Documentaries will never ever cease to give me a surge of inspiration from the new perspectives and insights they provide. If someone handed me a timeline, I could arrange a wide collection of documentary titles by when I first saw them, all the subsequent times I’ve returned back, and how they have changed my life. This might sound like an exaggeration, but I can’t emphasize enough how powerful this type of media can be. If quarantine is also making you feel stuck and stagnant, expose yourself to any of these films for a breath of fresh air in this continuation of my previous article, “10 Documentaries to Watch While Quarantining.”
I’ve had multiple friends ask me what made this film so incredible of a watch after insisting they watch as well, but my responses have felt incomplete because nothing I begin to type feels like a sufficient answer. Running on watch number three, I keep being transported back in time to election night 2008 with my family piled in front of the TV. Hope pulsed through the world as President Obama was elected, and throughout the following eight years Michelle Obama stepped up as a leader with a presence arguably more pronounced than that of any past First Lady. “Becoming” is a much-needed reminder of the good that exists as well as the endless potential we have to become better. The film follows the “Becoming” book tour, the sold-out tour moderated by different media personalities at every stop. It also includes an honest look at the early days of Michelle Obama’s life in southern Chicago where she wasn’t seen as equal to her peers except around her family’s dinner table. Find “Becoming” on Netflix!
“Who Shot the Sheriff”
Some of my earliest memories involve Bob Marley CDs on repeat bouncing through the house like nothing else in the world mattered. As a result, reggae music has become a type of comfort food to me, and recently, in quarantine, I’ve been reliving it. Netflix conveniently suggested the documentary “Who Shot the Sheriff,” which takes a look at the assassination attempt on Bob Marley in 1976. There is a lot of insight to be gained on the sociopolitical Jamaican reggae scene through this film. If you’re in the mood for a good dose of music and history, this Emmy-nominated documentary should be on your list.
There are few artists who I feel I have grown up with as much as I have Taylor Swift. Even if you aren’t necessarily a Swift stan, it isn’t hard to recognize the force of positive change that she is and how she navigates her life, the music industry, and beyond with integrity. “Miss Americana” peels back the curtain, making you feel as though you’re there sipping coffee in Taylor’s living room as she plays piano and brushes the dust off old journals, revealing the raw, real truth of her life since her very young days of showing up to record labels unannounced in hopes of signing a deal. Additionally, Director Lana Wilson was able to capture many of the writing and recording sessions that went into the making of Swift’s most recent album “Lover,” the first time anyone beyond collaborators have stepped inside the studio in the midst of the process. This 360-degree view of her life won’t disappoint, and the montages especially convey the magnitude of her 10 Grammy career. The film premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and has since been praised by critics for its vulnerability. “Miss Americana” can be found on Netflix.
“Getting into Cirque Du Soleil”
It’s easy to be awestruck by cirque performers when they are on stage, but have you ever wondered what it took for these artists to get where they are today? The Cirque Du Soleil audition process can be brutal and extremely unforgiving. This documentary follows the many ups and downs and gives viewers a better appreciation of the guts it takes to make it into the famous spotlight. As the talent pool reduces as the audition cuts continue, the finalists are brought to the Cirque Du Soleil headquarters. Meeting the costume designers and makeup artists gives further insight into the magical world that is cirque. The viewing was recently blocked in the United States, but a web extension such as Hola should allow you to view this YouTube uploaded documentary from the perspective of another country where it is allowed. If it wasn’t worth the extra effort of outsmarting the system, it wouldn’t be on this list!
Photographer Lauren Greenfield’s exploration of the wealth culture in the shifted American Dream takes you on an adventure inside the minds of some of the richest people in various cities around the world including Los Angeles, China, Dubai, and Moscow. This documentary investigates the motives behind the lifestyles of the top 1 percent, and the endless great lengths people will go for social status. In this multi-portrait visual journey, it becomes increasingly clear that the obsession with wealth roots deeper than the superficial layer it appears to start and end with. “Generation Wealth” also touches on child pageant stars and Beverly Hills High School teenagers who have been surrounded by the wealth bubble and the social pressures in their circles that come along with all they’ve ever known. This film will get you thinking about the duality of money: how powerful it can be and yet how it can’t solve everything. You can find it here on Amazon.
As a dancer through my late teenage years in what now feels like a past life, I saw the coexisting pressures and beauty of the dance world. “First Position” follows several young dancers as they work towards their most important performance of the year: the Youth American Grand Prix which hosts over 10,000 dancers every year. A lot of pressure is placed on this competition because of the professional opportunities it can result in for the most promising competitors, such as scholarships and other educational experiences with premiere schools. While many dream of making it to a professional company, few have the tenacity to get all the way there. The work ethic required of those on the professional ballet track is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. While dance can be grueling, it is also a beautifully intricate sport and art that is well conveyed through these kids’ unrelenting passion. You can watch “First Position” on YouTube, Google Play, iTunes, or Amazon.
“I Am a Killer”
Until this docuseries, I wasn’t one for investigative crime documentaries, but after the first episode, I was hooked. The two-season series focuses every episode on a different inmate on death row and the story that led them there. The multi-angled view of their stories presented through intimate interviews with the inmates themselves, as well as with family members, community members, lawyers, and other professionals involved makes for a complex maze of information to attempt to piece together. “I Am a Killer” also brings light to the intricacies of the American justice system, bringing into question what justice really means. Hearing the unfiltered perspectives of the convicted killers over the span of the 45-minute episodes shines more humanity on these people than most are willing to give them. You can watch this eye-opening docuseries on Netflix.
For anyone sinking in self-doubt, this autobiographical film that stands at a quick 25 minutes might make a dent. World acclaimed professional photographer Jeremy Cowart’s story is about overcoming the “I can’t” mentality that holds so many of us back. After nearly failing school, Cowart didn’t believe he had much of a future, but thanks to some important people in his life, he was able to switch the narrative. Through a series of career question marks, he eventually found himself picking up a camera, never imaging that he’d soon be responsible for some of the most noteworthy album cover art, concert photography, photography of world leaders, and photography-related social impact initiatives, leading Huffington Post to name him “Most Influential Photographer on the Internet.” Jeremy Cowart is one of my favorite reminders that the word “impossible” can instead mean “I’m possible.” Here’s his story free on YouTube.