UC Berkeley Library

Documentary Celebrations of the City

Empire of the Moon (1991)

Directed by John Haptas and Kristine Samuelson. Empire of the Moon wryly deconstructs the experience of being a tourist and the yearning to possess the magic of a place. Paris, gorgeously photographed in black-and-white, is the setting for cultural explorations ranging from the mundane to the sublime, as visitors trek from icon to icon, snapping the same photos, climbing the same steps, and at times experiencing the transformative wonder they came to find.

Forest of Bliss (1986)

film by Robert Gardner. A film without commentary, subtitles or dialogue on daily life in the Holy City of Benares filmed from one sunrise to the next, including daily customs and religious rituals. 90 min.

Hidden in Plain Sight

"Hidden in Plain Sight is inspired by the tradition of cinematic city symphonies and is made up of footage shot in four cities: Santiago de Chile, Hanoi Vietnam, Dakar Senegal and Marseille France. Vignettes from each place are juxtaposed so that the viewer is pulled from place to place, picking up the pieces, making connections only to have them disappear just as quickly.

In the Street (1941-1952)

Photographed by Helen Levitt, Janice Loeb, James Agee. An extension of the filmmakers' work on the documentary film The Quiet One which was concerned with the urban environment. this film is a revelation of random behavior filmed in a neighborhood in East Harlem New York during the 1940s. The images are selected to reveal the city street as "theater and battleground." 16 min. [preservation copy]

Koyaanisqatsi: Life out of Balance (1983)

Directed by Godfrey Reggio. Koyaanisqatsi is a Hopi Indian word meaning variously: crazy life, life in turmoil, life disintegrating, life out of balance, and a state of life that calls for another way of life. Uniting breathtaking imagery with a haunting score, this experimental film contrasts the tranquil beauty of nature with the frenzied hum of contemporary urban society. 87 min. ;

La republique Marseille

A collection of seven documentaries created by Denis Gheerbrant between 2008 and 2009 which present seven worlds that make up a city and give it the aspect of a republic: the world of dockers, activist workers, women in the garden projects or the inhabitants of an enormous ghetto. In all its nooks and crannies, all kinds are encountered: An ex-junkie, a boxer, or young women on the brink of life, and the Republic, a main street in the middle of the city. Contents: .

La Seine a rencontre Paris (1957)

"Quotidian scenes of Paris along the quays beside the River Seine. Fishing, snoozing, cutting hair, washing clothes. Lovers embrace as nuns gaze. Students sketch, models pose. A diver recovers a boy's lost bicycle. C'est la vie. It's "a river like any other". Sprightly accordion music rounds out the atmosphere." [IMDB] A film by Joris Ivens. 31 min.

Listen to Britain (1942)

Written, edited, and directed by Humphrey Jennings and Stewart McAllister. A poetic treatment, using no narration, of the British people during World War II. A vivid tapestry of sound and image intersperses scenes of British preparedness and tranquility. Perhaps Jennings' most outstanding film, Listen to Britain celebrates the perservance of everyday behavior in the face of total war. 19 min. ; also on VHS
web web sites:Watch Listen to Britain online (via the Internet Moving Image Archive)
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A "documentary" portrait of the capital which can variously be described as an "essay" or a "journal." Images of London in 1992 are accompanied by an unnamed fictional narrator and Keiller's imaginary protagonist Robinson. The latter is attempting to research the city's artistic past and support alternative paths that the city's history might have taken. The film is made up of three "expeditions" and other mini-journeys on foot into a London that few tourists will ever see. The paths taken are inspired by literary-historical concerns but contemporary political events intrude.