With awards season over, it could be time to settle down with some non-fiction features. Here are seven of the best documentaries streaming on Netflix right now
From Tahrir square in Egypt to Maidan square in Ukraine, from sprawling cattle ranches to a tiny sail boat in the middle of the Pacific ocean, there are documentaries on Netflix set all over the world. Geographical has compiled a list of the best the streaming media service has to offer.
Winter On FIRE: UKRAINE’s fight for freedom (2014)
Directed by Evgeny Afineevsky – 1h 38m
They knew peaceful protest had worked before. When Ukrainian students took to Maidan square to rally against the anti-EU tactics of President Yanukovych, they emulated their parents’ protests during the Orange Revolution of 2004. However, when the heavily-armed Berkut police moved in, they ignited a violent chain of events that set the country reeling. Winter on Fire documents the conflicts in Kiev at street-level. It is strikingly shot: overexposed segments show crowds of thousands lifting bright phone torches in unison, while the film’s blue-green filter echoes the colour of protesters’ Ukrainian flags throughout. A visceral piece of documentary filmmaking.
Directed by Kip Anderson, Keegan Kuhn – 1h 30m
The energy industry is the biggest cause of climate change, right? Wrong. According to Cowspiracy, livestock and their byproducts account for 51 per cent of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. A tough statistic to swallow, however, it gets worse. Desperate for a more climate friendly way to eat meat, Anderson and Kuhn visit the best of the best: the organic, the homegrown and the grassfed farmers, one of which admits ‘we don't feel like livestock has a carbon footprint’. Wrong again. As grass-fed beef takes longer to produce than grain-fed, ‘grass-fed beef is less sustainable than even factory farming at our current levels consumption,’ says Anderson. By asking environmental groups why they have not done more to advocate vegan and vegetarian diets, Cowspiracy takes meat and dairy consumption by the horns.
See the March issue’s Dossier on the livestock industry for more on this subject.
Alive Inside (2014)
Directed by Michael Rossato-Bennett – 1h 39m
There is always that one song that takes you straight back to your first disco – the clumsy dancing, the fizzy drinks, the sandwich-filled smell of your school hall. What if you could give that strong power of association to people with Alzhiemer’s disease? Filmmaker Michael Rossato-Bennett and social worker Dan Cohen did just that, researching music and playing it to patients. The results are extraordinary. Vegetative patients look up as if electrocuted, most sing but none of them can help dancing. ‘Music occupies the last parts of the brain that is touched by Alzheimer’s’, Rossato-Bennett explains. Alive Inside shows music helping patients engage, as though they have been given better directions back to their memories, and goes on to challenge the West’s relationship with its elders.
Directed by Samantha Futerman, Ryan Miyamoto – 1h 28m
Imagine your surprise if you found a YouTube video of someone who looked exactly like you. Would you contact them? That's what London-based adoptee Anais Bordier did when she found a video of her doppelganger, Samantha Futerman, an actress from California. They messaged, Skyped and found they shared the same birthday and Korean heritage. Could they be identical twins? ‘It’s like finding a wormhole and going to a parallel space,’ says Anais as the two visit each other in their homes in America and England. The film is a serendipitous journey of self and (other-self) discovery as the two decide to return to their mother country and meet other adoptees in Seoul.
THE TRUE COST
Directed by Andrew Morgan – 1h 32m
Andrew Morgan’s hard-hitting documentary explores the global impacts of the fashion industry from all angles. For some time, sweat-shop business models have been the target of activists, and previous documentaries have exposed retail giants. However, given what we know already, The True Cost brings us up to date with the extent of society’s consumer-industrial complex. In troubling detail, it captures terrible working conditions all along the production line: from cotton growers in Texas to manufacturers in Cambodia, Bagladesh and India. It realises all the doubts consumers may have about a not-so-glamorous industry.
THE SQUARE, (2013)
Directed by Jehane Noujaim, 1h 44m
Five years since the revolution and its following counter-revolutions, Egypt is still in a period of flux. The Square shows how it got there. Through the lives of young protesters, who led the original occupation of Tahrir square in 2011, the film dives into the complex – often brutal – interactions between the Egyptian army, the Muslim brotherhood and liberal-minded students. With characters such as Magdy Ashour – a member of the brotherhood and close friend of the students – The Square shows how Egypt’s political tapestry is more nuanced than just the broken camps. As Jack Shenker describes in The Egyptians ‘men and women of every age, religious persuasion and social background are on both sides of the divide’.
Directed by Jillian Schlesinger – 1h 22m
Maidentrip is the story of how 14-year-old Laura Dekker became the youngest person to sail around the world alone. The endevour is not without conflict – it begins with Dekker’s ten-month court battle in her native Holland, when child protection services try to ban her from setting out. ‘Of course people say you’re crazy,’ she says, ‘but it’s a dream. A great great dream.’ A brazen character, Dekker spurns the media attention the court case brings and perhaps the most charming aspect of Maidentrip is her drive to sail. Not to be famous, nor the first, nor the fastest. Just to sail. She takes her time, stopping for weeks in some locations to capture landscapes and townships on camera, which seamlessly compliment reams of self-filmed footage in the open ocean.
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