Not everyone thinks of documentaries when they think of “art”, but I believe they certainly fall into that category. Documentaries tell a story. They take facts and true events and make them dance before our eyes in an engaging manner that connects internally with viewers. My top 10 favorites cover a range of subjects : personal narrative, psychology, science, creativity, abuse, love.
Monica and David
This documentary chronicles the romantic relationship of two adults with down syndrome in their journey towards moving in together and getting married. I love this documentary not only because it obviously pulls at your heartstrings, but it also takes the “otherness” away from disability. It is honest about Monica and David’s struggles, while at the same time showing that they aren’t that different from you or I in their dreams, hopes, and concerns for the future.
I just watched this one recently, and it stuck with me long after finishing. The story revolves around a group of brothers living in a family with an unstable father who for years would not allow them to leave the house or interact with others in society. Trapped in their own world, they turned to movies as a way to feel like they were living and experiencing the things that others outside did. They go as far as writing out entire scripts by hand (no computer/internet access) and then acting them out themselves, complete with amazing costumes and props made from things like painted cereal boxes. What they went through is horrible, but they have channeled their experience into something positive, and a couple of them ended up going into film production. The end of the documentary shows them working on a short film that you can view in it’s entirety, titled Mirror Heart, here.
We live in public
This documentary was absolutely fascinating to watch back in 2009 when it came out, and even more so when I think about it compared to how we interact with social media now in 2016. It centers around the life of dot-com entrepreneur Josh Harris, and his social experiment which was a combination of reality TV and a live action version of Myspace. His predictions of social media in the future were so spot on it’s eerie. Definitely an enlightening if not somewhat disconcerting watch.
This documentary chronicles the life of legendary filmmaker Ingmar Bergman. Much of it is done in an interview style. He issuch a character, equal parts insightful and hilarious, it makes for a fun watch even if you haven’t seen a ton of his films (which you should go out and remedy now, by the way, if this applies to you :)).
This documentary was created by Ari Seth Cohen, who has a blog of the same name. The story centers on a few of the stylish older ladies he’s spotlighted. Cohen has always been interested in fashion, and grew up very close to his grandmother. Because of this strong bond, he always admired and felt closer to older women, who incidentally are systematically excluded from the fashion world. Thus, Advanced Style was born. These ladies are so much cooler than I, or anyone else I know, will ever be.
This documentary is an open conversation between nine women’s rights advocates with roots in Muslim societies working to change their communities. What makes it even more powerful is the fact that there are a variety of faiths represented. Though the documentary starts out by discussing the issue of honor based abuse abroad, it ends by bringing to light the fact that these incidents are not isolated to outside of the US. Contrary to popular belief, surprising number of these killings and abuse stories happen in the states, in the UK, and throughout Europe. As I watched the women discuss the mindsets that lead to this type of violence and extreme male entitlement, it was hard for many of those same dangerous mindsets I see present in my own society not to come to mind. People like to dismiss hateful or repugnant attitudes as “Oh, it’s just their opinion, everyone is entitled to their view”. But, this documentary shows the havoc “just an opinion” can wreak when left unchecked, and when it grows into a group mentality.
WAR: Women Art Revolution
As I explain in an earlier post about women in art, this documentary completely reeducated me on the subject of feminist art. I was born at the tail end of the 80s, and since growing up in school I’d always been given the impression that art was a “girl thing”, I never gave a thought to inequality in art. I never thought to ask why all the famous artists we learned about were all men. I just figured that those men happened to be who was best at art way back when. I had no idea the struggle and the war that those women artists who came before me had to fight simply to be allowed to practice their craft, to be allowed to show in galleries. Spoiler: the fight isn’t over. This is an important documentary to watch for anyone interested in art and creativity. Am I suddenly in love with the aesthetic of feminist art from the civil rights era? No, but I have gained a huge appreciation for those ladies who took a stand so that I can do what I do today.
Alive Inside: Music and Memory
I work with a lot of older adults teaching painting classes, and I’d heard about the benefits of painting in improving memory and motor skills in the elderly, but never music. This heart warming and inspiring documentary shows an alternative way we could be nurturing and interacting with our older communities.
PBS This Emotional Life
This PBS series explains scientifically why we experience emotions the way that we do, and the role different emotions play in our day to day lives and how we function. Explanations are simple and accessible to all, even those with no background in science or psychology. I have always been an anxious person, and understanding the science between what is going on in my body when I start to panic actually helped me deal with anxiety situations better. To be able to tell myself “Ok, your body is signaling a fight or flight response but you aren’t actually in danger right now … what you are feeling is just chemicals in your brain tricking you … don’t let a bunch of chemicals ruin your day!” helped me to calm down, silly as it sounds. It doesn’t always help, and it may not work for everyone, but this is certainly an enlightening series regardless.
Growing up, I’d honestly just never really liked the taste of meat compared to other things (It always reminded me of cardboard with seasoning sprinkled on it), and it’s origins always left me feeling a bit uncomfortable. This documentary is in part what pushed me to finally eliminate most meat from my diet (I still occasionally eat seafood). I understand the importance of the food chain to our ecosystem, but in our present day we consume far more meat products than we should for either our health or sustainability. To keep up with this demand (and make a higher profit – Greed continues to be the unifying reason for most questionable decisions.), some pretty horrifying, unethical farming and slaughtering processes are being put to use. If you haven’t heard of Temple Grandin, she is an amazing woman on the autistic spectrum who has done groundbreaking work towards animal welfare in the food industry.
I think using animals for food is an ethical thing to do, but we’ve got to do it right. We’ve got to give those animals a decent life and we’ve got to give them a painless death. We owe the animal respect. – Temple Grandin
I hope this list helps pass the time on those rainy Spring days coming up, and that something here stirs or inspires you. What are some of your favorite documentaries that I should add to my “Watch ASAP” list?