A few decades ago, the word ‘documentary’ was almost synonymous with falling asleep on your sofa ten minutes in. Nowadays, production companies are churning our documentaries faster than ever before. Data from the British Film Institute (BFI) shows that the number of documentaries produced in the United Kingdom alone has grown every year since 2001.
So, what is the appeal?
The rise of documentaries can partly be attributed to the rise of technology and social media. With more of the global population shifting towards social media every day, promotion can simply be publishing a tweet or writing a status. With enough people talking about the same thing, hashtags are born leading to further publicity. Equally, as technology becomes more advanced, film-makers can truly explore their art in a way that mirrors some of the most exciting cinematic releases. Documentaries have quickly become a form of entertainment, with some of the best features showcasing unmatched directing and storytelling skills.
But it’s more than that. It’s the inherent need for knowledge, the need to be in the know. Documentaries take us to a place that is almost magical with its absurdness – but still painfully real. In a day and age where facts don’t come easy, documentaries are – mostly – a haven for the truth.
Without further ado, here are some of the most shocking documentaries to add to your watch-list:
13th (Directed by Ava Duvernay)
13th is a Netflix-distributed documentary named after the 13th amendment of the United States constitution. The amendment states that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” The documentary analyses the prison-industrial complex which has disproportionately imprisoned those from minority communities since the abolishment of slavery. Ava Duvernay contests that slavery continues to be enacted through the disenfranchisement of African-Americans, extreme policing, Jim Crow policies, the war on drugs and more. The documentary has received critical acclaim for its rawness, earning a well-deserved Academy Award nomination for best documentary feature in 2017.
(photo credit: topimages.com)
Three Identical Strangers (Directed by Tim Wardle)
This documentary follows three complete strangers who also happen to be triplets. David Kellman, Eddy Galland and Bobby Shafran were three brothers who were separated at birth and deliberately placed in different families ranging from working class, middle class and wealthy. After becoming connected purely through coincidence, the brothers gain notoriety and quickly become engrossed in a twisting tale of betrayal and lies that leads us to the age-old question: nature or nurture? The 2018 documentary is a masterpiece in storytelling and will undoubtedly give viewers the full spectrum of emotions from joy to disbelief to complete and utter sadness.
(photo credit: forbes.com)
Our Planet (Directed by Alastair Fothergill / Narrated by David Attenborough)
While there is already an abundance of nature documentaries out there, there is something undeniably special about environment-enthusiast David Attenborough. The British narrator of both Blue Planet and Planet Earth returns for this eight-episode series depicting some of the most incredible spectacles across sea, sky and land. The impressive series took place over four years with over 600 crew members and spanning 50 countries. What makes this different than previous editions is that, while we learn about these incredible habitats and rare wildlife, Attenborough equally warns us about how climate change is damaging everything that we watch. If you need any more convincing, the star-studded premiere saw the likes of Prince Charles, Prince William and Prince Harry in efforts to raise climate awareness. As more distressing details about global warming continue to surface, one of the best things we can do right now is keep ourselves informed which Our Planet excels at.
(photo credit: papyrus.greenville.edu)
Making a Murderer (Directed by Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos)
Making a Murderer may be one of the most bizarre and frustrating stories in history but that may be why the series has garnered such widespread acclaim. The docu-series follows the case of Steven Avery who was wrongfully imprisoned for 18 years after the rape and attempted murder of Penny Beerntsen. Avery returned to prison shortly after his release, charged with the murder of Teresa Halbach sparking widespread anger at the Wisconsin justice system. The case depicts a harrowing view of corruption in the police force, the complexities of filing appeals and the realisation that sometimes justice is simply absent. Following the release of the first season, a nationwide petition received up to 500,000 signatures pleading the White House to pardon Steven Avery which even earned a response. The series has garnered so much attention that attorney Kathleen Zellner, who had watched the first season, joined the second season to fight on behalf of Avery.
(photo credit: thenerdmentality.com)
Wild Wild Country (Directed by Maclain and Chapman Way)
There isn’t a shortage of cult documentaries out there, but none are as fascinating as the Rajneeshpuram. The international community, headed by guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, was founded in India but relocated to Wasco County in Oregon after numbers grew. What follows their time in the United States is nothing short of bizarre. This docu-series has all the toppings: deception, attempted murder and even a dash of biological warfare. Yet ultimately, the series is about the thin line between good and evil.
(photo credit: rollingstone.com)