Blog Connections

WHS in classic documentaries

I am not much of a film fanatic, so I cannot really relate to the film connections like James Bond in movies that we have on this website. What I do enjoy however is a a good documentary (also in books I like non-fiction more than fiction by the way). Fortunately we have a connection for documentaries too: WHS that have been used as a location for documentaries of high public and/or critical acclaim.

Earlier we already discovered the following WHS that fit into this connection:

  • Shoah by Claude Lanzmann (1985), Auschwitz is 1 of 4 filming locations (Auschwitz Birkenau)
  • Cave of Forgotten Dreams by Werner Herzog (2010) (Decorated cave of Pont d'Arc)
  • Virunga (2014), an Oscar-nominated documentary film directed by Orlando von Einsiedel (Virunga)
  • Free Solo (2018): profiles rock climber Alex Honnold on his quest to perform a free solo climb of El Capitan (Yosemite)

Diving a bit deeper into the subject and sifting through lists like Wiki’s List of documentary films and a Top 50 best documentaries from the Guardian, I came upon much more WHS we can connect. I have limited them to those where the WHS is central to the documentary. Those only shown in passing or in segments, as happens in most documentaries of David Attenborough for example, I have left out.

A well-known documentary from the 1990’s is Beyond the clouds. It was filmed in the Old Town of Lijiang and captured daily life in this Naxi market town when it was still relatively untouched by modern life. I visited the town in 1994, which was right about the time the documentary was shot.

“Free Solo” mentioned above seems to belong to a documentary genre of its own: that of mountain climbing movies. Yosemite also features in Valley Uprising (2014) and Dawn Wall (2017). Mt. Everest (within Sagarmatha National Park) is central to The Conquest of Everest (1953), The Climb (2007) and The Man Who Skied Down Everest (1975). The Swiss Alps’ Eiger mountain can be seen in The Alps (2007).

Historic city centers of course are good subjects as well. I found Palio (2015), focusing on Siena. Also: Days of Destruction (1966), about the Flood of the Arno River and its catastrophic effect on the city of Florence. And Le Joli Mai (1963), the result of 55 hours of footage interviewing people on the streets of Paris.

The USA features heavily in this connection. Even the Statue of Liberty (1985) has had its own documentary. And one of Walt Disney's “more unconventional and experimental works” is Grand Canyon (1958) (YouTube). It has “musical accompaniment, but no dialogue or narration”. No cartoon figures either. 

It would be great to have a video channel available to watch them all! Do you know of any more? Or where full versions can be viewed online?

Els - 12 April 2020

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Els Slots 12 April 2020

Received some more suggestions. Athos (2016) is great, there even is a version online: . Was also pointed to TV documentaries series such as "The National Parks: America's Best Idea", but like to limit the connection to full documentary films made for cinemas.