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Doc 101: Introduction to Documentary Viewing

Documentaries have always gotten a reputation in my opinion. I would say that a vast amount of the population sees documentaries as boring, overly cerebral and under stimulating. Picture a group of friends gathered around a TV on a Saturday night. One friend asks what they should watch. Another recommends they watch this great documentary she saw the other day. Cue a collective groan from the rest of the group. This is the stereotypical response when it comes to documentary watching. No one is clamoring to watch the latest documentary like they are for the latest superhero movie. However, I hope to change this perception because certain documentaries can be just as interesting and enjoyable. 

Another thing I love about documentaries is there is one everyone. If you don’t like sports docs, then I know there is probably one about your favorite singer. If you don’t like true crime documentaries, I can find you one about a social issue you are passionate about. There really is something for everyone.

However, it can be a little daunting trying to find one to watch. That is why I have compiled this list of some of my favorite documentaries. I hope this list can give you a starting point to begin your documentary journey. 

Echo In the Canyon 

This documentary on Netflix takes a look into the beginning of the Laurel Canyon, CA music scene of the 1960s. It explores music groups such as The Beach Boys, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and the Mamas & the Papas. It also examines how the music created here influenced rock ‘n’ roll and influenced music on a global level. It is a fascinating documentary for rock and 60s music lovers. 

The Last Dance

This is a 10 episode docuseries on Netflix that tells the story of Michael Jordan’s last season at the Chicago Bulls, as well as the journey of building the Bulls into a basketball dynasty. It also features flashbacks to Jordan’s earlier life, as well as the lives of teammates Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Steve Kerr and their head coach, Phil Jackson. Although it holds a special place in the hearts of basketball lovers, you do not need to be a fan to watch this docuseries. It truly is a captivating look into the life of a sports icon and his equally iconic team. 

Blackfish 

This is a documentary on Netflix originally released in 2013. It mainly concerns an orca named Tilikim, who has spent a vast majority of his life in captivity by SeaWorld and killed three people while in captivity. It explores the controversies around keeping killer whales in captivity and the effects of this harmful practice. It is one of those documentaries that opens your eyes and ignites your desire for justice. 

Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold 

The documentary on Netflix details the life of writer Joan Didion and her work that has been celebrated across generations. This documentary was made by Didion’s nephew, Griffin Dunne, and features archival footage, as well as interviews he did with Didion. It is an intimate look at one of America’s most celebrated writers of the 1960s. I have watched it several times, and it is up there as one of my all-time favorite documentaries. 

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

This documentary is available to watch on HBO Max and is based on Lawrence Wright’s book of the same name. The documentary highlights how the Church came to be, starting with its creation by founder L. Ron Hubbard. You learn the inner workings of the Church and their basic beliefs. It also features profiles of eight former members who suffered abuse within the Church, and why it took them so long to leave. I find Scientology documentaries fascinating, and if you agree, I would also recommend Leah Remini’s series on Netflix Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath.

Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Was

This Netflix documentary tells the story of the Fyre Festival, a luxurious music festival that never actually happened. It details the entire downfall of the festival from beginning to end.  I can say that this documentary was a wild ride. It shows what arrogance, greed and inexperience can do to someone. 

Athlete A

A Netflix documentary that was both heart-wrenching and inspiring. It mainly follows a team of journalists from The Indianapolis Star who discovered the story of Larry Nassar. Nassar sexually assaulted countless young female gymnasts over a number of years. It also explores the actions of USA Gymnastics who tried to hide sexual abuse within their organization. 

The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst

This docuseries, available on HBO Max, examines Robert Durst, a successful New York real estate agent. Durst is suspected in three murders that span four decades. This documentary never ceases to be shockingly entertaining. It is the perfect docuseries for a true crime lover. 

 The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart

This Bee Gees documentary can be viewed on HBO Max. It explores the success, failures and roadblocks that the Gibb brothers faced as the Bee Gees. It details their early life as kids in Australia and moves into their wildly successful careers. This documentary also paints an intimate portrait of the brothers as they faced their own personal struggles. As a huge fan of the Bee Gees, I absolutely loved this documentary; however, you don’t have to be a fan to enjoy this one. Overall, it is a story of a family that has experienced immense happiness and immeasurable loss. 

Bonus Entry: 

Documentary Now!

This isn’t exactly a documentary, but I am such a fan of it that I had to give it a shoutout. “Documentary Now!” can be streamed on Netflix and is a mockumentary series of many famous documentaries. Created by SNL alums Bill Hader, Fred Armisen and Seth Meyers, each episode pays homage to a different documentary with their own witty spin. The best part of this show is that you don’t have to have seen the documentaries to enjoy each episode. There is something for everyone to laugh at, not just documentary aficionados.

I am currently a Sophomore at the University of Kentucky majoring in Marketing and Integrated Strategic Communication. I love reading, graphic design, movies and discovering new vinyl records.
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