Our most popular documentaries

In addition to an astounding collection of feature films from around the world, the library also has a very impressive selection of documentaries. Documentaries have a strong track record here based on the popularity of our annual Environmental Film Festival and the ongoing Identity & Self Film Series. I took at a look at the circulation numbers for this collection, and below are our 10 most-viewed documentaries:

10. Salt Men of Tibet

This documents the ancient traditions and day-to-day rituals of a Tibetan nomadic community on a three-month pilgrimage. Observing age-old taboos and homage to the deities of nature, four men meticulously plan their yak caravan to fetch precious salt from the holy lakes of the Changtang region of northern Tibet.

9. Grey Gardens

A portrait of the relationship between Edith Bouvier Beale and her grown daughter, Little Edie, once an aspiring actress in New York who left her career to care for her aging mother in their East Hampton home and never left again. The aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis feed their cats and raccoons and rehash their pasts behind the walls of their decaying mansion, Grey Gardens.

8. The Medici, Godfathers of the Renaissance

Based on the book by Paul Strathern, this is the tale of one family’s ambition and of Europe’s struggle to emerge from the ravages of the Dark Ages. The Medici used charm, skill and ruthlessness to garner unparalleled wealth and power, ruling Europe for more than 300 years.

7. The Secret Life of the Brain

This three-disc set from PBS reveals the fascinating processes involved in brain development across a human lifetime.

6. March of the Penguins

Narrated by Morgan Freeman, this documentary follows Emperor penguins in the Antarctic as they journey hundreds of miles by foot in a single file line. They endure freezing temperatures in brittle, icy winds and through deep, treacherous waters. They risk starvation and attack by dangerous predators under the harshest conditions on earth just to find a mate and raise their young.

5. Winged Migration

Continuing in a very similar vein: Three years of shooting were needed by five teams in order to follow bird migrations flying over the seven continents.

4. The Civil War

This epic documentary from Ken Burns brings life to America’s most destructive and defining conflict. The scope of this mini-series is vast … from celebrated generals to ordinary soldiers to our (arguably) greatest president.

3. Born Rich

The heir to the Johnson & Johnson company empire, 20-year-old N.Y.U. student Jamie Johnson made his directorial debut with this documentary. Johnson interviewed 10 of his wealthy young friends to talk about growing up with vast sums of money.

2. Spellbound

This documentary follows the lives of eight young Americans who share one goal: to win the 1999 National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. The Bee is as intense a competition as any Olympic match for both the spellers and their families.

1. Band of Brothers

Based on the book by Stephen E. Ambrose, this HBO mini-series tells the story of Easy Company of the U.S. Army Airbourne Paratrooper division and their mission in WWII France during Operation Overlord.

In addition to these popular DVDs, we are continuously acquiring new documentaries at the library. Be sure to check our new DVDs shelves on the first floor the next time you stop by!

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