Philippe Petit, Man on Wire

We live for great stories. They are the reason we keep reading books and watching films and television. And the only thing that can make a great story better is when it’s true. Documentaries remind us that wonderful, strange, inspiring stories are not just the work of Hollywood, but everyday people met with extraordinary circumstances. With that in mind, here are five different individuals’ stories told in awe-inspiring documentaries.

Man on Wire (2008)
If you haven’t met Philippe Petit, it’s time to get acquainted. This film discusses Petit’s nearly hour-long high-wire performance between the Twin Towers of New York’s World Trade Center in 1974. Told in the style of a heist film, the preparing and planning to sneak into the building for the performance is carefully plotted in re-enactments. But from first to last, the film relies upon Petit himself, a magnetic, eccentric and boisterous personality that leaps from the screen.

In the Realms of the Unreal (2004)
Although he was merely a janitor when he was alive, Henry Darger became well-known after his death for his hundreds of watercolor paintings and a 15,143-page manuscript entitled The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion, which was discovered among his belongings. Darger was so solitary, there are only four known photographs of him in existence and yet his legacy is a massive wealth of provocative artwork.

Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013)
For every film that is produced and goes on to success, there are dozens that never make it to fruition. Such is the case with Alejandro Jodorowsky’s attempt to adapt Frank Herbert’s classic science fiction opus. The ambitious project would have included Orson Welles, Mick Jagger, Salvador Dali, H.R. Gigor creating the set and designing costumes and Pink Floyd writing the music! Is your jaw on the floor? This was a massive undertaking that ultimately was not to be, but that doesn’t mean Jodorowsky or this near-miss isn’t a pleasure to discover.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)
For some life is about exploration, and for others it is the singular pursuit of a great love. For Jiro Ono, owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro, life is the pursuit of perfection. Jiro’s sushi restaurant is a Michelin three-star restaurant and at 85 years old, he continues to perfect the art of sushi. This engrossing film explores Jiro’s obsession and what it has helped him achieve.

Project Nim (2011)
Although Nim is not a man, his story his both tragic and incredible. Nim was chimp that was used in an experiment to prove that primates could acquire language. Ultimately Nim learned over one hundred signs, but the animal’s quality of life deteriorated. By learning about Nim, viewers are drawn into the very real struggle that is our ability as humans to communicate and to love.

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