They say art imitates life, but nothing gets to the heart of humanity like documentary filmmaking. Whether you want to flex your history knowledge or binge a true crime, here are the best documentaries and docuseries available to stream now.
The first movie to be nominated for both the Documentary and Foreign-Language Oscar categories and the most awarded film of the 2019 Sundance Festival, Honeyland quietly accompanies the last wild beekeepers in Europe over three years. It portrays the lonely and primordial life of Muratova, which is centered around harvesting honey according to the rules of her ancient ancestors and caring for her ailing mother.
Originally planned as an environmental documentary, this film evolved into something completely different, as it often goes with immersive documentaries, when the Macedonian directors Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov met beekeeper Hatidže. The film takes another sudden turn when Muratova's life is upended by a nomadic family settling next door, threatening her tradition, her way of life, and her natural environment.
This unbelievable cinematic journey is a feast for the eyes thanks to the amazing work done by cinematographer Samir Ljuma. However, despite the awe-inspiring imagery, Honeyland never imposes on its subject, creating an incredible intimacy with Hatidže's life and her natural environment. Breathtaking!
Like all great documentaries, Angry Inuk is about way more than its tagline. At first glance, it's about how anti-sealing activism has been harming Inuit communities since the 1980s, to the point of instituting the highest rates of hunger and suicide anywhere in the "developed" world. But beyond, it's about the complicity of the government of Canada. A crushed seal-based economy means that the Inuit have to agree to oil and uranium mining in the Arctic.
Angry Inuk is also about the corrupt behavior of animal rights organizations like Greenpeace: seals are actually not on the endangered animal list but NGOs focus on them because they make them money.
It's an infuriating but incredibly important documentary. One that is not about how Canada has a bad history, but about how Canada is harming the Inuit right now.
This story of a filmmaker who stayed in Aleppo, Syria during the war, got married then had a child called Sama, is a mix of difficult and inspiring.
There are stories of unsurmountable loss, as the filmmaker’s husband is one of the 30 remaining doctors in Aleppo (a city of almost 5 million), and she films many of the victims that come to his hospital. But while this is happening, there are also uplifting stories of resilience and rare but profound moments of laughter and joy.
We’re growing too sensitized to violence in Syria, and this movie, possibly the most intimate account of the war, can stir back a much-needed awareness of the injustices that take place.
When things get really bad in the documentary, it’s hard not to wonder where the humanity is in all of this. You quickly realize that it’s right there, behind the camera, in Sama and her mother’s will to live.
“They called me uppity. Uppity n*****. And I loved it”. That’s how this excellent documentary, about the first professional black racing driver Willy T. Ribbs, starts. It summarizes the strong personality of a champion who excelled in tracks that were filled with confederate flags.
The documentary explains the details of the difficulties that Ribbs went through in the 70s and 80s, but also the people who supported him and recognized his talent. It’s by no way a sad movie, on the contrary, even when Ribbs is talking about people spitting wherever he walks or about the death threats escalating, his unharmed determination is at the center of the story.
This is an inspiring documentary about a character who never got his worth in the history books. I was full of shivers by the first half-hour mark.
In Motherwell, you either “get locked up or knocked up,” or so says Gemma, a teenager on the cusp of adulthood growing up in an old Scottish steel town. Gemma runs among a tight-knit group of friends, at the center of which is ordinary mischief, routine, and roughhousing. And beneath that lies a certain kind of everyday violence.
As Gemma enters young motherhood, she reckons with how to reconcile her own aggressions with the protective tenderness she feels toward her newborn. Beautifully and thoughtfully directed by Ellen Fiske and Ellinor Hallin, Scheme Birds never feels invasive. Rather, their documentary lets Gemma speak for herself—and in doing so, illuminates not just her life, but the complicated lives that intersect hers, too.
This insightful and uplifting documentary is about a growing movement within indigenous communities: obtaining food sovereignty by going back to pre-genocide ways of cultivating food.
The violent changes that have affected indigenous communities don’t impact just the people, but also the animals, the fish, and the land. All of these are now bearing the brunt of climate change.
Historically, North American governments forbid Native people from fishing and cultivating their foods as a way to repress them and create dependency. Gather is as much a recognition of the damage that was done as it is a forward-looking vision about how these communities are taking control of their faiths.