Beginner’s Guide to Documentary Watching

By: Zoe Pringle

From pizza to video games to self-tanner, everyone has their kryptonite. Mine is documentaries. I can spend hour upon hour binging new Netflix originals and searching for the next best film. From me to you, here are some of my favorites that I hope will intrigue even those who claim to disdain the art that is documentaries.

  • Wild Wild Country

This new Netflix original tells the story of the Bhagwan cult and how it invaded a small Oregon town. It’s nearly impossible to not binge, with plot twists in every episode and a surprising relevance to Oregon’s own history.

  • Dark Matter of Love

Disclaimer: This movie is an emotional rollercoaster. When a family of three adopts three children from Russia, they have to make more adjustments than they anticipated. With psychologists that examine the family’s interactions and growth, the audience is offered an intimate glimpse into the struggles of adoption and change in family dynamics.

  • Bobby Kennedy for President

We’ve all been lectured on Bobby Kennedy briefly in our U.S. history classes, but his story goes so much further than “JFK’s brother, who was also shot.” Kennedy shaped American politics in an impactful and modern way that has gone largely unrecognized after his death. His successes and life history are explored in Bobby Kennedy for President.

  • Andrew Jenks, Room 335

19-year-old Andrew Jenks decides to move into a retirement home in Florida in an attempt to relate to residents. This low budget movie uses a 24p video camera to document the experience, creating intimate and sometimes raw footage. Jenks is exposed to death and the fragility of life, and by the end of it all, he leaves the home with new best friends.

  • Icarus

What starts out as an investigative movie about doping in sports, with the filmmaker, Byran Fogel, using himself as a test subject, soon turns into a thriller. Fogel interviews a Russian scientist, which spirals the film into a live action account of the still unfolding details of the biggest doping scandal at the Olympics. In my books a documentary crosses the line from interesting to mesmerizing when the subject becomes so intense that the filmmaker and crew become involved in this story. After watching Icarus, which one an Academy Award, you will be mesmerized.

  • My Beautiful Broken Brain

At the age of 34, Lotje Sodderland suffers a hemorrhagic stroke, resulting in the inability to read, write or speak coherently. My Beautiful Broken Brain follows Sodderland’s journey through recovery, mainly captured on small cameras and her phone, and her acceptance of her new brain and body.

  • 13th

13th explores America’s racist history and the racial inequality that still plagues our society, focusing on the alarming disparity at which African-Americans are imprisoned over their fellow white Americans. While it is known (by most) that racism is rampant in America, it is seldom thoroughly explained how our systems are set up to maintain this discrimination.

  • Into the Abyss

A documentary classic, famous filmmaker Werner Herzog tells the story of convicted murderers, exploring why people kill and why America allows state-sanctioned death. Through intimate interviews, Into the Abyss questions the audience’s preconceptions about death, the human psyche and the laws that carry out a punishment equal to the crime committed.

  • Meru

Meru follows the struggle of three mountain climbers attempting to climb Mount Meru in the Himalayas. Through injury, triumph and failure one begins to understand why someone would be so inclined to climb such a dangerous mountain in the name of fun and intrigue.

  • Vessel

Feminists, this is the movie you have been waiting for. In Vessel, Dr. Rebecca Gomperts spearheads a ship that performs abortions overseas, in an attempt to defy the borders and laws that determine legal abortion. This movie leaves you questioning how borders shape our lives and cultures and will leave you in awe in the power of women who want to help other women take control of their bodies, even in the face of threat and danger.

  • Jim and Andy

We all know and love Jim Carrey, but you are likely unaware about how far he takes his acting and characters. In Jim and Andy, viewers get a behind the scenes view of the making of “Man on the Moon,” in which Carrey plays famous comedian Andy Kaufman. Carrey’s commitment to the character is entertaining and, at times, frightful. Comedian lovers and psychology nerds will delight in viewing this film.

  • Rich Hill

Rich Hill takes viewers on a personal journey through poverty in America by telling the story of three boys living in Missouri. The situations found in Missouri can be seen in nearly every town in America. Exposing an often hidden population, Rich Hill gives poverty in America a depth and understanding that our society often lacks.


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