Must see documentaries for documentary junkies like me
So here I am waiting for my flight at Pearson International sorting through my list of documentaries I plan on watching when I reach 30,000 feet. I figure, why not share my all-time favourites with you guys!
Growing up I was obsessed with Hollywood movies, I watched every movie I could find time for. I think this is where I get many of my artistic landscape shot ideas from today. But these days I have a difficult time getting through movie unless it’s on the big screen at my local theatre – which I rarely find time to get to. For the past decade I’ve been devouring documentaries almost exclusively. There are so many amazing stories to be told and I’m always in search of the next interesting tale.
I’d love to hear some of your favourites, for now here are some of mine…
THE HISTORY OF THE EAGLES (2013)
This film follows the life and times of the super successful American soft-rock band, Eagles. The Emmy Award-winning film features rare archival material, concert footage, and never-before seen home movies that explore the evolution and enduring popularity of one of the world’s biggest-selling and culturally significant American bands.
FREE SOLO (2018)
This is a stunning and dizzying portrait of the free soloist climber Alex Honnold as he prepares to achieve his lifelong dream of climbing the face of the world’s most famous rock… the 3,000ft El Capitan in Yosemite National Park… without a rope! Celebrated as one of the greatest athletic feats of any kind, Honnold’s climb set the ultimate standard: perfection or death.
Blackfish focuses on the captivity of Tilikum, an orca involved in the deaths of three individuals as well as the consequences of keeping orcas in captivity. The film interviews former SeaWorld trainers, such as John Hargrove, who describe their experiences with Tilikum and other captive whales. I think I’ve watched this documentary about 6 or 7 times now and each time my heart strings get a bigger tug.
DEAR ZACHARY: A LETTER TO A SON ABOUT HIS FATHER (2008)
Creator Kurt Kuenne’s close friend Andrew Bagby was allegedly murdered by Shirley Jane Turner after Bagby ended their relationship. Shortly after she was arrested she announced she was pregnant with Bagby’s child – a boy named Zachary. Kuenne interviews relatives, friends and associates of Andrew Bagby to incorporate their remembrances into a film that would serve as a cinematic scrapbook for the son who never knew him.
SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN (2012)
It details the efforts of two Cape Town fans in the late 1990s looking to find out whether the rumoured death of American musician Sixto Rodriguez was true. And if not, to discover what had become of him. Rodriguez’s music which had never achieved success in the United States, had become very popular in South Africa although little was known about him in there. This one blew me away, I had never heard of Sixto and it was a cool journey watching him come to realize the impact of his music.
SPINNING PLATES (2012)
Spinning Plates is a feature documentary film about three restaurants, extraordinary for what they are today as well as the challenges they have overcome. Their unforgettable stories of family, legacy, passion and survival come together to reveal how meaningful food can be, and the power it has to connect us to one another. This came as a recommendation from a friend and I’m so thankful, it’s the story of 3 different roads these restaurants are travelling. It’s amazing the love they have for their craft.
ONE DAY IN SEPTEMBER (1999)
The 1972 Munich Olympics were interrupted by Palestinian terrorists taking Israeli athletes hostage. Besides footage taken at the time, we see interviews with the surviving terrorist, Jamal Al Gashey, and various officials detailing exactly how the police, lacking an anti-terrorist squad and turning down help from the Israelis, botched the operation.
This Academy Award winning film (Best Documentary Feature) documents the struggles of the Memphis Manassas Tigers high school football team, as they attempt a winning season after years of losses. The team is turned around by head coach Bill Courtney, who helps form a group of young men into an academic and athletic team. As a coach myself, this one hit home as Coach Courtney works his ass off to reach these kids and push them forward.
MAN ON WIRE (2008)
Man on Wire chronicles Philippe Petit’s 1974 high-wire walk between New York City’s World Trade Center Twin Towers. The film title is taken from the police report that led to the arrest of Petit, whose performance had lasted for almost an hour. The film is crafted like a heist film, presenting rare preparation footage and photographs of the walk, along with re-enactments and present-day interviews with the participants. Like many documentaries I watch, I had never heard of Petit or his efforts at the World Trade Center. This was entertaining start to finish, the stones on this guy!
INSIDE JOB (2010)
The film is about “the systemic corruption of the United States by the financial services industry and the consequences of that systemic corruption.” In five parts, this documentary explores how changes in the policy environment and banking practices helped create the financial crisis. Inside Job was well received by film critics who praised its pacing, research, and exposition of complex material. The film was screened at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival in May and won the 2010 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. This whole financial crisis still makes my blood boil when it’s mentioned in conversation to this day. We were all affected by it to some degree and I feel for those who were impacted the most.
COSMOS: A SPACETIME ODYSSEY (2014)
This series was developed to bring back the foundation of science to network television at the height of other scientific-based television series and films. The show is presented by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who as a young college student was inspired by original host Carl Sagan (1980).
AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH (2006)
The documentary was a critical and box-office success, winning two Academy Awards including Best Documentary Feature. Since the film’s release, it has been credited for raising international public awareness of climate change and re-energizing the environmental movement. An Inconvenient Truth has also been included in science curricula in schools around the world, which has spurred controversy.
1FOOD INC. (2009)
Food Inc. examines corporate farming in the United States – concluding that agribusiness produces food that is unhealthy, in a way that is environmentally harmful and abusive of both animals and employees.
RED ARMY (2015)
The film tells the story through the eyes of Soviet Red Army hockey team captain Slava Fetisov. It documents the Soviet-Russian game from the 1950s and it’s father and coach Anatoli Tarasov through to harsh on the ruthless tactics of coach Viktor Tikhonov and then its deterioration in the 1990s. I despised the red machine growing up, they were the big, bad, cold Ruskies who had the nerve to try and defeat my beloved Team Canada through the 80s. This documentary breathes life into those stone-faced memories and casts an entirely human light. It doesn’t hurt that my coaching idol Anatoli Tarasov is the father of Russian hockey and whom these players adored so much.
PROJECT NIM (2011)
This film focuses on Project Nim, a research project that was mounted to determine whether a primate raised in close contact with humans could develop a limited “language” based on American Sign Language. The project was centred on a chimpanzee named Nim Chimpsky.
Michael Moore’s film investigates the United States health care system, focusing on its health insurance and the pharmaceutical industry. Moore contrasts US media reports on Canadian care with the experiences of Canadians in hospitals and clinics there. He interviews patients and doctors in the UK about cost, quality, and salaries. He examines why Nixon promoted HMOs in 1971, and why the Clintons’ reform effort failed in the 1990s. As a Canadian, this was eye-opening for me and made me appreciate my country even more.