(Updated: February 25, 2020) Netflix houses some excellent, critically-appreciated documentaries across varied subjects — from true crime to sports. We’ve pulled out some of the finest, streaming as of February 25, 2020:
1. RBG (2018)
In the 1970s, a petite Jewish woman, educated at Cornell, Harvard and Columbia, decided to change, one step at a time, the laws that discriminated against women in the US and write a new chapter in gender equality. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a woman who fought for the constitutional rights for American women and went on to create history by coercing, persuading and humbling the legislature, through dissent, appeal, rationality and human dignity, to repeal and amend archaic laws, and write laws that gave women their rightful place under the sun. With her diminutive, frail frame, her towering intellect and her giant resolve to undo the wrongs done in law on the basis of sex, RBG almost singlehandedly transformed the destiny of her countrywomen.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg endears and inspires adulation in a brilliant CNN documentary about her stellar life in which she plays a lead role. The second woman to serve on the Supreme Court, a legal luminary and feminist icon, a rockstar for the millennial woman, the Notorious RBG’s dissenting judgments laid the foundation for a just and equal America.
2. My Octopus Teacher (2020)
The bond between a human and another sentient being takes tenderness to a subliminal level. It explores the limits of your sensitivity and fills you with a warm afterglow that refuses to go away. My Octopus Teacher is one of the most fascinating documentaries that I have seen in a long, long time. It is an astonishing and elevating tale of a filmmaker’s friendship with an octopus that’s replete with many enduring life lessons.
This superlative and surreal documentary took about ten years to make and is brilliantly shot by underwater cameraman Roger Horrocks who makes the treasures of the ocean come alive.
My Octopus Teacher is not a film. It is a life-affirming force that will impact you so profoundly that a part of you deep within will change forever.
Crystal gazing: I see an Oscar.
3. Wild Wild Country (2018)
This is explosive stuff. A look at the innards of the Rajneesh cult and how it descended into a crushing darkness that eventually devoured its prophet. The Way brothers deserve more than a standing ovation to have painstakingly put together this most amazing of docu-series. It makes for compulsive viewing. Suspend your disbelief and embark on the journey. Warning: implosion ahead.
I have been a bit ambivalent and cynical about Osho but what he attempted in Antelope, Oregon was nothing short of building a Xanadu, a utopian experiment where love, sex, freedom and laughter were prime forces, sadly only to be consumed by greed, arson and amorality that borders on the edge after the initial years of creative exploration and detonation. Ma Anand Sheela comes across as a feisty, ambitious, arrogant but sharp focussed, ‘tough titties’ woman ready to take on the might of the American government with whatever it takes! I am inclined not to judge her.
4. Icarus (2017)
When a filmmaker sets out to uncover the truth about doping in sports, a chance meeting with a scientist turns his story from a personal experiment into a geopolitical thriller. The distinctive execution of this film makes Icarus one of the best documentaries on Netflix.
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5. The White Helmets (2016)
Academy Award-winning documentary short The White Helmets (2016), from London-based Orlando von Einsiedel does what many news reports have failed to do in the Syrian crisis. It humanizes the suffering of Syrian people, caught in a hellhole.
While the international community has largely failed the Syrians, a group of self-sacrificing men have proved that humanity isn’t wholly dead.
Known as ‘The White Helmets,’ the men of Syria Civil Defense have been pulling out thousands of people out of the rubble since 2013. A rough estimate says 60,000 civilians.
As the documentary’s distressing opening sequence shows, they are the first people to respond after a bombing raid, transporting young boys and girls in orange stretchers.
6. Fyre (2019)
Director: Chris Smith
This movie is about a real-life fraud that was done on a grand scale. The FYRE music festival was a mega-disaster. The organizers tried to pull a music festival out of thin air. A movie that explores all the comical, astonishing and sad outcomes of the greatest party that never happened. The amazing direction and execution accurately capture the essence of the motivation behind the fraudulent acts while giving us an outlook on the consequences of such irresponsible deeds.
7. The Devil Next Door (2019)
Netflix’s explosive new documentary details the capture and trial of John Demjanjuk, the alleged Ivan the Terrible at the Treblinka concentration camp, and raises some haunting questions that remain unanswered till date. This is a work of painstaking research and scholarship.
Poland’s PM has raised some valid concerns about the usage of incorrect maps in the documentary. Morawiecki has criticised the documentary for including a modern-day map of Poland, with the location of Nazi death camps marked on it while the map of Nazi-occupied Poland should have been used.
Netflix needs to amend that.
That apart, it has a lot of footage that will make you recoil with horror at Nazi brutality and how low human beings sunk in their war against humanity. Disturbing watch but must be endured so that we all learn what beastiality human beings are capable of and history of this kind must never be allowed to be repeated.
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8. The Keepers (2017)
This seven-part docuseries by Netflix flatters to deceive. It begins with a great promise, undertakes a relentless journey to unravel the murder whodunnit but somewhere down the line tends to meander and loses the plot. Deft editing and a shortened length (maybe four parts) would have made it truly gripping.
Nevertheless, it engages and needs to be appreciated for revisiting a murder after 45 years and almost nailing the murderer, thanks to the perseverance and grit of two dogged sixty-something women. Based on a true crime story, it is deeply disturbing. Especially the recounting by women in their sixties of lurid details of their sexual abuse as teenage schoolgirls by a marauding and diabolical priest who preyed on their insecurities and brutalised their bodies and souls.
9. The Great Hack (2019)
Data is the new oil and data rights are human rights. In the age of big data and data mining, this stylishly made documentary on Netflix makes an opportune point—that data mining turns humans into commodities and helps change behaviours! But is it sincere, a clarion call to wake up, or as the Variety review calls it, ‘an intelligent but infuriating piece of liberal hand-wringing’?
While the unravelling of the CA scandal is remarkably captured, the narrative tends to exaggerate the dangers of open data and whips up the fear factor. Do check it out.
10. Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator (2019)
The rise and fall of a megalomaniac, abusive yoga guru from India who couldn’t handle fame and wealth he acquired in the US and preyed on his gullible students. Sadly everybody doesn’t have the equanimity to deal with what success brings and how diminishing and diabolical it can be.
Powerful Netflix documentary by the Oscar-winning Aussie director, Eva Orner.
11. Rolling Thunder Revue (2019)
Martin Scorsese paints a portrait of the troubled spirit of 1957 America. This sentiment is taken as a backdrop for the extravagantly joyous music that Bob Dylan performed in his Rolling Thunder Revue tour in the fall of that year. This is a pseudo-documentary comprising of both factual and fantastical elements that pour out the history of the turbulent American soul in vivid detail.
What did we miss? Don’t forget to share your favourites in the comments below.
By Sanjay Trehan, Deepjyoti Roy, Arun Kumar
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