Amanda Knox (2016)
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In 2007, the murder of Meredith Kercher captivated the world. Amanda Knox, a 20-year-old American studying abroad in Italy, was accused of murdering her roommate. This documentary covers the saga from beginning to end. From the murder, to Knox’s arrest, the trials, and subsequent media blitz, Amanda Knox gives an unprecedented look into not only the murder case, but also the overarching impact of media coverage.
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Ava DuVernay, director of critically acclaimed films such as Selma and A Wrinkle In Time, delivered another classic with the documentary, 13th. In 13th, DuVernay examines the United States’ prison system and the history of racial inequality that remains prevalent to this day. DuVernay and her team take a deep dive into laws and amendments that dictate the United States’ criminal justice system — specifically the 13th amendment — and the perceived end of slavery.
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In Shirkers, director Sandi Tan takes the unique approach of directing a film entirely about herself. With Tan narrating the documentary, the audience is brought along the journey of Tan’s life. Starting with a recounting of her childhood in Singapore, the documentary gives a candid — and sometimes critical — look into the trials and tribulations of Tan’s life. Particularly riveting, Tan reveals she once made a film with a man named Georges. 20 years after Georges disappeared with the reels of film, Tan connects with her childhood friends in hopes of finding out the truth about what happened. Ultimately, Shirkers provides an interesting look into the beauty and value of friendship, life, and everything in between.
Fire at Sea (2016)
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Fire at Sea offers a breathtakingly-intense look at the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean, and the everyday struggles fleeing refugees face. Director Gianfranco Rosi brings us to the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa. An island off the coast of Sicily, where hundreds of thousands of African and Middle Eastern refugees have made landfall. Rosi’s shots are striking in their nature. Viewers are exposed to the troubling conditions in which the men, women and children are faced with on a daily basis. With minimal dialogue and no voiceover included, Fire at Sea is carried by its cinematography and the ability to connect to those who are living through these arduous times.
The Nightmare (2015)
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If you are scared of the dark or things that go bump in the night, this film is not for you. The Nightmare, directed by Room 237‘s Rodney Asher, examines sleep paralysis and the many effects it has on those who suffer from it. In total, eight individuals give in-depth interviews on their own experiences with sleep paralysis. For the interviewees, this condition makes going to bed at night a terrifying proposition. The reenactments and stories become increasingly chill-inducing as the documentary progresses. So, be warned, if you are not a night person, it’s best to watch this during the day.
Long Shot (2017)
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Clocking in at just 40 minutes, Long Shot is one of the shorter documentaries on this list. Sometimes, however, a quick investment is the right call to make. Jacob LaMendola’s film focuses on Juan Catalan — a husband and father who is accused of a murder he swears he didn’t commit. The lengths to which he goes to prove his innocence are astounding. With Catalan’s freedom hanging in the balance, a very recognizable figure enters the mix and provides crucial evidence for the case. Sometimes the longest shots are worth taking.
Faces Places (2017)
Image Source: Tribeca Film Festival
Arguably the best road movie of 2017, Faces Places utilizes humor, humility and quite literally, faces, to create a lasting film. The French duo of Agnès Varda — an 89-year-old woman — and JR — a professional photographer — travel throughout France with one simple goal in mind — meet new faces, and take their photo. Celebrating both art and life, the photos are blown up to astronomical proportions and adorned to buildings and other objects for the citizens to see. Faces Places is simple in its concept, but the execution and heartwarming connection between the pair make this film a must-watch.
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The world has sadly become almost desensitized to mass shootings and other forms of terrorist attacks. Back in 1966, however, that wasn’t the case. 53 years ago, Charles Whitman perched atop a tower at the University of Texas and took aim at students walking below. For Tower, director Keith Maitland created an animated recreation of the tragic day. Maitland’s style puts you right in the middle of the events — which is haunting — but his ambition and groundbreaking technique are what really standout.
Abacus: Small Enough To Jail (2017)
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Abacus, a story about a family that ran the only bank to face federal prosecution following the financial collapse of 2008, was directed by Steve James — the same man who directed the classic, Hoop Dreams. James film follows the Sung family. The Sung’s bank, Abacus Federal Savings, mainly served the Chinatown district of New York City. The film chronicles the Sung’s court case, as well as Thomas Sung’s relationship with his adult daughters. In a way, this is a David vs. Goliath tale. A family versus the government. And once again, James delivers the goods.
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Perhaps not commonly known stateside, Ayrton Senna was one of the greatest Formula One drivers of all-time. Tragically, the Brazilian died just 10 years after his career began in an accident at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. Asif Kapadia’s film, Senna, takes viewers inside Senna’s point of view. From his debut at the 1984 Brazilian Grand Prix, to his untimely death, Senna was a star. Senna provides an inside look at Senna’s racing career, including snippets of some of his most fierce rivalries.
Casting JonBenet (2017)
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The unsolved murder of JonBenet Ramsey has is one of America’s biggest cold cases. Because of this, numerous television specials and inquisitive films have been made. With Casting JonBenet, director Kitty Green tapped into a unique side of the mystery. Green set up an ‘audition’ in JonBenet’s hometown of Boulder, Colorado for a film about her. However, Green’s main purpose was to record on-camera interviews with those who showed up — with the intent to talk about the murder and to make a connection between the mysterious murder and the actors’ own lives. The results are stunning.
Strong Island (2017)
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In 1992, Yance Ford’s brother was shot to death by a white mechanic. After the shooting was deemed to be in self-defense, the shooter was able to go on with his life as Ford and his family were left to cope with their loss. The African-American filmmaker created Strong Island as a way to work through his sorrow. The documentary is raw and tragic, but also inspiring. The strength shown by Ford and his family is admirable, to say the least. While they may not have found justice in the court of law, the Ford’s continue to make sure their brother/son is remembered.
The Square (2013)
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The Egyptian Revolution, which began in 2011, is still happening to this day. The Square, directed by Jehane Noujaim, stars those who have been on the front-line of the revolution since its inception. As Egypt strives for a democracy, Noujaim highlights the emotional and logistical roadblocks that stand in the way of the revolution fully taking hold of the country. Those at the center of The Square become easy to root for, but just as easily remind the viewer that their ultimate reward won’t come easy.
Justin Timberlake + the Tennessee Kids (2016)
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Justin Timberlake is one of the biggest stars in the world. Between his music and films, Timberlake has long established himself as a star. It should stand as no surprise, then, that Jonathan Demme’s documentary, Justin Timberlake + the Tennessee Kids, is a smashing success. The documentary captured the final two nights of JT’s 20/20 tour. Every shot perfectly captures the sights and sounds of the concert, making the viewer feel as if he or she is in the arena alongside Timberlake. If you consider yourself a music buff, you cannot miss this.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2012)
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If there is someone out there who doesn’t enjoy a good cooking show or food-driven documentary, I haven’t found them. David Gelb’s Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a film everyone can get behind. Centered around world-renowned sushi chef Jiro Ono and his two sons, this documentary is equal parts admirable and mouthwatering. While watching Jiro’s process and seeing the finished product is enjoyable, the heart of this film resides in the relationship between Jiro and his sons. Not only is this film a stirring watch for foodies, but it is an honorable story about a family sticking together.
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The world has lost its fair share of individuals way before their time should have come — Amy Winehouse was one of those people. The film Amy, directed by Asif Kapadia, is a wonderful look at Winehouse’s career and life. Winehouse has a magnetism about her that is hard to deny. Her voice will leave you speechless, not unlike those who contribute to this film. Gone far too soon, Winehouse’s legendary talent is beautifully captured by Kapadia.
Blue Planet II (2017)
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When you hear the iconic voice of Sir David Attenborough come through the television, you know you are about to see something beautiful. Released 16 years after the original Blue Planet, Blue Planet II is equally, if not more, stunning. There isn’t enough to say about this series. Whether you consider yourself an animal lover or not, there is true value in viewing this program.
The Look of Silence (2015)
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Joshua Oppenheimer’s follow-up to his equally gripping film, The Act of Killing, The Look of Silence is a heavy experience. The film follows a man named Adi, an optician whose brother was murdered by the same men which Killing focused on. Adi’s pain becomes your pain as he watches footage of his fellow Indonesian’s gloat about their past murders during the anti-Communist purges in the ’60s. Watching Adi come face-to-face with the killers in gut-wrenching. Still, although the film is tough to watch at times, Oppenheimer’s work is a necessary viewing experience.
Five Came Back (2017)
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It seems almost unthinkable at this time, but in the midst of World War II, five Hollywood filmmakers enlisted in armed forces in order to document the war. Based on Mark Harris’s book chronicling the events, Five Came Back is a story told by the likes of Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Guillermo del Toro, Paul Greengrass and Lawrence Kasdan. The visuals accompanying the stories are jarring. With the number of people who lived through the war dwindling, these images provide the public with a better understanding of the hell these individuals went through while fighting for their country.
Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond (2017)
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How about a little humor to spice up your night? Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond gives a glimpse into the life and mind of Jim Carrey as he portrayed his idol, Andy Kaufman, in the 1999 biopic Man on the Moon. Seeing Carrey’s devotion to the role and the lengths to which he went to accurately portray his idol is eye-popping. We often enjoy films without thinking too much about the work that goes into them, but it is impossible to ignore after watching this documentary.