Documentaries often give access and illumination to stories that would otherwise go untold. The subject of a documentary can be anything from a single individual’s life to a broader political event, and the effect of the films can be anything from uplifting to devastating. Outstanding documentaries focus on conducting intensive research. Some of these documentaries expose stories that have put their filmmakers at risk. “The Act of Killing,” which exposes mass executions that took place in Indonesia in the 1960s, features stories that have been actively covered up by Indonesian government officials.
One of the documentary’s filmmakers remained anonymous out of fear of reprisals from the government. In another case, an Iranian filmmaker’s fear of the government and repression was so intense that he smuggled his documentary to the Cannes Film Festival on a flash drive baked into a birthday cake. Such documentaries are uplifting and tell stories of some of humanity’s greatest achievements like “Apollo 11,” which features footage from the famous space mission that was the first to land humans on the moon.
“Last Days in Vietnam” (2014) chronicles the final days and escape efforts of Vietnamese and American service people alike in the final days of the Vietnam War. The film contains footage that critics called “astonishing” and valuable reflections from those who were actually there.
“Chasing Coral” (2017) taps on the expertise of divers and scientists the world over to explore why coral reefs are disappearing at such an astonishing rate. One surprising addition to the film is a soundtrack with an original song by actress Kristen Bell.
“Particle Fever” takes an inside look at the first round of experiments at a scientific facility in Switzerland that ultimately discovered the Higgs Boson particle. The film was lauded for being able to communicate complicated scientific concepts to the public in an appropriate manner.
“The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu” uses over 1,000 hours of archival footage to explore the life of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. The film shows the stark contrast between the self-mythology the dictator promoted of himself and the reality of his life, which ended with execution.
“Jane” is a biographical documentary about primatologist Jane Goodall. The film draws from over 100 hours of archival footage that had been in the National Geographic archives for over 50 years.
“The Farthest” looks at the famous Voyager mission to outer space. The film is praised for not relying too much on its intrinsically interesting subject material and having a skillful soundtrack and cinematographer to bring its material to artistic life.
“My Perestroika” looks at the events leading up to the collapse of the USSR. Critics have hailed the film’s decision to portray the time period nearly exclusively from the lens of people who lived, giving “a privileged sense of learning the history of a place not from a book but from the people who lived it.”
“Over the Limit” follows a teenage Russian gymnast as she trains for the 2016 Olympics. The film depicts a training so rigorous and devastating it was compared by some critics to a documentary version of the ballet film “Black Swan.” TW