10 Documentaries Everyone Must See

Culture September 19, 2017 By Hugo

Over the years, there have been hundreds of cutting-edge documentaries. Many, with their grand narratives, captivated audiences and made us think deeply about the message they intended to get across. And whether it's exploring the socioeconomic problems in modern-day America or analyzing political corruption in third-world countries, documentaries have given us a new medium of learning.

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Here, we chronicle 10 hard-hitting documentaries that everyone should watch.

1. Hoop Dreams (1994)

In a country which preaches the virtues of the American Dream nearly every day, there are still little opportunities for large swathes of the American population. This is part of the argument presented in Hoop Dreams, a stunning five-year documentation of two African-American teenagers who dream of NBA stardom.

Knowing the sport will likely be their only way out of poverty, director Steve James follows William Gates and Arthur Agee's story as they accept a scholarship at a predominately white and middle-class High School know for its basketball program. Travelling 90 minutes from their tough inner-city Chicago neighbourhood to the affluent suburb of Winchester, the two overcome a variety of social and economic obstacles that makes the viewer question the inequality that persists in a country that prides itself on being the land of opportunity. 

2. The Corporation (2004)

Written by a law professor at the British University of Columbia, The Corporation examines the neo-liberal relationships corporations and business elites have long held with some of the most influential figures in government.

Admittedly, the story, which seeks to view America as a modern-day Orwellian nightmare can be slightly preachy, but there is no doubting the absurdity of corporate personhood which the documentary takes aim at (corporations, for over a century, have been given the same rights as humans). 

3. Super Size Me (2004)

Moran Spurlock may have lost some indie credit when he chronicled the rise of the chart-topping British boy band, One Direction in the documentary This is Us,  but his first documentary, Super Size Me, won him a host of plaudits.

Deciding to eat exclusively from a McDonald's menu for one month, the social experiment expectedly see's his weight increase. But it's also his decreased energy levels and the scary side-effects he encounters that leave him questioning why an America suffering from on of its worse obesity crises in years has allowed such a corporation to yield so much influence.

4. Bowling for Columbine (2002)

Michael Moore is arguably the world's foremost documentary maker, and his works have gained him worldwide acclaim. Moore's first film, Bowling for Columbine, tackled the harrowing Columbine High School massacre of 1999 and the circumstances that led to the killings.

Shocking as it is searching, Moore speaks to an array of lobbying groups to convince them that a widespread sale of arms will only lead to more devastation. 14 years on, and with America experiencing a massacre at least once every year, Moore's debut documentary has never felt more poignant. 

5. The War on Democracy (2007)

The Australian documentary-maker Jon Pilger's 2007 documentary examined the role America has played in the political systems of Latin America over the past 50 years and asks whether their 'war on drugs' is merely a covert exercise in gaining authoritative and global control. 

A must-watch.

6. Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001)

If you're a skateboarding enthusiast, this documentary can't be missed.

Chronicling the origins of the Zephyr skateboard team (Z-boys),  Stacy Peralta's documentary about the most influential skateboarding team of all time and the social and cultural influences spawned from a craze which gripped 1970's California is a brilliant way to spend an afternoon inside.

7. The Fear of 13 (2015)

Nick Yarris, a wrongly convicted murderer, was condemned to death and would spend 21 years behind bars after being found guilty of a murder in Pennsylvania.

With a non-linear structure and masterful storytelling by the subject himself, the documentary plays out like a film and has you questioning how an earth one of the world's foremost justice systems could get a case of Yarris' magnitude so wrong. 

8. When We Were Kings (1996)

Leon Gast's superb documentary about the late Muhamad Ali's Rumble in the Jungle fight with fierce boxing rival Geroge Foreman had taken 22 years of editing and financing before it was finally released.

Winning Best Documentary at 1996 Academy Awards, Gasts' film takes in not only the legendary fight but Ali's inquisitive nature and his opinions on a period where the persecution of blacks persisted.

9. Earthlings (2005)

Shaun Monson's take on the Earth's barbaric cruelty to animals sent shockwaves through many animal-lovers hearts when it was released. Narrated by the vegan and Hollywood actor Joaquin Pheonix, Earthlings used footage obtained from hidden cameras to expose the cruelty employed by industries who rely on animals for profit.

Such ill-treatment of animals leads the documentary to explore the idea of speciesism and compares animal testing and mass farming to that of racism and sexism. In the powerful words of the narrator, "Human's who have power exploit those who lack it."

10. Zeitgeist (2007)

As a performance piece later turned into a two-hour-plus documentary, director and writer Peter Joseph was surprised as anyone when his documentary ended up with millions of views on the video-sharing website YouTube.

Split into three parts; the documentary comes up with a plethora of conspiracy theories, ranging from the 9/11 attacks being an inside job to the possibility of a world-controlling North American Union between Canada, Mexico, and the US. Viewed by many as superfluous nonsense, there is no doubting the enormity and cult-following the documentary has achieved as well as the debates it created.


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