Documentaries make up some of the finest use of moving image technology the world has ever seen. It is said that a picture paints a thousand words, so by definition a moving image has the potential to be even more powerful than a provocative still.
This week’s Stuff to Watch is all about sitting back, letting the power of a well-produced documentary wash over you and engaging your grey matter without even leaving the sofa. What’s more each of these films have a geeky twist, be it the story of the modern computer, innovative technology and even the big bad world of file sharing.
Hopefully there is enough variety here to please even the pickiest of viewers!
Arduino: The Documentary
Chances are you’ve heard of open source software, and probably have some installed on your system (whether you know it or not). But how about open source hardware? Well that’s exactly what Arduino is.
Created in Italy in order to provide students with a cost effective single-board microcontroller for controlling design projects, Arduino features its own on-board processor and I/O support and as of February 2010 over 120,000 units have been shipped.
This documentary breaks down the fundamentals of the Arduino project and presents them in an easy to understand format. A must for anyone who has encountered the Arduino chip or simply enjoys learning about small, community-led computer projects.
In 1998 Microsoft had all but sewn up the internet browser market with Internet Explorer (sounds hard to believe these days). At the same time, a group of software engineers over at Netscape were working on their biggest release yet, codenamed “Mozilla”.
This film documents the death of Netscape and the birth of Mozilla, an event which helped shape the way we use the web. Mozilla provided a viable alternative to Microsoft’s IE which was even the Mac OS browser of choice at the time.
If you’re a software engineer with a caffeine dependency and erratic sleep patterns then this film will probably speak to you. If you fondly remember the first time you switched from Internet Explorer to the Mozilla browser then this is a must-watch too.
Steal This Film: Part 1 & Part 2
Regardless of what you believe when it comes to file sharing, the Steal This Film series is well-worth a watch. It is presented in a somewhat anti-intellectual property mindset and tells the tale of torrent tracker The Pirate Bay, Piratbyrån and Sweden’s own Pirate Party.
Part 2 focuses on the Internet’s effect on ownership of data, copyright and the decentralised nature of the online world. It tackles the idea that the control of data in an environment that can’t (and shouldn’t) be policed is a fairly tough battle to win, and yes – take it all with a pinch of salt.
Whilst highly opinionated and at times one-sided, films like this are a great way of challenging beliefs and stimulating debate. For these reasons they should not be overlooked.
Note: These films are available for download via torrent at the above URLs.
The Space Shuttle – Narrated By William Shatner
NASA’s Space Shuttle program lasted a healthy 30 years, and in that time 134 flights were made into space, advancing our knowledge of the cosmos and generally providing mankind with a sense of triumph and achievement.
Who better to narrate an 80 minute documentary about this technological marvel than William Shatner, the face of Star Trek! Sit back and let Captain Kirk guide you through the Space Shuttle story, initial prototypes and the creation of a re-usable space flight vehicle in this recent NASA-produced film.
They Were There – An IBM Documentary
In celebration of 100 years of IBM, the company commissioned a 30 minute film exploring this age of discovery, innovation and technological advancement. They really went the whole hog, inviting celebrated US film-maker Errol Morris to direct and Philip Glass to write the score.
At only half an hour the film is light enough to not occupy your whole evening but insightful enough to shine some light on the work undertaken by IBM over the years. Both the direction and soundtrack are top-quality, with interviews from those who really made a difference at the company.
If you really want to “space-out” and relive history then you can’t go wrong with First Orbit, a film created in order to replicate Yuri Gargarin’s journey into space in 1961. Using footage acquired by the International Space Station, film-maker Christopher Riley and European Space Agency astronaut Paolo Nespoli have put together an experimental wonder completely free of charge.
With an original soundtrack by Philip Shepherd, the film takes the documentary genre and shakes it violently, often pushing the boundaries of what a documentary should be. Regardless, this modern footage of what Gargarin supposedly saw on his first voyage into space is wonderfully assembled and lasts a whopping 1 hour 39 minutes.
What’s more the whole production is available for your viewing in glorious HD.
All of these documentaries come highly recommended for one reason or another, and even if you’re not that interested in the subject matter you’re still bound to find them intriguing to say the least!
Have you got any other free geeky documentaries? Any other factual films you absolutely love? Any topics you’d like to see us tackle on Stuff to Watch? Leave a comment below and set us straight!