I have this terrible habit. Whenever I’m talking to someone new and learn a bit about them, I tend to mention a documentary they’d like given whatever their interest and/or what we’re discussing. Often I try to hold back. We’re just having a conversation, after all. It’d be one thing if I was just another regular guy who’d seen a particular doc relevant to what we’re talking about and coincidentally could recommend it. But everyone knows me as the doc guy, so it comes off like I’m some kind of recommending machine who also tries to show off knowledge of all variety of subjects simply from movies. That’s true, but I recognize this can be obnoxious, and it’s best not to come off as such a nonfiction film nerd all the time.
What’s more socially appropriate, perhaps, is to remember conversations and especially people’s personal interests, so when the holidays or a birthday come along, I’ve got a great gift for them: that relevant documentary. This works for everyone, though, not just people you’ve recently became familiar with. Everybody has hobbies and interests and music tastes, and it’s very likely there is a documentary fitting to all of those things. For my dad the illustrator, I can get him the new film about his fellow Art Center grad, Drew Struzan (Drew: The Man Behind the Poster), for the only sports-loving sibling in my family, maybe the latest 30 for 30 box set will do.
Of course this is all akin to how certain documentaries will always find viewers on account of what they’re about. Big time music fans and musicians ought to be into Sound City and Muscle Shoals, each of them about a different famous recording studio. 20 Feet From Stardom would be a good one, too. For the Calvin and Hobbes junky who has all the books, Dear Mr. Watterson is as good as it needs to be. For the wine aficionado there’s Red Obsession and A Year in Burgundy.
There are docs this year for the diehard J.D. Salinger fan (Salinger), the exhaustive Beatlemaniac (Good Ol’ Freda), the boxing nut (The Trials of Muhammad Ali), the nostalgic VHS collector (Rewind This!), the classic art enthusiast (Tim’s Vermeer) and the modern art enthusiast (Cutie and the Boxer and Herb and Dorothy 50×50). And anyone who loves Green Day (Broadway Idiot), Kathleen Hanna/Bikini Kill/Le Tigre (The Punk Singer), Stevie Nicks (In Your Dreams), One Direction (This Is Us), Jay-Z (Made in America), Beyonce (Life is But a Dream) and The Stone Roses (Made of Stone).
Not all of these are available on DVD or Blu-ray nor will be in time for Christmas 2013. I’m just naming recent titles as examples. You can go back years and years to find the perfect documentary gift for that special someone. And it’s a bonus if the doc recommended specifically for the subject matter is also an exceptional film, as in the cases of 20 Feet From Stardom, Tim’s Vermeer, The Trials of Muhammad Ali and Cutie and the Boxer. It’s a bit harder to go the other way around. I could offer up a ton of classic documentary masterpieces as gift ideas, but unfortunately there’s no guarantee just anyone would enjoy, say, Don’t Look Back (especially if they don’t like Bob Dylan’s music) or the 9-hours-long Shoah.
If you need help, I’ll lend a hand, though you can also just Google or do a simple IMDb keyword search. Just drop me a comment with a person in mind and something they’re into and I’ll see if I can’t find you the best gift, in documentary form. Even if it’s documentaries they love, there’s a doc about that too (Capturing Reality) — though I’d also recommend Jessica Edwards’ new book of documentarian interviews, Tell Me Something, first and foremost.