I can’t believe it was three years ago (!) that I posted my original Five Documentaries Worth Watching blog. So here I am, back with five more excellent films!
I’m an avid documentary consumer and love to discuss them with people. Some of my favorite conversations start out with “So, I watched this documentary last night…” Documentaries are great because even if you know nothing about the subject matter, you can still watch and walk away entertained. Learning about something new is usually my main goal when watching documentaries but I also just love really good story telling. The following five recommendations are all on completely different subjects but are of superb quality. Enjoy!
1) Chasing Ice (2012), directed by Jeff Orlowski (watch the trailer here)
This was one of the most compelling, yet sobering, documentaries I have ever seen on climate change. I took a particular interest in glaciers after our recent vacation to Alaska – they are commanding and magnificent, but also finite and fragile, their fate resting on global climate change. Chasing Ice is a heavy documentary about a very serious, very bleak subject – yet it is told so artistically. James Balog, acclaimed environmental photographer, is the visionary behind the Extreme Ice Survey. EIS is the photography project featured in the film that placed cameras on over 40 glaciers around the globe to capture a time-lapsed view of their retreat. Balog is the heart and soul of the film; his commitment to telling this story and educating the world about climate change taking priority over his career, his family, and even his own health.
2) The Search For General Tso (2014), directed by Ian Cheney (watch the trailer here)
Who doesn’t love American Chinese food? This clever documentary delves into an extremely important historical question – who invented the iconic dish, General Tso’s Chicken? It’s certainly not a dish you’ll find in China and General Tso himself didn’t invent it, yet the world at large is obsessed with it. The Search for General Tso may seem like a hackneyed quest but it is actually a rich culinary tale told through extensive research and entertaining characters.
3) Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015), directed by Alex Gibney (watch the trailer here)
You may have assumed that Scientology is just a weird cult that believes in aliens, but there’s actually so much more to it than that. I watched this documentary more for educational purposes than anything else. I don’t really care what celebrities are in to it or about all the controversies; I honestly did not actually know the beliefs and tenets behind the faith until I saw Going Clear. Now that I know I can categorically say that it is bonkers but the psychology of cults and the loyal followers of Scientology remain fascinating to me. This documentary is not analogous to a gossip rag, it profiles eight former church members who recount the origins and nuances of the religion in a compelling and authentic way.
4) Hot Girls Wanted (2015), directed by Jill Bauer & Ronna Gradus (watch the trailer here)
The main reason I watched this documentary was because it was produced by Rashida Jones, who I love, but I ended up finding it to be fascinating. Hot Girls Wanted is an expose of the amateur porn industry, emphasizing the widespread accessibility and consumption of it in the digital age. The stories of the women in the film are typical – girl next door needs to pay for college. However, as the industry loses interest in them (it is a fickle business, constantly demanding younger, hotter, cheaper girls: “everyday a new girl turns 18”), they have to resort to appearing in films that are increasingly disturbing and exploitative just to make money.
5) Knock Knock, It’s Tig Notaro (2015), directed by Michael LaHaie & Chris Wilcha (watch the trailer here)
This documentary follows Tig Notaro and Canadian comedian Jon Dore on a small scale, low budget comedy tour held in backyards, farms, abandoned buildings, porches, etc. Tig hits the road, post-cancer diagnosis/treatment, to deliver her deadpan act to intimate crowds of loyal fans. She is, of course, hilarious but the reason to watch the documentary is to watch her move on in real time. With the help of Jon Dore, who is the perfect sidekick in this film because he is insanely funny and uses his talents to illuminate Tig’s greatness, Tig goes on a journey of normalizing what has happened to her. She accepts that she has cancer and chooses to continue with her passion: comedy. It’s encouraging and impressive to watch her thrive, not curl up in a ball, in the aftermath of her diagnosis. Knock Knock is a story about hope, friendship, and comedy that will make you think, laugh, and cry.
Where to Watch: Chasing Ice, The Search for General Tso, and Hot Girls Wanted can be watched on Netflix, Going Clear can be found on HBO, and Knock Knock can be found on Showtime.