I love watching TV shows or movies to lose myself from current events now and then, but watching documentaries to educate myself more or gain a new perspective on something is also one of my favorite things to do. There are documentaries about everything, from space to true crime to current events to climate change to the unrest in the Ukraine and many, many more subjects. These are some of the documentaries I have watched that truly captivated me.
The story of Blackfish is told by a group of former SeaWorld trainers and experts of this beautiful create, a story that leads to the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was attacked by an orca named Tilikum. Viewers follow the story of Tilikim from his capture in 1983 to Dawn’s death in 2010. In college, I wrote a paper on the civic responsibility we have to protect whales and studying this all started from watching this documentary. It truly melted my heart and made me feel as helpless as the orcas must feel. Since its release, SeaWorld has suffered financially and been forced to make plans to remove orcas from their entertainment shows.
COSMOS: A SPACETIME ODYSSEY (Netflix)
This continuation of the show with Carl Sagan is truly mesmerizing. Neil deGrasse Tyson explains the great mysteries of space and time. This is a documentary series of thirteen episodes with the same format as the original show. The series covers topics such as the Big Bang theory, natural selection, evolution and more. I don’t really know a lot about space or science, but this show truly gave me a better understanding and I actually enjoyed learning about it all.
BEFORE THE FLOOD (iTunes)
This is a must-watch documentary if you watch nothing else on this list. The film follows Leo DiCaprio and his team travel the world exploring the impact of man-made global warming. DiCaprio, as long as I can remember, has always been at the forefront of this cause. Seeing him realize he had no idea how bad it was made my stomach turn. There are appearances from President Obama, Pope Francis, John Kerry, a two second appearance from Al Gore and footage from shooting The Revenant. The film was made free on YouTube, iTunes, Amazon, Hulu and more prior to the election, but now it is frequently on the Nat Geo channel and can be rented on iTunes.
THE SIXTIES, THE SEVENTIES, & THE EIGHTIES (Netflix)
These three documentary series are incredible. Each series follows the decade subject and the events that occurred. The Sixties follow the space race, the cold war, “free love,” civil rights and more. The Seventies follows Watergate, the new wave of television (HEY SNL), feminism, Gay Rights, cults and more. The Eighties chronicles new forms of television, Reagan, AIDS, the cold war, the tech boom and the evolution of music (MADGE AND MJ!). I love learning about major historical events and pop culture, these series give you a real insight to each decade. I was glued to my television and couldn’t wait for the next episode. Good news, CNN green lit the next installment, The Nineties.
The title of this breathtaking documentary refers to the 13th amendment of the Constitution. 13th mixes archival footage and testimony from an array of historians, activists, politicians, and formerly incarcerated men and women. The facts and statistics in the film cannot be ignored. The documentary follows legislation passed as early as the end of the Civil War up until the 2016 election. Many public figures appear in the documentary, such as Angela Davis, Van Jones, Newt Gingrich, Cory Booker and more.
OJ MADE IN AMERICA (Hulu)
I cannot stress enough how much I enjoyed this series. OJ Made in America was a 30 for 30 ESPN series that follows OJ Simpson’s rise and downfall. I love true crime podcasts and thought I knew all there was to know about Mr. Simpson, but this series is a true insight into the culture of Los Angeles and the sportsworld prior to OJ, OJ’s career, his personal life and more. I learned so much about the culture of Los Angeles prior to OJ and after his rise and then fall. Mark Furhman, Marcia Clark, Gil Garcetti and more appear in the series. The documentary series went on to win an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.
LOST ANGELES: SKID ROW IS MY HOME (iTunes)
This documentary is a heartbreaking look at the people of LA’s Skid Row. One observer calls the area an “open asylum for the mentally ill,” but this documentary shows the neighborhood may be that, but it is also more than just that. It’s a community wracked by forces of addictions, crime and gentrification, but the documentary shows there are, at the time of filming, about 10,000 people living there, looking for it to be more than just that.
GOING CLEAR: SCIENTOLOGY & THE PRISON OF BELIEF (HBO)
I am fascinated by Scientology, it is truly so mysterious and disturbing to me. I read the book this documentary is inspired by, but seeing is much different than just reading. The documentary unfolds the church’s claims by showing a condensed history of Scientology and its founder, L. Ron Hubbard, showing how celebrities interact with the church and highlighting the stories of a number of ex-members and of the exploitation, and even abuse, that they experienced or saw firsthand.
Finally, my true favorite, drumroll….
BRITNEY: For The Record (Buy it on DVD, support the arts)
This documentary came out in 2008 following the downfall of Miss Bad Media Karma. This was about “the comeback.” This is the only time Britney has ever really spoken openly about shaving her head, the partying and the breakdown. Seeing how guarded she was and felt is truly eye opening to anyone who didn’t know how bad it was for her, but heartbreaking for us fans. I wish we could get a part two now, but for now this is all we have and its more than enough.
A few other documentaries I loved are:
Making a Murderer
Beware of the Slenderman
Montage of Heck
The Case Against 8
Manhunt: The Search for Bin Laden
Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart
When the Levees Broke