From the Slow-Burn Masterpiece to Gut-Wrenching Truth-Telling: The Best Documentaries to Watch
Titles to add to your queue
If at this point you feel that quarantine has become a little like stewing in anxiety and worry (then back again to anxiety), let’s call it like it is: cabin fever in overdrive. It’s a measly price to pay paled in comparison to what others have to endure. So if you’re perusing this list because you are able to kick back, pursue a hobby or use self-isolation for self-introspection all in the comforts of home, consider yourselves very lucky.
Here’s a mid-quarantine check-in now. What’s been crowding your to-do list? Should thought-provoking, binge-worthy entertainment be a part of it, you can skip scouring the internet for titles. Ahead, we have a roundup of titles certainly worth streaming, and they all fall under the glorious non-fiction genre that is the documentary. Think of this as a smarter break from the regularly scheduled programming.
The Pharmacist (2020)
The definition of slow-burn brilliance packaged in a miniseries, The Pharmacist follows the story of New Orleans native Dan Schneider, whose search for justice over his son’s murder brings him face-to-face with the enablers of a silent killer his side of town: the opioid crisis in its early aughts.
Coming to grips with the revelation that his son, Danny Jr., had been using crack cocaine and was fatally shot while buying drugs, the small-town pharmacist takes matters into his own hands and launches a rogue, one-man investigation. What is initially a moving story about a father’s love (and a man rendered fearless because of it) turns into a full-blown exposé.
On top of tracking down Danny Jr.’s killer, Schneider stumbles upon something larger, graver: local police and Big Pharma turning a blind eye to the increasing number of Oxycontin overdoses…and the “dope dealers with white lab coats” handing out high-dose prescriptions for the addictive drug in plain sight.
Stream ‘The Pharmacist’ on Netflix here.
Directed by French photojournalist Yann Arthus-Bertrand, Human is a thought-provoking collection of interviews with over 2,000 people in 60 countries. An expansive, three-hour documentary broken down into volumes, Human sets out to learn what it means to be human.
“What is at the core of being human?”: different stories, different nationalities, different races and different generations. These all come together to paint a picture so elaborate, complex and oftentimes conflicting, tackling views on subject matters like family, religion, ambition, failure, homosexuality, war and poverty.
Watch ‘Human Vol. I’ below:
The winner of Best Documentary Feature at the 2018 Academy Awards, Icarus is a story of a fortunate accident leading to conspiracies debunked––and confirmed. It centers on the journey of director Bryan Fogel who begins with a meager personal experiment. The query: how can a high-profile athlete like Lance Armstrong get away with using performance-enhancing drugs for as long as he did without ever failing a drug test? The subject to test his initial hypothesis: Fogel himself.
In his quest, he meets with a Russian scientist Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, who coincidentally finds himself embroiled in a scandalous investigation over doping at the Olympics. What comes next is the unraveling of Russia’s state-sponsored doping and the lengths involved in the coverups to keep it hush-hush.
Stream ‘Icarus’ on Netflix here.
American Factory (2019)
What happens when a Chinese company lands on US soil to save American jobs? American Factory, winner of Best Documentary Feature at the 2020 Academy Awards, recounts the events in a rather timely economic exposé.
Smack dab in the middle of the 2008 economic crisis, documentarians Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert take viewers through the end of an era for working-class America: the closing of a General Motors assembly plant in Dayton, Ohio, which left thousands to fend for themselves. It then cuts to 2014, the year an unlikely protagonist steps in. It’s Chinese billionaire Cao Dewang who breathes new life into the local economy as he acquires the former General Motors plant.
Now the US outlet for Dewang’s automobile glass-making company, Fuyao, what ensues is a push-and-pull given cultural differences, leaving audiences to ponder along with the workers seen in American Factory the future of automation, globalization and the American workforce.
Stream ‘American Factory’ on Netflix here.
60 minutes an episode
Before you take a bite from your next meal, stop and think: is someone else paying the price for the food I’ve been eating? Rotten, with two seasons of stand-alone episodes available for streaming so far, details the ugly side of food production and shows the intricate, crooked and oftentimes dark path between farm and table.
Rotten is where the true crime and culinary genres meet to deliver a hard-to-swallow pill and unsavory dose of reality to get people thinking more thoroughly about their consumer decisions and what their favorite new indulgence might mean to a farmer halfway across the globe.
Stream ‘Rotten’ on Netflix here.
Stare Into The Lights My Pretties (2017)
Jordan Brown’s Stare Into The Light My Pretties holds the black mirror up to modern society. With the help of experts from the fields of tech, neuroscience and psychology, the independent film provides incontrovertible proof that the people of the 21st century are slaves to the screen (to start: human beings spend more time staring at a device than they do getting sleep).
How does this distort man’s perception of reality? How does all this screen time change behavior? On the other end of the spectrum, what’s in it for the corporations tapping into the data they can, and eerily so, easily get ahold of from both consenting and unaware individuals?
With takeaways essential and increasingly important to those engrossed in screen culture (read: almost everybody), Stare Into The Light My Pretties serves as excellent educational material that asks all the right questions. Stream below and brace yourselves for the answers:
Watch the documentary below.
Give Up Tomorrow (2011)
The legal system in the Philippines is put under the microscope during one of the most infamous and highly publicized murder trials of the ‘90s.
The kidnapping and murder of sisters Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong is the case that would expose the holes in a grievously flawed justice system; and Give Up Tomorrow, the tale of a then-19-year-old culinary student Paco Larrañaga falsely accused of the crime.
Watch ‘Give Up Tomorrow’ below.
While you’re here, check out this compilation of community pantries you can donate to. Tap the link to find out how you can donate, help out and pay it forward.
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver