When I think about documentaries, I often recall that one three-and-a-half-hour long documentary about the history of pizza that I watched in my parent’s bedroom back in 2007. That must have been the first documentary that I watched purely for entertainment purposes. That fond memory of mine was the beginning of my interest in documentaries, a genre of entertainment that I still wish I indulged in more. Documentaries tend to be a facet of entertainment that I somehow forget to enjoy, and that’s really a shame because they can be quite fascinating.
Netflix, the harbinger of cheap and accessible entertainment, offers a wide variety of documentaries to its subscribers. Since its start, it has been instrumental in bringing thoughtful and compelling documentaries to a wider audience. Netflix offers a diverse assortment of documentaries with varied styles and subjects, that range from religion, to bodybuilding, to history and sushi. There are so many interesting topics that there is bound to be something for every type of person.
“Man on Wire” is one of the most popular documentaries out there, and for good reason: it’s amazing. “Man on Wire” is a British biographical documentary that follows the chronicles of young Frenchman, Philippe Petit, during his high-wire walk between the Twin Towers in New York City. Petit performed what he considered to be an artistic endeavor as he swayed on this wire for an hour with no safety net below him. This incredibly risky and highly illegal stunt has become known as the “artistic crime of the century.” Mixing actual footage from the original event in 1974 with modern re-enactments, director James Marsh masterfully recreates Petit’s stunning performance in an endlessly absorbing way that will quite literally have you hanging on the edge of your seat. In 2009 the film won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
Another hugely popular, and slightly more controversial documentary on Netflix, is “Blackfish”. This film follows the story of Tilikum, one of SeaWorld’s orcas, who has taken the lives of several people. This documentary highlights the problems within the sea-park industry, and man’s relationship to nature. While this film can seem a bit aggressive and pushy at times, it is forgivable considering the troublesome subject matter which it intends to expose.
“Blackfish” is intended to provoke its audience, in the hopes of bringing about change. While I wouldn’t recommend this one to someone looking to unwind at the end of their day, it is definitely worth a watch. This documentary is heavy reminder that cinema can be used for more than just entertainment.
“Imposter” is a documentary that I happened to stumble upon one Saturday evening while I was looking for something spooky to watch. This film follows the story of Frederic Bourdin, a French con-artist who tricked a Texas family into believing he was their long-lost relative who had disappeared years earlier. At first, I didn’t even know it was a documentary because a lot of the footage was reenacted and the story seemed too farfetched to be real.
In an interview with the Huffington Post, director Bart Layton explains his unconventional approach to documentary filmmaking: “What I wanted to do is make it very clear from the beginning that this isn’t what must have happened, this is a visualization of what someone wants you to believe happened. You know you’ve got an unreliable witness and yet you still go along with it, and that’s part of what makes this a different kind of documentary.” Reenactments overlaid with interviews from the impersonator himself make for an interesting approach to documentary filmmaking.
Documentaries are a beautiful sector of cinema that entertain us while cultivating our minds. While the documentary division is more popular now than it has been in the past, it still carries a negative stigma for a lot of people. Some people often associate documentary with “boring” or “educational.” And while they certainly are educational, they don’t have to be boring! I am of the opinion that if you think documentaries are boring, then you just haven’t been watching the right ones. So, in between your “New Girl” and “Parks and Rec” marathons you might be pleasantly surprised by putting something a little more “educational” on.