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I am looking for mathematical documentaries, both technical and non-technical. They should be "interesting" in that they present either actual mathematics, mathematicians or history of mathematics. I am in charge of nourishing our departmental math library (PUCV) and I would like to add this kind of material in order to attract undergraduates toward mathematics. For this reason, I am not looking for videos of conferences or seminar talks, but rather for introductory or "wide public" material.

Here are some good examples.

Are there more examples? Thanks, Ricardo.

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Not exactly a documentary, but appropriate for an undergrad math library: youtube.com/watch?v=wO61D9x6lNY – Aaron Hoffman Jun 19 '12 at 18:57
    
Consult this other question mathoverflow.net/questions/1714/best-online-math-videos ... answers include documentaries, perhaps. – Gerald Edgar Jun 19 '12 at 19:10
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This question should surely be community wiki. – HJRW Jun 19 '12 at 19:41
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Yes, Ricardo: please edit your question and click on the option "communiy wiki" (see the FAQ for more information on what that is). – André Henriques Jun 19 '12 at 19:55
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@André Henriques and @HW: thanks, it's done. – Ricardo Menares Jun 19 '12 at 21:38

53 Answers 53

My friend watched this in University of Waterloo: BBC: Code Breakers Bletchley Parks lost Heroes
This is not about the Enigma Machine, which is probably the more well known example in code breaking. Instead, this is about the Lorenz cipher.
This is a relatively new movie (october 2011) that talked about how a maths student and an engineer combined to hack into Hitler's personal super-code machine, named the secret writer, and helped win WWII. Also of historical significance, the movie described the decryption machine as the first programmable computer.

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"Real mathematics has no effect on war," - it was always a puzzle for me what Hardy could mean by that. – Sergei Akbarov Jun 2 at 16:22

A very nice interview of László Lovász can be found here: https://www.simonsfoundation.org/science_lives_video/laszlo-lovasz/ A very wide variety of topics are covered (see the 'playlist' at the right hand side)!

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NOVA's Hunting the Hidden Dimension

Mysteriously beautiful fractals are shaking up the world of mathematics and deepening our understanding of nature.

Program Description

You may not know it, but fractals, like the air you breathe, are all around you. Their irregular, repeating shapes are found in cloud formations and tree limbs, in stalks of broccoli and craggy mountain ranges, even in the rhythm of the human heart. In this film, NOVA takes viewers on a fascinating quest with a group of maverick mathematicians determined to decipher the rules that govern fractal geometry.

For centuries, fractal-like irregular shapes were considered beyond the boundaries of mathematical understanding. Now, mathematicians have finally begun mapping this uncharted territory. Their remarkable findings are deepening our understanding of nature and stimulating a new wave of scientific, medical, and artistic innovation stretching from the ecology of the rain forest to fashion design. The documentary highlights a host of filmmakers, fashion designers, physicians, and researchers who are using fractal geometry to innovate and inspire. Aired August 24, 2011 on PBS

See the following site for program information and to order the DVD: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/physics/hunting-hidden-dimension.html

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This documentary on John Von Neumann produced by the MAA in 1966 is pretty good. Has interviews with Paul Halmos, Stanislaw Ulam, Eugene Wigner, among others.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VTS9O0CoVng

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The youtube channel of Simons Foundation can be considered as a series of one-shot "documentaries" about puzzles and (auto)biographies of mathematicians: http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZVjCmJOQRpAQ_EruAIPqXg

There is also a (rare?) documentary on the life of Grothendieck in french, I saw a trailer here: http://youtu.be/UO5KgnTY_fU

Unfortunately I haven't seen the movie but apparently they are working on an english translation of the movie as well.

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"With striking images, some mathematical humor, a little drama, and a nice puzzle, this is again a very charming movie from director Ekaterina Eremenko." - John Rognes, Chairman of the Abel Committee

Trailer is here

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Here is a short film on Paul Halmos.

  • The 44-minute film contains a rare interview with Paul Halmos by Peter Renz, revealing his thoughts on mathematics, and how to teach it and write about it. Five bonus features include comments by mathematicians Robert Bekes, David Eisenbud, Jean Pedersen, and Donald Sarason about their experiences with Halmos. Interviews with Halmos by Don Albers and Halmos's own writings are included as PDF documents
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This is just a link to the Wikipedia page? – Steve D Mar 27 '13 at 2:27
    
@Steve D: The [home page of the film] (zalafilms.com/films/halmospsynopsis.html), has an order form for ordering a copy; you get a $10 discount for AMA membership. – Danny Ruberman Jan 17 '14 at 13:54

Well, you may want to check out some short documentaries about beautiful minds. For example, my mathematical idol Kurt Gödel, here is the clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i2KP1vWkQ6Y There can be many more examples, just to give the students a taste of what it is like to be a mathematician.

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There is a document "Banach spaces" about S.Banach and other polish mathematicians from Lviv ( S.Ulam, J.P.Schauder)

Unfortunetelly I don't know about any translation to english.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EJgl_Z9Yz1Q

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The best I have ever seen is "The Proof". It is a Nova documentary on Sir Andrew Wiles and his proof of Fermat's last theorem. I can always find something interesting to talk about with my students who range from algebra one level to calculus.

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Already mentioned in this answer: mathoverflow.net/questions/100033/… – Zev Chonoles Feb 15 '13 at 18:31

"Between The Folds" is another beautiful documentary about Math. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tE4lqYzS2m0

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You can find a selection of open source maths films on the IMAGINARY platform: http://www.imaginary.org/films

Many of the already mentioned films are there (like Dimensions, Chaos, Braids, etc.), but also some really good new ones, like "The Future of Glaciers", etc. The platform is also open for contributions from outside, so you can come back and find a growing repository of free licensed maths films.

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Although not a video series, the podcast series Relatively Prime by Samuel Hansen is a superbly produced series of 8 podcasts including interviews with eminent mathematicians and covering a wide range of topics. Perfect listening material for long commutes I've found.

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Au Bonheur des Maths (it's in French but you can put English subtitles)

Several short interviews of mathematicians around the IHES:
Alain Connes, Misha Gromov, Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, Cédric Villani, Sir Michael Atiyah, Giancarlo Servetto, Carolina Canales Gonzalez, Nicole El Karoui, Don Zagier.

enter image description here

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"Counting From Infinity" is a recent (nontechnical) documentary about Yitang Zhang's work on bounded gaps between primes: http://www.zalafilms.com/films/countingindex.html

Some description of the documentary is also included in the New Yorker profile about Zhang: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/02/02/pursuit-beauty

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"Colors of math" by Ekaterina Eremenko features Villani, Fomenko, Rangan, Ziegler, Bismut, and Kontsevich nicely tied with six senses in relation to mathematics.

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Leon Henkin, an expert on mathematical logic and induction, made a movie on Mathematical Induction

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I enjoyed watching "Great thinkers, great theorems" by William Dunham.

It is a great overview of the history, and still manages to get down to actually proving a lot of non-trivial stuff.

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Genius and villains: Kolmogorov (Russian)

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I can highly recommend MESH - A Journey Through Discrete Geometry by Beau Janzen and Konrad Polthier. Old and new are nicely linked together and the computer animations are great. The film won many prizes.

Then there is a feature about Yuri Manin by Agnes Handwerk and Harrie Willems called Late Style.

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