10 Movies Like American Factory (2019)

Staff & contributors

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!

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Hatidze Muratova, Hatidzhe Muratova, Hussein Sam, Nazife Muratova

Director: Ljubomir Stefanov, Tamara Kotevska

Rating: Unrated

In this powerful documentary, Brazilian filmmaker Petra Costa intertwines her own family history with the democratic journey of her home country. As she says herself, Costa and her country's democracy are of the same age. This is not the only reason why she was uniquely positioned to make a film like this: her parents were left-wing activists in the 1970s, who went to jail for their beliefs, while her grandparents were part of the ruling class have made Brazil's strong-man politics and right-wing backlash possible. Her mother was held at the same prison that ex-president Dilma Rousseff (2011-2016) was sent to. Costa tells the story of Rousseff's demise as well as that of Luiz Inácio da Silva (2003-2011) aka Lula, whose future remains up in the air. The Edge of Democracy is thus a gripping and urgent warning that democracy in the world's sixth most populous country is under attack. In content and form, Costa is obviously opinionated, but she makes a strong point.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Aécio Neves, Barack Obama, Dilma Rousseff, Eduardo Cunha, Elena Andrade, Jair Bolsonaro, Jean Wyllys, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Marisa Letícia Lula da Silva, Michel Temer, Nelson Mandela, Paulo Maluf, Petra Costa, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, Sérgio Moro

Director: Petra Costa

Rating: TV-14

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.

Genre: Documentary, War

Actor: Hamza Al-Khateab, Sama Al-Khateab, Waad Al-Kateab, Waad Al-Khateab

Director: Edward Watts, Waad Al-Kateab, Waad Al-Khateab

Rating: TV-PG

This documentary starts with Alex Lewis, who gets into a motorcycle accident and wakes up in the hospital not knowing who he is. He doesn’t remember anything (not even what a bicycle or a TV is, or who his mother or father are), but he remembers his twin brother, Marcus. When Alex gets back into his childhood home, he’s full of questions, and Marcus is full of answers. However, slowly, Marcus realizes his power to reshape Alex’s version of their past. Marcus leaves one important detail from Alex’s life that makes this documentary (as if it wasn’t already) such an insane story. I know I said it’s a sad movie, but it’s also fascinating and, ultimately, humanizing of the brothers’ experience.

Genre: Documentary, Drama, Mystery

Actor: Alex Lewis, Andrew Caley, Evan Milton, Kathleen Rainey, Laura Obiols, Marcus Lewis |, Thomas Mulhurn

Director: Ed Perkins

Rating: TV-MA

This new documentary is about the exact scale to which social media is harming us, as testified to by people from the industry: ex-executives at Google, Instagram, Facebook, and even the ex-President of Pinterest. All have left their companies for (incredibly valid) ethical concerns that they share here.

It's a blend of interview footage and a fiction film that follows a family who feels more distant because of social media. This allows to see the implications of what the interviewees are saying in real life but quite frankly it also serves as a welcome break from the intensity of their words. How intense? One of them predicts civil war within 20 years.

Genre: Crime, Documentary, Drama

Actor: Catalina Garayoa, Chase Penny, Chris Grundy, Gavin White, Jaron Lanier, Jason Potter, Kara Hayward, Laura Obiols, Lynn Fox, Renée DiResta, Roger McNamee, Skyler Gisondo, Sophia Hammons, Tristan Harris, Vincent Kartheiser

Director: Jeff Orlowski

Rating: PG-13

What makes Apollo 11 stand out is its sharp minimalist approach, allowing the archival footage of the mission to the moon to speak for itself. It’s stunning to think that at one point or another we had collectively seen a bulk of the footage in this film, and yet somehow let it lay dormant until the moon landing had been reduced to black and white stills in our collective imaginations. Not only does this film reinvigorate the moon landing with the power that it once held, but it does so in a way that is more thrilling than anything the Marvel CGI wizards could muster. The vibrant score adds a layer of ferocious tension, while the breakneck pace gives the feel of a rollercoaster ride. If there is any fault to find here, it is most definitely with the film’s MAGA style yearning for a time and place that never existed. Spare us the teary-eyed patriotism and the clips of Nixon, a disgraceful criminal, and vile racist, yammering on about the world becoming one. Nevertheless, this is a fantastic example of why most biopics should just be documentaries and why the fanatical fear of spoilers is a tad silly. Spoiler alert: they land on the moon.

Genre: Documentary, Drama, History

Actor: Andy Aldrin, Bill Anders, Bruce McCandless II, Buzz Aldrin, Charlie Duke, Deke Slayton, Gene Kranz, Janet Armstrong, Jim Lovell, John F. Kennedy, Michael Collins, Neil Armstrong, Patricia Mary Finnegan, Todd Douglas Miller, Walter Cronkite

Director: Todd Douglas Miller

Rating: G

This informative documentary about the former president of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev is set against modern-day interviews with him that span 6 months. Sitting opposite of him is the Gorbachev equivalent in filmmaking: Werner Herzog. The prolific director asks interesting questions and narrates events that illustrate Gorbachev's forgotten importance: ending the cold war, a push for denuclearization and avoiding bloodshed during the fall of the Soviet Block. The fact that Gorbachev is loved by so many, including Herzog - who at some point actually says "I love you" - might be the only problem with this documentary. It's a great reminder of why people loved the Soviet leader, a phenomenon otherwise known as "Gorbymania", but it does very little in portraying him in a critical light.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: George H. W. Bush, James Baker III, Margaret Thatcher, Mikhail Gorbachev, Werner Herzog

Director: André Singer, Werner Herzog

Rating: Not Rated

This Eddie Murphy comedy had all the ingredients to be both a famous movie and an award-winner, but neither happened. It tells the true story of Rudy Ray Moore, a comedian who became famous for creating a character called Dolemite, a pimp, and who later attempted to make his own movie based on the same character. Murphy plays Rudy, but there are also other recognizable faces in supporting roles: Chris Rock, Wesley Snipes, Keegan-Michael Key, Snoop Dogg, and many others. It's above all a funny movie, but being Eddie Murphy's first R-rated movie since 1999, it's also a realistic portrayal of both 1970s L.A. and the struggles of being a black filmmaker at the time.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, History

Actor: A.J. Tannen, Aaron Craven, Akono Dixon, Aleksandar Filimonović, Amy Keys, Baker Chase Powell, Barry Shabaka Henley, Bob Odenkirk, Brandon Stewart, Bubba Ganter, Chelsea Gilson, Cheryl Francis Harrington, Chris Rock, Claude Phillips, Cole S. McKay, Craig Brewer, Craig Robinson, Da'Vine Joy Randolph, Dale Gibson, David B. Lyons, Demetrius Hodges, Denise Milfort, Eddie Murphy, Erik Kilpatrick, Garland Whitt, Gerald Downey, Henry Monfries, Ivo Nandi, Jamaal Lewis, Jernard Burks, Jill Savel, John Michael Herndon, Joshua Weinstein, Kazy Tauginas, Keegan-Michael Key, Kezii Curtis, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Lamar Usher, Leonel Claude, Li Eubanks, Luenell, Michael Peter Bolus, Mike Epps, Milan Carter, Monique StaTeena, Phil Abrams, Quartay Denaya, Ron Cephas Jones, Sade E. Moore, Saudia Rashed, Snoop Dogg, T.I., Tasha Smith, Tituss Burgess, Tommie Earl Jenkins, Toni Duclottni, Wesley Snipes

Director: Craig Brewer

Rating: R

, 2019

This documentary charts the challenges faced by sailor Tracy Edwards and her 12-woman crew in the wake of their decision to participate in the Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race, the grueling yachting competition that covers 33,000 miles and lasts nine months. Director Alex Holmes recreates their adventure using archival footage shot by the women themselves on their voyage, and interesting interviews with the crew members as well as the men who criticized and ridiculed them at the time. Maiden is an interesting bit of documentary filmmaking that is also inspirational and empowering.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Frank Bough, Howard Gibbons, Jo Gooding, John Chittenden, Sally Hunter

Director: Alex Holmes

This Obamas-produced documentary does much to change the way we may still view people with disabilities as helpless or to be pitied. First, Crip Camp cleans up footage from a 1970s New York summer camp for disabled teens to pristine sound and video quality, allowing us to see how vibrant and lively this community has always been. Then, more importantly, the film traces how these kids—in particular, Judy Heumann—became badass faces in the movement for disability rights, staging protests and articulating themselves passionately for better accessibility in the most fundamental areas of everyday life. It's a documentary that isn't just designed to inspire, but also to advocate for safe spaces where young people with disabilities can receive the encouragement and motivation they need as early as possible.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Ann Cupolo Freeman, James Lebrecht, Joseph O'Conor, Judith Heumann

Director: James Lebrecht, Nicole Newnham