13th is a thought-provoking documentary American documentary. The film explores the “intersection of race, justice, and mass incarceration in the United States.
It is titled after the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which abolished slavery throughout the United States and ended involuntary servitude except as a punishment for a crime.
2. White Right: Meeting the Enemy
Filmmaker and liberal Muslim immigrant Deeyah Khan sat down to talk with men who organize movements around hating people like her.
In White Right, she engages with leaders from the National Socialist Movement (aka Nazis) and other white nationalist organizations after she receives a barrage of hate-filled messages.
That includes marching alongside them in Charlottesville, Virginia for the Unite the Right rally – now infamous for the murder of activist Heather Heyer by a neo-Nazi – and sitting down with them in their homes to find out what fuels their hatred and fear.
This documentary is must watch for sport lovers. One of the documentaries I could recommend most highly for the way its story unfolds literally in real time as they filmed.
Filmmaker Bryan Fogel uncovered the truth about doping in sports, a chance meeting with a Russian scientist transforms his story from a personal experiment into a geopolitical thriller.
Dirty urine, unexplained death and Olympic gold are all part of the exposure of the biggest scandal in sports history.
4. Dirty Money
There’s a cliche that says “the rich get richer,” and while that may be true it’s not always done through legal or moral methods.
This docuseries (documentary series on Netflix) takes a look at stories of scandal and corruption in business, exposing acts of corporate greed and corruption.
The episodes feature firsthand accounts of the unscrupulous activities from the perspectives of both the perpetrators and their victims.
Some of the tales that are told include a car company that cheats emissions tests to save money and the drama and shady deals that abound in Donald Trump’s business empire.
5. Hot Girls Wanted
This six-part docuseries from Rashida Jones was praised when it was released at Sundance in 2015 and for good reason.
The film depicts the gritty underbelly of the porn industry from the perspective of the young women who are drawn to the life.
Not only does the doc explore the intersection between sexuality and the internet, it also gives an honest look at the toll the industry can take on its youngest and most naïve performers.
6. The Bleeding Edge
Warning: Netflix’s documentary The Bleeding Edge will seriously piss you off. It might also make you swear off doctors for the rest of your life.
The film is a deep dive into the medical device industry and the dangers that lurk there for unassuming patients.
Like the pharmaceutical industry, there are few laws regulating the creation and implementation of medical devices — think everything from birth control to orthopedic instruments.
And the doc shows how this is negatively affecting millions of Americans every year from the women unknowingly sterilized by an IUD device to a doctor whose own ortho-device slowly poisoned him.
It’s a frustrating watch, but a necessary one.
7. The Vietnam War
The Vietnam War takes a deep dive into crucial moments in American history, but this film is also accompanied by harrowing footage from one of the worst wars in American history.
The doc does a phenomenal job of contextualizing exactly how this war began, tracing its roots back to 1858, and also looks towards the future as all sides try to find healing and reconciliation.
The film is packed with insightful and emotional interviews with both Americans and those who experienced the war firsthand from both North Vietnam and South Vietnam, as those involved offer candid details about what exactly went on from their point of view.
This is a must-watch for every American citizen, and while moments are indeed graphic and troubling, they’re crucial to understanding the mistakes made in the past so that they’re hopefully not repeated in the future.
This documentary is 17 hours in length. So I bet you cannot finish watching it in a day.
8. Holy Hell
There are a lot of documentaries about cults, but Holy Hell is certainly one of the most engrossing to tackle this particular subject.
The film hails from Will Allen, who documents his personal experience as a member of the Buddhafield cult for 22 years, led by a mysterious man who goes by the name Michel.
What makes this particular documentary so fascinating is the fact that Allen served as the group’s official videographer, so there’s a bounty of footage from inside the cult that is contextualized with present day interviews from former members.
There are many twists and turns to be found as the story unfolds, and it’s no spoiler to say that Michel is discovered to be quite the megalomaniacal leader.
9. Oklahoma City
Before the 9/11 attacks, the most devastating terrorist attack on U.S. soil was the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people and injured 680 others.
Oklahoma City uses this event to frame and contextualize what drove Timothy McVeigh to plan and execute this horrific act, which in turn is also a chronicle of the early days of the alt-right movement.
The film touches on Ruby Ridge and the standoff at Waco (where McVeigh was present) as precursor events that spurred McVeigh into action, and the white supremacist and anti-government fallout planted seeds that still grow today.
10. Lo and Behold
Far more cheerful and quirky than it would initially seem, the German film-makers sets out to examine the technology which has shaped our lives since its inception, tracing its early history to modern subcultures.
On the way, he meets a cast of characters, from rural farmers to college students to scientists, and takes a thoughtful look at how the Internet has changed their lives, for good or for worse.
He continually asks, “Does the Internet dream of itself?” While the broad topic of the Internet could be incredibly dry, in Herzog’s capable hands, it takes on a new life.
11. The White Helmets
Having taken home the Oscar for best documentary in 2017, White Helmets is firmly one of the best things you’ll watch this year.
Focusing on a group of volunteer rescue workers in Syria, the film follows them as they attempt to rescue left trapped in the wake of airstrikes.
The 40-minute film charts these rescue workers from Syria’s Civil Defence Foreces, marking their heroism in the face of conflict and destruction.
These people put their lives on the line everyday to help those in need; strangers come together in defense of human life.
It’s truly inspiring and heart-wrenching to witness the level of devastation these first responders brave through, and their tireless belief in each other and the people who will stay with you long after the final scene.
12. Take Your Pills
In Take Your Pills, director Alison Klayman takes on the prescription stimulant craze in the US, exploring how young people use drugs like Adderall and Ritalin in the hope of benefiting from performance-enhancing effects.
There are college students worried they’ll be at a disadvantage if they don’t pop a pill before an exam, a programmer who wants to live up to the myth of the coder-genius, and a finance worker whose colleague collapsed after two many Adderall-fuelled all-nighters.
The film relies heavily on personal accounts.
13. The Hunting Ground
The Hunting Ground closely examines American college rape culture, which has historically shielded perpetrators and silenced survivors. Lady Gaga’s song “‘Til It Happens to You” was used in this documentary and received an Oscar nomination.