10 Documentaries About Driven People

10 Documentaries About Driven People
“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?” wrote Robert Browning. Here are 10 documentaries about people who pursued their goals obsessively. Some triumphed, some met with tragedy.


First Position (2011)

Following six young dancers from different countries as they prepare for the Youth America Grand Prix, First Position shows the level of commitment and dedication needed to make it in this cut-throat world. The tunnel vision that these competitors have can be intimidating at times, but it will certainly make you consider your own drive to get on.

Finding Vivian Maier (2014)

A film that celebrates the importance of having a hobby. Finding Vivian Maier recounts the work of a nanny who left one of the most prolific photographic legacies of Chicago life during the 20th century. After her death, some 100,000 photographs were uncovered, earning the reclusive Maier a posthumous reputation as a great street photographer.

Grizzly Man (2005)

Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man tells the story of two grizzly bear activists living in Alaska who were killed and eaten by one of the bears they loved and tried to protect. It features some magnificent home footage of bears found after the activists’ death. “Passion is greater than fear” is the dubious inspirational message here.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)

Put your retirement on hold. Elderly sushi master Jiro Ono is the proprietor of Toyko’s Michelin three-star restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro. His quest to perfect the art of sushi-making is beautifully captured by director David Gelb’s Planet Earth-inspired cinematography. The film follows not only Jiro, who was 85 when the film was made, but also his two sons and heirs. It’s a tale of a life consumed by one great passion.


Life Itself (2014)

Few people have had as big an impact on public attitudes towards film as the Pulitzer-winning American critic Roger Ebert. Life Itself  is a celebration of his busy life and of his heroic fight against the cancer that disfigured him and robbed him of his voice but couldn’t stop him working. Ebert was not only a participant in Steve James’s film but its guiding spirit.

Man on Wire (2008)

Without risk there will be no reward. Man On Wire is the story of high-wire artist Philippe Petit’s notoriously perilous walk between the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in 1974. With the help of reenactments, the film traces how Petit and his inside man set up the wire and staged the feat. Shot like a thriller, it documents what is sometimes known as  “the artistic crime of the century.”

Salesman (1969)

Albert and David Maysles cinéma vérité documentary follows four salesmen as they try to sell expensive Bibles to low-income Catholic families in New England and Florida. It shows the failure, rejection and isolation that people are willing to endure in order to realize the capitalist dream.


Virunga (2014)

Oil exploration, poaching, and armed conflict have made great incursions into the animal populations of the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This British film follows a dedicated team of four conservationist rangers who take great risks to preserve the surviving mountain gorillas.

Searching for Sugar Man (2012)

The Detroit singer-songwriter Rodriguez was poised to become the new Bob Dylan, but his albums bombed horribly in the United States. Searching for Sugar Man documents the search for the elusive musician, who had unknowingly achieved phenomenal success thousands of miles away in South Africa.

20 Feet From Stardom (2013)

You may be famous several thousands of miles away from where you are, or you may be a few yards away from your dream. This documentary explores the lives of backup singers like Darlene Love, Judith Hill, Merry Clayton, and Lisa Fischer, who must all be counted among the music industry’s unsung heroes.