (Maysles Brothers, 1968)
“Cynical door-to-door Bible salesman. It doesn’t get more American than this.”
Hearts and Minds (Peter Davis, 1974) / Night and Fog (Alan Resnais, 1955)
“I gave Wim Wenders Hearts and Minds to watch when we were writing Land of Plenty together — he told me afterward that it was the best documentary he’d ever seen. Both films will leave you shaken, thinking more deeply about the horrors and meaninglessness of war.”
Marjoe (Sarah Kernochan and Howard Smith, 1972)
“Like Salesman, it’s about the cynical business of American religion, but it’s also a case study of a stunningly unique individual. Unforgettable.”
Harlan County, U.S.A. (Barbara Kopple, 1976)
“This riveting masterwork about striking coal miners in Kentucky changed the way I thought and felt about class war in America.”
The Thin Blue Line (Errol Morris, 1988)
“Extraordinary and creative filmmaking. Morris remains unsurpassed as a director who repeatedly raised the bar for how documentary films can and should be made.”
This list was originally published on March 12, 2015.