To put it bluntly, Netflix and video streaming is probably the best thing that’s ever happened to the documentary genre. Those who used to skip the Discovery or National Geographic on Astro back in the day are now willingly opting for a piece of theatrical nonfiction to offer inspiration, thrills, and complex storytelling. Today, we have much easier access to a slew of diverse titles, ranging from a heart-pumping crime docuseries to one that will challenge the way you perceive life.
Whether you’re looking for documentaries to evolve your view on the world or to expand your mental library of fun facts, give these feature films and docuseries a go the next time you’re going on a Netflix binge.
No documentary listing is complete without one narrated by the one and only David Attenborough. Instead of getting upclose and personal with wild animals, Our Planet addresses the issues of conversation and climate change, focusing on the desperation of animals in their respective habitats as well as our impact on the environment. From penguins and walruses surviving the effects of global warming, to desert elephants looking for sustenance, this series places a greater focus on how the conversation around environmental conservation, preservation, and sustainability is more important than ever.
The Speed Cubers
While The Speed Cubers only feature a running time of 40 minutes, it certainly doesn’t fall short in delivering an emotional punch. The film documents the lives of speed-Rubix cube solvers Max Park and Feliks Zemdegs, and the interesting twist on their rivalry. While it may not be as heart-pounding as, say, The International Dota Championships, it’s still refreshing to see a film that doesn’t just touch on a niche sport, but also one that helps pave the way to a positive take on gaming competition films.
My Octopus Teacher
If you find serenity and inspiration in the beauty of being odd, then you should definitely check out the heartwarming My Octopus Teacher, directed by Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed. The film follows filmmaker Craig Foster who spent a year forging a relationship with a wild octopus in a South African kelp forest, and how the mollusc impacted his life. Stunning underwater photography meets the underrated magnificence of an intelligent sea creature, and within minutes you’ll find yourself pulled into this award-winning nature documentary.
The White Helmets
Even after taking home the Academy Award for best documentary in 2017, White Helmets continues to be one of the best and impactful films you’ll ever watch. It follows a group of volunteer rescue workers in a war-torn Syria, detailing their attempt to rescue those trapped in the wake of devastating airstrikes. Inspiring, heart-wrenching, and eye-opening, this film is no doubt a wake up call to some of the tragedies of the world, while lighting a flame of hope for the goodness in people.
Sex & Love Around the World
What is Love? What does it look like in different parts of the world? How has it changed since the idea of it came into existence? Follow CNN award-winning journalist Christiane Amanpour as she travels from Tokyo and New Delhi, to Berlin and Shanghai to talk to regular people about all things sex and affection. The conversations she has cover sexless marriages, sex history, speed dating, marriage, and even naked culture, giving the audience a look at how modern love is represented today.
As much as we love watching films about how delicious food is, the stories of how they came to be aren’t necessarily the prettiest. Christine Haughney’s Rotten takes a deep dive into the underworld of food production, serving as an exposé to “the corruption, waste, and real dangers behind your everyday eating habits.” Even something as wholesome as your avocado toast has a story linked to money-hungry drug cartels, drastically changing the way you see the little delicious pleasures in your life.
The Social Dilemma
Is there a documentary film more fitting for the times than one centred around social media? Jeff Orlowski’s The Social Dilemma explores how the design of social media nurtures addiction and manipulation, while serving as a medium to spread conspiracy theories such as Pizzagate and flat-earthers. It even digs deep into the very serious issue of how – as great as social media can be – it can have detrimental effects on mental health.
Have you ever heard of Dark Tourism? Well, it’s a thing and you can let journalist David Farrier be your guide in this harrowing docuseries. To the uninitiated, dark tourism is basically defined as travel to sites that are historically associated with death and tragedy. While some may appreciate the morbid and the macabre, the main attraction is essentially the historical value. This series takes on familiar places such as Japan’s suicide forest Aokigahara and Los Angeles for the tour of the Manson Family murders, alongside lesser known stories like Famagusta, a walled off ghost city in Cyprus.
The Game Changers
When asked how he got to be as strong as an ox without consuming meat, strongman Patrik Baboumian famously said: “Have you ever seen an ox eating meat?” The Game Changers documentary follows former UFC fighter James Wilks who, while recovering from an injury, goes on a spiritual journey of sorts to research plant-based diets and nutrition. He speaks to world-renowned athletes and bodybuilders such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dotsie Bausch on how a plant-based diet affects their progress, as well as discuss other arguments that even extend to non-athletes.
If you loved Narcos, then get ready to end your heart racing by tuning into Drug Lords, a docuseries that spotlights some of the most notorious drug-dealing cartels and kingpins in history such as Pablo Escobar, Frank Lucas and the Cali Cartel. The series details this exploration through interviews with officers, gang members as well as journalists, alongside dramatised reenactments of certain events.
The Last Dance
This one goes out to the sports and basketball fans out there. Jason Hehir’s The Last Dance features interview footage with the Chicago Bulls dynasty during their final 1997-1998 championship seasons. This 10-episode documentary miniseries gives a nostalgic throwback to when the Bulls ruled the court, with Michael Jordan at the heart of it all. The term “The Last Dance” was coined by Jackson, referring to this period of time when the struggling team braved through uncertainty in their quest to bag one last championship title.
Featured image: Netflix