British born Nick Broomfield has filmed in brothels, military training camps, and detention homes to create his sometimes controversial documentaries. "I'm not making a film where there are going to be a lot of experts in white coats telling the audience what the situation is," Broomfield told Prairie Miller of Mini Reviews, "I don't like those kinds of films." He studied law at the University of Cardiff and political science at Essex University before entering, and eventually graduating from, the National Film School. By 1971 he had completed his first 18-minute film titled Who Cares, which documented Liverpool residents who had been transplanted to a suburban high rise.
Broomfield's career can be divided into two parts, represented by two distinct styles. Between the late '70s and mid-'80s, he filmed in a cinema vérité style, working with cinematographers Joan Churchill and Sandi Sissel. Many of these early films like Behind the Rent Strike and Marriage Guidance centered on social problems. Tattooed Tears (1978) went inside a youth detention camp in California while Soldier Girls (1981) followed a platoon of female recruits during basic training at Fort Gordon, GA. The latter film received Britain's Robert Flaherty Award for Best Feature Documentary. Chicken Ranch (1983) mirrored later Broomfield documentaries by investigating life inside the famous Nevada brothel, while both Lily Tomlin (1986) and Driving Me Crazy (1988) observed the planning and rehearsal of stage shows.
It was during the filming of Driving Me Crazy that Broomfield happened upon a technique that would become central to his films during the '90s. The story line had begun to spin out of control. Out of desperation, he decided to appear before the camera and add narration. After several transitional years that included a feature film, Dark Obsession (1990), he would make a series of films that would redefine his career. In Tracking Down Maggie (1994), the filmmaker began a relentless quest to interview ex-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The primary difference, compared to his earlier films, is that Broomfield's presence becomes part of the story in a manner similar to Michael Moore's in Roger & Me.
For his next films Broomfield turned to gritty American subjects. Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam (1995), Fetishes (1996), and Kurt and Courtney (1998) have been described by some as "tabloid journalism." "Maybe they aren't the most historical figures in a necessarily respectable way," Broomfield explained to Miller, "but they are nonetheless very indicative of aspects of our culture and the way it operates." Kurt and Courtney investigated the death of Kurt Cobain and became controversial due to the opposition and threatened lawsuits of Courtney Love (eventually causing the film to be withdrawn from Sundance). Broomfield, however, persevered and the film received a theatrical release. His overt technique of courting controversy and choice of offbeat material has made him an important voice in reshaping the style and content of the contemporary documentary.