Movies allow us a reprieve from reality. They take us to places we could never have imagined; they take hold of our imagination in a way that no other thing can. On the other hand, documentaries show us the mirrors. They are real stories about real people and watching them keeps us rooted to the ground, so we don’t get lost in the grandeur of movies. 2019 has been a great year because it has seen a mix of documentaries about all walks of life. From the stories about factory workers to the condition of immigrants, from the horrible tales of true crimes to the legends of giant leaps for mankind, there is nothing that documentaries can’t offer to you. Here is the list of the best documentary features of 2019:
15. Cold Case Hammarskjöld (2019)
Dag Hammarskjöld was a Swedish diplomat who was appointed as the second Secretary-General of the United Nations. The youngest person to have served in the post, he was a man of remarkable character and was posthumously awarded the Nobel Prize. His death was surrounded by an air of mystery and this is what serves as the subject of this documentary. He died in a plane crash while he was on his way to negotiations for the Congo Crisis. For years, there was no clear sight of what happened that day, but some recent events changed that, and to know what they are, you should watch this documentary.
14. Fyre (2019)
“The greatest party that never happened”, this Netflix documentary focuses on the great fraud of the Fyre Festival. It starts with the promise of the best music festival of your life. It was supposed to take place a Bahamian Island and influencers like Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid promoted it on Instagram. Thousands of dollars were paid by people to secure a place in the festival, where they were supposed to spend time in villas and have gourmet meals. But when it finally came down to it, the festival turned out to be a disaster. There were no basic facilities available, let alone the luxuries that they had promised. What really happened and where did all of the money go? Find out in this documentary.
13. Hail, Satan? (2019)
If you are hearing the name of The Satanic Temple for the first time, then you should definitely watch this documentary. It is about the nontheistic religious and political activist group that is not defined by the image of Satan that people have in their minds. It is not a cult that asks you to indulge in human sacrifice or any other creepy thing like that. In fact, they have presented themselves as rebels who are out for social justice, equality and all other issues that any rational person would support. The name is a bold choice, considering the image it would paint in front of anyone unaware of their real intentions, but it is also smartly chosen.
12. Meeting Gorbachev (2018)
In this documentary, director Werner Herzog brings forth the events that defined the life of Mikhail Gorbachev and his actions that changed the course of his country’s future. Considered one of the most influential figures of the past century, he is mostly remembered for bringing about the end of the Cold War. While some view it as his achievement, most despise him because of it. In this feature, he sits down to talk about the reasoning behind his policies, what he wanted for Russia and where the country is now. It also covers his views on some of the most important events in the 20th century.
11. I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth vs Michelle Carter (2019)
If we started discussing the ways in which phones have revolutionised the world, we would spend hours and the words still wouldn’t be enough. Despite making the world a smaller place, they have also made it a lonelier one. This makes it the people suffering from mental health problems even more vulnerable. While it takes days and months to help someone out of their mental hell, it takes one text to throw them over the ledge. In this condition, should people take responsibility for their text messages? In ‘I Love You, Now Die’, one such case is explored. After Conrad Roy was found dead in his car, clearly a case of suicide, Michelle Carter was held responsible for provoking him.
10. Ask Dr Ruth (2019)
Ruth Westheimer is best known for being a sex therapist, but that is not the only thing that defines her life. In fact, it is just a very small part of what people know about her. Born in Nazi Germany and losing her parents to the Holocaust, Ruth had a life that reminds you of an extraordinary character of an adventure film. From her escape from Germany to her training as a sniper to her finally settling down with a career in sex therapy, Dr Ruth’s story has a lot to tell. ‘Ask Dr Ruth’ sheds light on her remarkable journey and charts the unbelievable arc of her great life.
9. Love, Antosha (2019)
Anton Yelchin was a rising star in Hollywood who died at the young age of 27 in 2016. He had appeared in movies like ‘Star Trek series’ and ‘Terminator: Salvation’. Still being at the beginning of his career, Yelchin might not have become a household name, but he left a great impact on the actors and filmmakers who worked with him. This film is the presentation of his incredible life and his enthusiastic attitude for learning that awed the people around him. There is so much that one can take away from Yelchin’s short but well-lived life, and this is what makes ‘Love, Antosha’ an absolute must-watch. It features his notes and journals, the writings and music that he kept to himself. The interviews with his family, friends and colleagues shed a light on his personality.
8. What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali (2019)
Muhammad Ali, the boxing legend, has been at the centre of many stories that have awed and inspired the world. The “What’s My Name” fight is perhaps one of the most remembered fights in the history of Ali’s career. Fought in the time when the society was raving in tumult (which it, sort of, still is), Ali literally fought for his faith and belief, and above all, for his identity. The idea of him had changed considerably for Americans ever since he accepted Islam as his religion, and this fight became one of the most monumental events in his life. In this documentary, we get an intimate look into his thoughts and beliefs and the shift from his boxing career to his work in activism. Above all, it focuses on his legacy and what makes him such an influential figure.
7. The Edge of Democracy (2019)
Petra Costa, the Brazilian filmmaker, is known for delving in the stories that often rest on the shoulders of strong female protagonists. Given that her films are about real-life characters, she doesn’t need any extra plot device to make her heroines seem any better or stronger. In this documentary, she explores the democratic premise of her own country, focusing on the events that became the turning point for the country, and yet, how her motherland continues to grapple with the polarity of her politics. With the terrible political situation of the world, where every other country is plagued by the leaders who seem hell-bent on destroying their country and the world with it, ‘The Edge of Democracy’ shines a light on the politics of Brazil, and through it prods its viewers to think about how their country suffers from similar dilemmas.
6. Apollo 11 (2019)
Science fiction has familiarised us with the thrill and adventure of space travel but it still feels alien to us because we know we are decades away from the technology that they feature. If you want something that really captures the essence of space travel, you should watch ‘Apollo 11’. It is a celebration of the 1969 Apollo 11 mission which is the biggest milestone, as of yet, in the history of space travel. The documentary is different from others in the manner that it doesn’t indulge the viewer with interviews or narration or any other device to cause distractions. From its beginning to the end, it is made of the previously released archival footage which is all about the mission. For space enthusiasts, this is the documentary of the lifetime.
5. At the Heart of the Gold (2019)
The world of sports is extremely competitive. It demands incredible dedication and sacrifice and the athletes have to give it their all in order to make a name for themselves and achieve their goals. They are already under so much pressure. So, to put them through psychological and physical abuse and that too by their physician is the kind of thing that completely breaks them. Considering this, it is the responsibility of the authorities to prevent such practices and ensure the safety of the athletes. But what happens when they know what is going on but refuse to let it go? What happens when they empower the predators and allow the sexual abuse of young athletes, most of whom are barely in their teen years? ‘At the Heart of the Gold’ focuses on the biggest sexual abuse scandal in sports history to make you aware of such dangers.
4. Midnight Traveler (2019)
No matter where you go in the world, home is the place that you return to. It is the one thing that you hold constant in life, it is your safe haven. What happens when it is taken away from you? What happens when you are told that you can never go home? That you don’t even have it anymore? Afghani filmmaker Hassan Fazili was forced to leave his homeland when the Taliban put a bounty on his head. In this documentary, he shows the difficult plight of the refugees and the importance of the support of the family.
3. American Factory (2019)
Produced by Higher Ground Productions, the company of Barack and Michelle Obama, this Netflix documentary focuses on the work dynamics in an auto-glass factory. After GM left the plant due to the recession, the General Motors assembly plant in Ohio was adopted by Fuyao. Introducing the Chinese workers to the American way of life and training the Americans, most of whom had been previously employed in GM, the documentary showcases the culture shock for both the sides and how the changing beliefs of the Americans fit into this scenario. ‘American Factory’ presents a stark contrast between the idea of the American dream between the two factions.
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2. One Child Nation (2019)
China’s “one-child” policy is considered to be one of the most revolutionary techniques for controlling the population that was growing exponentially. The practice went on for 35 years, and the nation was able to achieve what they set out for, and this appears as an acceptable technique for some other nations who are going through a similar crisis now. However, there is a bloody picture behind what is propagated into the world, and this documentary aims to disclose that to us. Your whole idea of what China did to save themselves from their own population will change after you watch this heart-wrenching documentary. It is high time that we started thinking about the problem of overpopulation, but is China’s way the right way to go about it?
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1. For Sama (2019)
As we watch the world being torn apart on our TV sets, we wonder when the government will do something about it, when the politicians will learn from the past, when the terrorists will let the peace be. But after the TV is switched off, we move about our lives, and rarely stop to appreciate our own position. We see the plight of the civilians in war-torn states but rarely do we get as intimate a study of it as ‘For Sama’ provides us with. Set in Aleppo, Syria, this documentary focuses on five years in the life of a woman who tries to build a normal life in her country that is bleeding from every corner. Heart-wrenching to watch and stirring powerful emotions, it will change your perception about a lot of things.
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