I think that documentaries are an incredibly useful way to learn something new. I will often watch documentaries, even if I’m not completely sold on the information being presented. I never know what I’m going to learn, or just how interesting that it’s going to be. That’s not to say that I love every documentary I watch, but it definitely gives me the ability to look at a new topic and determine if its something that I want to learn more about. That’s the great thing about documentaries and TV in general. While they often just for entertainment purposes, we also have the ability to learn more about the world.
Cartel Land is an incredibly compelling documentary. The film looks at the battle against Mexican drug cartels by two vigilante groups who operate on opposite sides of the border. The first group is the Arizona Border Recon in the United States, and the second group is a rebel uprising group in the Mexican state of Michoacán. Ultimately what happens is a simple story of two groups fighting for the same thing. But it turns into a deeply unsettling look at the corruption that exists throughout Mexico. It also shows how the process of rebellion breeds its own kind of corruption and power struggles.
Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s second feature, Blackfish, tracks the psychological and physical torment inflicted on Orca whales in the name of a strong corporate brand, but its contours are not your everyday money-excuses-death scenario. It’s plotting suggests something far more audacious, as the director, aided by interviews from former SeaWorld staff members and experts, carefully builds a case for freely empathizing with animals in captivity. As you watch, one can clearly understand why these mammals lash out and why, despite their aggressive and largely unhelpful harangues, advocates against animal captivity and cruelty devote their time to such endeavors.
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. That attack killed 168 people and injured 680 others. Oklahoma City uses this event to frame and contextualizes 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 Wolfpack is an extremely fascinating documentary that first made waves at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. It’s certainly one of the most engrossing movies of the year. The film focuses on the lives of six brothers who grew up entirely within the confines of a New York City apartment. Which, might sound normal, but the brothers’ only connection with the outside world was movies. Essentially they were living in a prison, and they became restless. As a way to escape, they transcribed the screenplays and then acted out their own versions. This movie does go inside their NYC apartment, but what it doesn’t do is dig into their deeper psychological issues when it comes to their father and essentially being held hostage for all those years.
The Thin Blue Line
Do you need a true crime fix? If so, your best bet is Errol Morris’ 1988 documentary – The Thin Blue Line. The story focuses on the wrongly accused drifter Randall Adams, who was railroaded onto death row by false testimony and an overzealous prosecutor. This documentary gets its edge, not only from interviews with the real killer, David Harris, but also from Morris’ brilliant use of dramatization, close-ups, editing, and truly mastering the documentary form.
Whether you’re familiar with the Amanda Knox case or not, this Netflix original is a deeply fascinating watch. Framed by exclusive interviews with Amanda herself, as well as those intimately involved in the case, Amanda Knox chronicles the murder of Knox’s roommate and the subsequent investigation, trials, and appeals. This film goes beyond just getting into detail about the case, but also amplifies the media’s inherent misogyny, and how public perception plays into these cases – especially when women are involved.