I’m not sure why but I think I have slightly masochistic tendencies when it comes to watching movies, especially documentaries. Some of these I would never rewatch unless I was in the mood to be sad/mad or in need of a good cry, but no part of me regrets watching them.
PSA: these documentaries are all available on Netflix Canada.. I’m not 100% sure about their availability outside of Canada.
Buck Brannaman is an acclaimed horse whisperer. I was not expecting to enjoy or even care about this documentary, but it was captivating. Buck overcame an abusive childhood and is now a well-known horse trainer and expert; he was one of the main inspirations for the 1998 film The Horse Whisperer (he consulted on the film and even doubled for Robert Redford). I would rewatch this one.
This documentary is the epitome of a “you’ll laugh, you’ll cry” situation. I pretty much cried the entire time, but there are some happier moments. The Champions follows the journey of the dogs that were rescued from NFL quarterback Michael Vick’s illegal dogfighting ring in 2007. As an animal lover, it was hard to watch at times, but I would rewatch it because.. dogs are the best.
She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry
She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry documents the beginning of the modern women’s rights movement in the 1960s/1970s and the women who were involved. It is powerful and informative and inspirational. I was blown away by the archival footage. There’s a great interview with the producer, Mary Dore, here. I would rewatch this one, too.
Team Foxcatcher is the real life story behind the 2014 film, Foxcatcher. I don’t even know how to describe this one because the story is so bizarre. I knew a little bit of back story because Foxcatcher had already been out and getting a lot of attention around awards season. Basically, John du Pont is super rich and starts a wrestling facility on his property and eventually murders one of the wrestlers. I’ve read that the 2014 depiction strays quite a bit from the truth, so I sort of lost my interest in seeing it, but the documentary was wild. I would probably not rewatch this one, just due to general creepiness.
This is the story of Edward Snowden and the NSA scandal. I still think about how crazy this is and it’s been years since I watched it. If you don’t know much about Snowden or the scandal you should definitely watch it. It isn’t sad or scary, unless you’re freaked out by global surveillance. I almost found it more interesting to see how it all started and what happened to him after he came out with all the inside information. Not a tear jerker per se, but great to watch when you need your mind blown.
Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine
This was one of the harder ones. Matthew Shepard was the victim of a hate crime in Laramie, Wyoming in 1998. The crime itself garnered a lot of attention, but Michele Josue, the filmmaker and a friend of Matthew’s, wanted the world to know who Matthew was, not just what happened to him. The film is a lovely compilation of interviews with Matthew’s family and friends, but the story is devastating.
West of Memphis
I was first introduced to the West Memphis 3 when I watched Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills in one of my university classes. I promptly went home and watched the two sequels. Jessie Misskelley, Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin spent 18 years in prison for crimes they did not commit. If you’re a fan of things like Making a Murderer, this will be right up your alley. There are many depictions of this story, but as one of the newer ones, West of Memphis is a good place to start because it’s more comprehensive and up to date.
The Hunting Ground
Plainly and simply, this one will fill you with rage. And it should. It documents the incidence of sexual assault on college campuses and how college administrations handle it. It is very, very upsetting but ultimately very important. I would rewatch it.
I think we all know about Blackfish, but if for some reason you don’t or you just haven’t watched it yet, please do it. Once again, not easy to watch but so important, and this documentary has had a huge impact since it’s release in 2013. In 2016, SeaWorld announced that it was ending the orca breeding program and phasing out all live shows. I have loved Free Willy since I was a child so this one was very emotional for me.
- Bully: follows a handful of students in the U.S. who are victims of bullying. I saw it in theatres and cried the entire time. Let me stress this: documentaries that are hard to watch are sometimes the most important ones to see. I thought I had seen it on Netflix, but it isn’t there now. If you have the chance to see it, I would definitely recommend it.
- Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father: one of the most shocking and sad things I’ve ever seen. I actually don’t even want to spoil the story because it’s so intense and emotional. I would only rewatch this if I was forcing a friend to watch it for the first time. I watched it because it was on Netflix but again, for some reason it’s gone (it’s available in full on YouTube but you didn’t hear that from me).
- Amy: the story of Amy Winehouse’s rise to fame and her death in 2011. This one IS on Netflix.
Some Netflix documentaries that are on my to-watch list are Elstree 1976, Minimalism, 13th, Batkid Begins, The Wolfpack, Welcome to Leith, Room 237 and Burt’s Buzz. If you’ve seen any of those or have other recommendations, let me know in the comments!