‘The East’ and ‘Sound of My Voice’ Writer-Director Zal Batmanglij Shares His Top 10 Documentaries

stolen seas doc

When I saw Sound of My Voice at Sundance a couple years ago, I figured it had to be made by someone who appreciates documentaries. The fiction feature, about a cult leader who claims to be from the future, has as its protagonists a couple making a doc about the mysterious and suspicious woman. And one thing I love about the film is that its director, Zal Batmanglij, didn’t go for the obvious route and do it as a documentary-style or found-footage movie as if it were all shot by the main characters.

Since then, he and his co-writer/star Brit Marling have made The East. The new film seems less linked to nonfiction cinema except that it deals with the popular doc subjects of eco-terrorism and activism, and it again involves an investigative protagonist embedding herself into a group — as a documentarian might do, only not in an undercover manner.

Now, on the eve of the DVD/Blu-ray release of The East, Batmanglij proves my initial presumption about him correct by sharing with us an ordered list of favorite nonfiction works. “I would say that this collection of films is about life being messy and us being vulnerable,” he wrote in an email to Nonfics, “but that through creative service, through the sheer act of documenting, we can let each other know that it’s going to be okay — that we’re not alone.”

1. Sans Soleil (Chris Marker, 1983)

stream via Hulu Plus

2. Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley, 2012)

stream via Amazon

3. The Cove (Louie Psihoyos, 2009)

stream via Amazon

4. Bowling For Columbine (Michael Moore, 2002)

stream via Amazon

5. Stolen Seas (Thymaya Payne, 2012)

“Rattled me out of a predictable worldview. Made me remember how complex a system we live in. It’s funny to think that we understand it all.”

stream via iTunes

6. Sound and Fury (Josh Aronson, 2000)

stream via Netflix

7. Following Sean (Ralph Arlyck, 2005)

stream via Netflix

8. Bill Cunningham New York (Richard Press, 2010)

stream via Netflix or Amazon or Sundance Now

9. Streetwise (Martin Bell, 1984)

currently officially unavailable

10. We Were Here (David Weissman and Bill Weber, 2011)

stream via Netflix or Amazon

(Editor in Chief)

Christopher Campbell is the founding editor of Nonfics.