7 of the Best Movies About Photographers You Have to Watch

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Inspiration is great; but let’s face the truth, it is hard to be always inspired. One way of hacking into this beautiful state of mind is by watching movies, and today I bring you 7 movies about photographers you can watch right now via Amazon Prime.

If you are in a rush here are the top 3 of the best movies that made it into my list.

For more details on the released films and how to watch them, see below.

1. Cinema Verite (2011)

Director: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini
Writer: David Seltzer
Cast: Diane Lane, Tim Robbins, James Gandolfini, Kathleen Quinlan, Thomas Dekker
IMDb Rating: 6.5/10
Runtime: 1h 30m
Genre: Drama

This film tells the story behind the documentary series “An American Family”; a sort of proto-reality show about the Loud Family. From a photographer’s perspective, this is a glimpse into the impact this TV format had on its subjects. Additionally, “Cinema Verite” explores various ethical issues which arise when people’s lives are turned into entertainment; great for the Instagram folks approaching vulnerable people on the streets huh?

Some of the most controversial ethical issues highlighted in this film are:

  1. Privacy Invasion, the PBS crew followed the family around for months to capture every move; intimate scenes, private moments, and struggles of course.
  2. Reality Manipulation, to create more drama (therefore to increase their view rating) he tweaked the narrative to increase conflict and develop more tension among the family as a whole. Just like some photographers do to drag in more likes!
  3. Social Impact, such dramatic portrayal brought lots of consequences to the Loud Family; eventually, the marriage fell apart. This introduces awareness to image makers about the impact their work could have on people; which also includes the meme culture nowadays.
  4. Exploitation, yes, the Louds were paid for their participation, but is such exploitation needed for the sake of mere entertainment?

“Cinema Verite” gives several lessons for photographers to consider when creating their work. The importance of ethics, the need for authenticity, the power of narrative, and the impact of media on society.

Click here to stream Cinema Verite on Amazon Prime.

2. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

Director: Ben Stiller
Writer: Steve Conrad
Cast: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Shirley MacLaine, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn, Sean Penn
IMDb Rating: 7.3/10
Runtime: 1h 54m
Genre: Adventure, Comedy-Drama

From Bowie to Photography, this film is quite inspirational, to say the least. I remember back in the day after watching it for the first time and became quickly obsessed with Sean, the badass photographer portrayed by Sean Penn. Nevertheless, the angle developed in this film goes beyond the photographer’s figure; it’s also about those behind iconic publications. And no, I’m not referring to editors, I’m speaking about asset managers like Walter Mitty.

The film recalls the story of a timid and daydreaming photo-negative asset manager who is pushed into an adventure so he can track a missing negative shot by Penn’s character. Beyond the obvious archetype of the Professional Photographer, many of us could be inspired by the theme of imagination developed across the whole film. Interestingly enough, this film highlights the importance of embracing unique moments beyond “just” capturing authentic moments with a camera.

Oh, and the 2013 film is a well-done remake of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” from 1947.

Click here to stream The Secret Life of Walter Mitty on Amazon Prime.

3. Capote (2005)

Director: Bennett Miller
Writer: Dan Futterman
Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Clifton Collins Jr., Bruce Greenwood, Mark Pellegrino, Amy Ryan, Chris Cooper
IMDb Rating: 7.3/10
Runtime: 1h 54m
Genre: Drama

The first time I heard that this movie had something to do with photography I instantly recalled Irving Penn’s 1948 Cornered Portrait of Truman Capote. Nevertheless, this film would have little to do with photography if it wasn’t for some subtle references to the craft. After paying close attention to the character in the film, the role of photography in his creative process emerges from the screen.

Photographically the film references two visual styles documentary and editorial photography. Images are shown as research tools for gathering helpful information for better understanding the story the character is trying to tell. Also, he uses photographs to promote his book “In Cold Blood” through a feature in Life.

In nutshell, you won’t find traditional photographic references in this film. Here, photographs are treated just like voice recorders in your favorite crime-solving show (yes, I do need that third season from Mindhunter in my life). Photography is shown as a solid piece in Capote’s non-fiction writing process.

Click here to stream Capote on Amazon Prime.

4. The Bang Bang Club (2010)

Director: Steven Silver
Writer: Greg Marinovich, João Silva
Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Ryan Phillippe, Frank Rautenbach, Neels Van Jaarsveld, Malin Akerman, Patrick Lyster, Russel Savadier
IMDb Rating: 6.9/10
Runtime: 1h 47m
Genre: Drama

This film inspired me into learning film photography; watching this crew of reckless photographers felt just nice for my younger self. The film is based on true events, and it follows four important photographers documenting the final days of the apartheid in South Africa.

The film is set in the late ’80s and early ’90s and presents us with four distinct photojournalists, Ken Oosterbroek, Kevin Carter, João Silva, and Greg Marinovich. Also, the film depicts James Nachwtey for a moment and a starting photographer which gets killed.

Two Pulitzer prizes were referenced in this film, one from Greg Marinovich’s depicting the brutality of direct violence, and one from Kevin Carter which eventually became an iconic image of the twentieth century.

The controversial shot by Carter placed him under the spotlight and public scrutiny was fierce on him. Before the ethical dilemma was raised by the people, Carter was already a complete emotional mess as we can see in Marinovich and Silva’s book, “The Bang Bang Club”. More like a chronicle, this document tells about other war and conflict coverages from the actual perspective of the photographers.

Note on the Characters

  • Ken Ooesterbroek is presented with a Nikon F3, a camera famous for being both durable and reliable; which could reflect his professionalism and dedication to his work.
  • Kevin Carter on the other hand is largely seen using a Leica M series camera, known for exceptional image quality; which could reflect his attention to detail and patience in capturing the perfect image all the time. More like an artist and less like a journalist.
  • On João Silva, I don’t remember a specific camera, but I do remember a continuity flaw by showing him with a Canon DSLR camera xD.
  • And then there’s Greg Marinovich, which appears first with some crappy entry-level camera and then upgrades to a decent Nikon setup. I always saw this gesture as how his approach to photojournalism develops during the film; by the end of the film, we see an experienced and confident photojournalist on the field.

Click here to stream The Bang Bang Club on Amazon Prime.

5. Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus (2006)

Director: Steven Shainberg
Writer: Erin Cressida Wilson
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Robert Downey Jr., Ty Burrell
IMDb Rating: 6.3/10
Runtime: 2h 2m
Genre: Drama

A couple of years ago I watched this fascinating film. Although many people give the film bad reviews due to its fictional nature, I fell in love with the story! So, this is a creative interpretation of her life as a photographer. Some may appreciate the film, while others may be disappointed by it.

This biographical drama film directed by Steven Shainberg, explores the life of one the most revolutionary photographers ever, Diane Arbus. The movie ain’t the traditional biopic as it is not based on real events. On the contrary, it is a fictionalized account of her life, with a focus on her relationship with a mysterious man who has a genetic disorder that causes him to grow hair all over his body.

Portrayed by Nicole Kidman, Robert Downey Jr., Ty Burrell, and others. The film references Arbus’ creative struggles caused by being shaded away from her husband; Allan Arbus, an already renowned photographer. Later on, the film focuses on her discovery of the craft and the development of her always-unique style.

Note on the Character

Her portrayal as being under someone else’s shadow is a common thing for various creative individuals. Especially for those who often struggle to be recognized and respected in their field. This reflects societal and cultural barriers in other fields.

That’s why I see this as a sort of inspiration because it shows how she overcomes the dumb limitations imposed by her husband and society by finding the courage of pursuing her artistic vision. Her development is intertwined with her relationship with her husband and it changes over time. So remember, despite all the content creators out there, it is possible to find our voice if we pursue our passions.

Click here to stream Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus on Amazon Prime.

6. City of God (2004)

Director: Fernando Meirelles, Kátia Lund
Writer: Bráulio Mantovani
Cast: Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino, Alice Braga, Jonathan Haagensen, Phellipe Haagensen, Douglas Silva, Daniel Zettel, Seu Jorge
IMDb Rating: 8.6/10
Runtime: 2h 9m
Genre: Drama

Directed by Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund, the film is set in the Cidade de Deus favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Within the story of organized crime rising in the area, the film follows the life of Buscapé, who grows up in the favela and becomes a photographer. His images blended violence and poverty witnessed by him, with the resilience of the people living and suffering it.

The cinematography in this movie is remarkable. It strikingly captures the raw and gritty reality of the favela. Natural and practical light, and the use of handheld cameras, give the film a sense of documentary realism and immediacy. Something which is always powerful and effective when telling a story in a specific way.

Click here to stream City of God on Amazon Prime.

7. Blow-Up (1967)

Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
Writer: Michelangelo Antonioni, Tonino Guerra
Cast: David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles
IMDb Rating: 7.5/10
Runtime: 1h 51m
Genre: Drama

I’ve already covered this movie to an extent here, but there are some things still worth noting before wrapping it up.

Supposedly, Michelangelo Antonioni was said to be inspired by a short story by Julio Cortazar. Although, I read the whole thing twice and I hardly saw the inspiration for the film.

The movie tells the story of a London fashion photographer who accidentally captures a murder on film. The film also explores the nature of art, the artist’s role, and the relationship between artists and subjects.

Many consider this movie an important document to consult as it deals with the impact of photography on the way we see things and the ethical dilemmas that come within. Especially if we consider the rise of artificial intelligence worldwide.

Click here to stream Blow-Up on Amazon Prime.

Wrapping-it Up!

From books, cartoons, movies, novels, and series; photography is a recurrent theme in stories. Some might be true, and some others are completely fictional. The important thing about using stories to achieve inspiration is the story, and how it makes you feel from start to finish of it!