The Best Documentaries on Netflix right now
In case you haven’t noticed, Netflix has recently released a whole new stash of excellent documentaries. There is a myriad of options, so here’s a few ideas if you’re not sure where to start.
While not all what you might call ‘lighthearted’, these films explore some of the most pressing and important social issues in our modern society right now – and they’re worth the watch.
Making A Murderer (2015)
This gripping docuseries dominated conversations around the world for months after its release. Filmed over a period of ten years, Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardo’s Making a Murderer details the arrest, trial, conviction and prison life of Stephen Avery and Brendan Dassey, two men accused of brutally murdering 25-year-old Teresa Halbach in 2005.
Through an in-depth exploration of the Halbach case, the docuseries raises serious questions regarding the veracity of the men’s convictions, with each episode bringing new and shocking information that completely twists the viewers’ opinions on who the guilty party may be. At its core, however, MaM is a documentary about the United States legal system, and the corruption inherent within the police and prosecutorial forces that make up its structure.
Reactions to the show have been mixed, receiving both utter outrage and strong support from its viewers depending on their reading of the case’s outcome. We won’t say anymore, because you really do have to watch it to decide for yourself.
And good timing too as the series is set to release a second season before the end of 2017.
13th is the incredible new documentary from Academy Award-nominated Selma director, Ava DuVernay. The film’s title is taken from the United States Constitutional amendment of the same number: the one that abolished slavery in 1865. DuVernay’s film, however, echoes the sentiments of activist and author Michelle Alexander – yes, slavery was abolished; but not for criminals.
The film explores the United States’ tumultuous and problematic history with both race and the mass incarceration of African Americans, from the eighteenth century to the present day. And with the recent rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, as our collective eyes are slowly being forced to acknowledge the racial inequality that persists within American society, the film’s release is very well-timed.
Indeed, 13th is rife with shocking statistics and harsh retellings of both historic and modern atrocities, but it’s a must-watch.
In 2012, comedian Tig Notaro was hospitalized with a bacterial infection. A week later, her mother died. A few months later, she herself was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Tig is a highly personal, unrestrained and surprisingly funny documentary that explores Notaro’s battle with her disease, as well as her attempts to rebuild her professional career in its wake. It is an amalgamation of hilarious stand up bits, interviews and raw footage of Notaro both at home and in hospital, featuring fellow comedians such as Sarah Silverman and Todd Barry.
It is equal parts entertaining, heartwarming and moving, and definitely worth a watch.
What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015)
Known to many as the “High Priestess of Soul,” Nina Simone is one of the greatest musical artists of all time. But more so than the legend of Simone’s extraordinary talent, this moving documentary is ultimately concerned with her passion for racial equality and development as an activist. Among the breathtaking raw footage of Simone’s live performances, as well as interviews with other jazz legends, musical professionals, journalists and Simone’s own family, director Liz Garbus explores the artist’s contributions to the Civil Rights Movement.
Though still a biographical documentary, the film gives us a unique insight into the racially-charged tensions and social change that characterised the United States during the 1960s, as well as the journey of one iconic artist from childhood, to infamy, to self-imposed exile.
Audrie and Daisy (2016)
A word of warning: this documentary may be disturbing to some viewers, and deals with some very difficult material.
The film follows the stories of two young women, Audrie Pott and Daisy Coleman, connected only by one horrible, shared experience: they are both victims of sexual assault. But rather than a focus on the assaults themselves, Audrie and Daisy’s creators, husband-and-wife duo Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk, delve into their nightmarish aftermath, as the young women are subjected to intense scrutiny and a barrage of online harassment while they struggle to cope with the crimes committed against them.
Audrie and Daisy is a poignant, although sometimes distressing, piece that reveals what happens when assault victims are faced with a community in denial that chooses the side of the abusers over their own.
Pumping Iron (1977)
This film documents the months leading up to the 1975 Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia bodybuilding competitions, with a focus on the relationship between two key competitors: Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno.
Following a pre-Terminator, and pre-California Governor Arnie throughout his impressive training regime, the doco exposes the contentious and competitive world of professional bodybuilding as the athletes attempt to intimidate and subdue their challengers, both physically and psychologically.
Hot Girls Wanted (2015)
Produced by The Office (United States) and Parks and Recreation star, Rashida Jones, this powerful documentary was first released at the Sundance Film Festival in 2015.
Though the project of a well-known comedy actress, this is not a relaxing watch – in fact, it’s not even an easy watch. The film sheds a harsh light on the realities of the amauteur porn industry, and the young women who are exploited by its cruelty.
Consisting almost entirely of behind-the-scenes, real life footage of the women off camera, HGW is an unique insight into the experiences of the women who choose a career in pornography, and their lives beyond their work.