Sick of selling your soul and your sofa to endless boxsets of drug-manufacturing chemistry teachers and urban Mafiosi? Try one of these life-enriching documentaries instead
Sometimes you want something a little more real. Right now, Netflix is quietly showing some of the best documentaries from the last five years. From the seemingly endless smorgasbord available, here is Geographical’s list of the best documentaries streaming on the digital service in 2015.
Directed by Orlando Von Einseidel, 1h 40m
Combining all the strengths of nature documentary and investigative journalism, Virunga depicts some of the biggest threats to the future of the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The park sits at the Eastern border of the DRC, where armed rebel groups and foreign oil interests are closing in. With a third of the world’s population of mountain gorillas, Virunga is a lynchpin in the conservation effort. Its small team of armed rangers have become the only barrier between the gorillas and poaching and habitat loss. The film tells the story of these rangers, who are no strangers to DRC’s complex, violent past and who risk their lives daily to secure the future of the park.
More than Honey (2012)
Directed by Markus Imhoof, 1h 35m
Markus Imhoof’s latest creation is an homage to the weird and beautiful world of bees and the real impact of their strange relationship with humans. Punctuated with intimate shots inside the hives, the film explores the possibility that the bees communicate among themselves as a super-organism, where the hive as a whole is the actual animal. It is suggested that the slow breakdown of their sense of structure might be killing them. ‘Honey bees can no longer survive without drugs,’ narrates John Hurt as hives are drenched with antibiotic sugar water, a normal practice in the North America, Europe and China. In all, it is an important exploration of the real impacts of the honey business and how their domestication might be causing their demise.
You Laugh But It’s True (2011)
Directed by David Paul Meyer, 1h 24m
Comedian Trevor Noah has changed the game for South African stand-up. With a Swiss father and Xhosa mother, he has become world-known for his post-apartheid race observation and in 2015 he was announced the new host of the The Daily Show. Filmed before his rise to global fame, You Laugh But It’s True follows Noah around the threadbare comedy scene in South Africa where the biggest shows are carefully whitewashed by corporates. As he gathers material for his first big show, Noah revisits the Soweto township where he grew up and explores the real social context of his comedy.
5 Broken Cameras (2012)
Directed by Emad Bernat and Guy Davidi, 1h 34m
‘When something happens to my village my instinct is to film it,’ says Emad Burnat, resident of Palestinian village of Bil’in and video journalist. To establish his story, he gestures towards the clunky remains of five cameras, which were shot and destroyed by Israeli forces between 2005 and 2010. Taking on what has become an international argument, 5 Broken Cameras is very much a local illustration of the tensions between West Bank settlers and Palestinians. The film shows five years of footage which narrate the arrival of surveyors, then bulldozers, then builders with boundary fences and eventually armed forces. As tensions escalate between the Israeli army and Bil’in villagers, the footage shows the awkwardness of these stand-offs and the potential devastation that can follow. Rather than a political statement, the documentary is a raw exploration of how a national conflict can endanger communities.
Great Barrier Reef (2012)
Directed by Richard Fitzpatrick, 1h (3 episodes)
Another triumph of BBC Nature’s wildlife sagas, this three-part series boasts gorgeous underwater shots of world’s largest living thing, the Great Barrier Reef. Barely a day goes by when the UNESCO World Heritage Site doesn’t feature in the news as ocean acidification, local pollution and tourism put pressure on the reef eco sytstem. The film covers most of these elements including the eerie footage of bleached corals, the white calcium husks left behind when coral polyps evacuate unlivable conditions. Going above sea level, Great Barrier Reef also dedicates a whole episode to the colourful life topside of the water, exploring the fish nurseries of mangrove forests and turtle nesting beaches.
Directed by Gabriela Copperthwaite, 1h 30m
Even if you haven’t seen Blackfish, you’ve probably heard of it. It’s not often that a documentary antagonises an institution into creating a whole website dedicated to defending itself. Consisting mainly of testimony from previous orca trainers, Blackfish wants to expose the possibility that captivity and the circus behaviour encouraged of theme park orcas can cause them considerable psychological damage. It hones in on the death of Dawn Brancheau, a Seaworld trainer who was drowned and mauled by Seaworld orca Tilikum and how the conditions at the marine park might have made it happen.
Food, Inc. (2008)
Directed by Robert Kenner, 1h 34m
Released in 2008, Food, Inc. is getting on in years, however, its investigative look into the realities of the industrial food system are still just as relevant and just as nauseating. If watching an endless stream of live chicks rolling off factory conveyor belts isn’t enough, then the cloak-and-dagger intimidation behind Monsanto’s monopoly of the seed industry certainly will. ‘There is an illusion of diversity and choice in the supermarket,’ narrates Michael Pollen, as the film lifts the veil on the small number of multinational food giants which manufacture our food.
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