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Documentary films are underrated. They aren’t boring, they’re interesting and REAL! These films follow political issues, climate and environmental change, the food we eat, mortifying childhood moments, bullying, fatherhood and more. What’s not to like? This list won’t really be giving you the warm-fuzzies anytime soon, but the films here are real and informative, and will definitely change your perspective on certain issues. Pop that popcorn, sit down, relax and get informed.
1. Blackfish (2013)
Blackfish tells the story of Tilikum, a performing killer whale that killed several people while in captivity. Along the way, director-producer Gabriela Cowperthwaite compiles shocking footage and emotional interviews to explore the creature’s extraordinary nature, the species’ cruel treatment in captivity, the lives and losses of the trainers and the pressures brought to bear by the multi-billion dollar sea-park industry. This emotionally wrenching, tautly structured story challenges us to consider our relationship to nature and reveals how little we humans have learned from these highly intelligent and enormously sentient fellow mammals.
2. Mortified Nation (2013)
Part documentary, part concert film, Mortified Nation captures adults sharing their most embarrassing childhood writings on stage and chronicles how the simple act of exposing one’s private past can inspire an entire nation to “share the shame.” Transporting viewers back to a time of awkward firsts– first love, first rejection, first total freak out– the film captures the adolescent experience in a way few of us truly remember and most of us tried to forget.
3. Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008)
You will need a box of Kleenex for this one. In 2001, 28-year-old Dr. Andrew Bagby is found dead in a park in Pennsylvania. He had been shot by his ex-girlfriend, who then fled to Canada, where she was able to walk free on bail, pregnant with Andrew’s child. Andrew’s enraged parents campaign to gain custody of the child and convict their son’s killer. Filmmaker Kurt Kuenne pairs this story with home movies and interviews with those who knew Andrew, hoping to give his best friend’s son an opportunity to discover who his dad was.
Watch the full documentary here.
4. Planet Earth (2006)
Dazzling, state-of-the-art high-definition imagery highlights this breathtaking documentary series featuring footage of some of the world’s most awe-inspiring natural wonders — from the oceans to the deserts to the polar ice caps. This BBC documentary was released as an 11-episode mini series, 5-years in the making, the most expensive nature documentary series ever commissioned by the BBC, and the first to be filmed in high definition. Narracted by David Attenbourough, you’ll love the beautiful visuals of our earth.
5. Tiny: A Story About Small Living (2013)
What is home? And how do we find it? TINY follows one couple’s attempt to build a Tiny House from scratch with no building experience, and profiles other families who have downsized their lives into houses smaller than the average parking space. Through homes stripped down to their essentials, the film raises questions about sustainability, good design, and the changing American Dream.
Watch the full documentary here.
6. Bully (2011)
A documentary based on five children who are being bullied. The filmmakers follow the children’s daily lives to show what they go through and how their parents and the administration take a handle on the situations at hand. They interview the children as well as getting their Input on their lives. They even speak to the parents about how they feel as time goes on. Each child has their own unique story and each has their own way of grasping the situation. They find ways to cope with their problems, go through denial, and approval processes with their peers. Tyler, Alex, Kelby, Ja’Meya, and Ty all play an important role in this film as we follow them in their daily lives.
7. Forks Over Knives (2011)
Researchers explore the possibility that people changing their diets from animal-based to plant-based can help eliminate or control diseases like cancer and diabetes. This documentary will definitely change the way you think about your diet.
8. Super Size Me (2004)
Director Morgan Spurlock’s social experiment in fast-food gastronomy sees him attempting to subsist uniquely on food from the McDonald’s menu for an entire month. In the process his weight balloons, his energy level plummets and he experiences all sorts of unexpected — and terrifying — side effects. He also examines the corporate giant’s growing role in the lives of American consumers and explores its methods of indoctrinating young people and its contribution to America’s obesity epidemic.
9. Bowling For Columbine (2002)
Political documentary filmmaker Michael Moore explores the circumstances that lead to the 1999 Columbine High School massacre and, more broadly, the proliferation of guns and the high homicide rate in America. In his trademark provocative fashion, Moore accosts Kmart corporate employees and pleads with them to stop selling bullets, investigates why Canada doesn’t have the same excessive rate of gun violence and questions actor Charlton Heston on his support of the National Rifle Association.
10. Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)
The infamous, shadowy British graffiti street artist Banksy has literally left his mark on cities throughout the world. He comes in contact with Thierry Guetta, a Los Angeles-based Frenchman who videotapes various underground art escapades, and later is transformed into an art phenomenon dubbed “Mr. Brainwash.” Rhys Ifans narrates an overlapping documentary where the line between what is real and what might be fake blurs, as modern art and celebrity are put under the microscope.
11. Man on Wire (2008)
Using actual footage from the event seamlessly mingled with new re-enactments, filmmaker James Marsh masterfully recreates high-wire daredevil Philippe Petit’s 1974 stunt: performing acrobatics on a thin wire strung between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Plotting his feat like a master cat burglar, Petit enlists the help of a motley group of friends as he calculates every detail, from acquiring building access to stringing up the wire, and manages to pull off an astounding crime.
12. Amy (2015)
From BAFTA Award-winning diretor Asif Kapadia (Senna), Amy tells the incredible story of six-time Grammy-winner Amy Winehouse in her own works. Featuring extensive unseen archival footage and previously unheard tracks, this strikingly modern, moving and vital film shines a light on our culture and the world we live in today.
13. Chasing Ice (2012)
Chasing Ice is the story of one man’s mission to change the tide of history by gathering undeniable evidence of our changing planet. Within months of that first trip to Iceland, the photographer conceived the boldest expedition of his life: The Extreme Ice Survey. With a band of young adventurers in tow, Balog began deploying revolutionary time-lapse cameras across the brutal Arctic to capture a multi-year record of the world’s changing glaciers.
14. The Cove (2009)
Academy Award Winner, The Cove follows an elite team of activists, filmmakers and freedivers as they embark on a covert mission to penetrate a remote and hidden cove in Taiji, Japan, shining a light on a dark and deadly secret. Utilizing state-of-the-art techniques, including hidden microphones and cameras in fake rocks, the team uncovers how this small seaside village serves as a horrifying microcosm of massive ecological crimes happening worldwide. The result is a provocative mix of investigative journalism, eco-adventure and arresting imagery, adding up to an unforgettable story that has inspired audiences worldwide to action.
Watch the full documentary here.
15. The Bridge
The majestic Golden Gate Bridge is one of San Francisco’s most popular tourist destinations. Unfortunately, it also is a beacon to people, struggling with depression, addiction or mental illness, who leap to their deaths into the waters of the bay. Filmmaker Eric Steel documents those suicides and interviews some of the victims’ grieving survivors.
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