This British documentary directed and narrated by Mark Cousins looks at the history of film making around the world starting from 1888, looking at them from the point of view of the social context of films, the times in which they were made, what they were trying convey, their innovations, the techniques that were used, and how they influenced each other. The scope of the documentary is of the entire history of film over the entire globe, and includes explorations of the work of lesser-known (to me at least) directors, including those in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
The documentary lasts 15 hours in total that are spread over 15 episodes. It is interspersed liberally with clips from many films in order to make its points. Despite its length, some selectivity is of course essential. Cousins focuses on the creative aspects of films and thus the work of directors and, to a lesser extent, screenwriters and cinematographers. Cousins is clearly partial to the realist school of filmmaking and to those directors who took risks and made experimental films that pushed the boundaries of the craft or showed their societies in a realistic and hence unflattering light and thus risked repercussions from their governments. Such directors are less well-known outside the cognoscenti because their films were usually not box office hits. You will find few mentions of the big Hollywood blockbusters unless they used some innovative techniques or are used to contrast with more realistic depictions.
The documentary is presented largely chronologically, except when jumping from one era to another in order to show connections. I think that the more attuned you are to the aesthetic of cinema, the more this will appeal to you. Even though I am somewhat of a low-brow film viewer, I still found the documentary engrossing.
Here’s the trailer.