The 5 Best Documentaries I’ve Seen on Netflix So Far (That You’ve Likely Never Heard Of)

Top 5 Nextflix Doc Worth Watching ATG FINAL

My love of cinema stems wide and deep. It’s why I went to film school and made the even crazier, very cliché LA choice to pursue a career in media focusing on storytelling. Though I’m a devotee to narratives of all kinds, I don’t think there’s a genre I’m more fond of than the simplicity of a well-made documentary film. I suppose it’s because it embodies what I think makes this particular aspect of cinema a force unlike any other – and that’s the synergy that comes from telling a story rooted in and based on reality, fused with the artistic ability to capture that moment in time through one of the most powerful mediums ever created.

Ever since I moved into my own place about two and a half years ago now, I never made the leap back to subscribing to cable again (crazy, right?). Instead, I joined Netflix streaming and never looked backed. What has to be the best thing about Netflix, other than the $7.99/month access to thousands of titles, has to be the ability to catch more obscure, independent films and lesser known documentaries.

I can’t tell you how many films and TV shows (read: my current addiction to Scandal) I’ve taken in since my ongoing relationship with Netflix, but there’s plenty worth checking out if you find yourself home on a Saturday night with nothing else to do. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get caught in the trap of sifting through all the titles that I become so overwhelmed and can’t decide what to watch, only to turn it off and grab a book instead.

I’m here to help! If you’re looking for something life-affirming, eye-opening, inspiring, or just plain entertaining. I’ve got you covered on the documentary front. Sadly, what would have made this list as one of my absolute favorite Netflix finds, 65_Red Roses, is no longer streaming, but it would be here without question. I encourage you to see it if you can.

With that, here are the 5 best documentaries I’ve seen (so far) currently streaming on Netflix that you’ve probably never heard of. Your Saturday night programming dilemma, is solved.

If you’re in the mood for a real-life psychological thriller…

11164313_detTania Head says she was inside The World Trade Center the day of the tragic 9/11 attacks. She shares in vivid detail how she got to safety after the plane struck the building, and how unfortunately, her husband didn’t make it out. In an effort to build community with other 9/11 survivors to deal with their grief and give back, Tania helps found and soon becomes President of The World Trade Center Survivor’s Network which makes her a prominent figure in the press and within the community. One small problem though, it’s an intricate web of lies. Tania’s name really isn’t Tania. There’s no record of her ever being married. In fact, we find out that Tania was nowhere near The World Trade Center on 9/11. She was on the other side of the world. Told in uniquely visual manner, The Woman Who Wasn’t There, mysteriously unfolds as it delves into the mindset of a living sociopath and how those she fooled for years finally caught on to her scheme. How could one woman deceive everyone for so long? You’d have to see it to believe it. This is a real-life psychological thriller if there ever was one.

If you’re in the mood for something moving, yet life-affirming…11167652_det

Lost Angels: Skid Row is My Home feelingly follows those who have built a community within the complexities of homelessness. Filmed on Skid Row, which holds Los Angeles’ largest homeless population, this story shares not only the lives of those who’ve made a home on Skid Row and what might have brought them there, but those who have bonded together in the midst of it. Yes, it’s a portrait of life with little means, but more importantly, a story about human connection no matter the circumstances. There’s such humanity to this film, though it shares the most unfortunate of situations, there’s a level of affirmation to it that drives home the resilience of the human spirit.

If you’re in the mood for a night with the supernatural…

11169590_detMy Amityville Horror goes behind the various Hollywood re-makes of the infamous Amityville haunting and catches up with the little boy who lived the real-life horror himself almost 40 years ago. That little boy, Daniel Lutz, now an adult, shares his chilling and life-altering account of personally living among supernatural forces. Whether you believe the story or not, you walk away believing that Daniel truly did and still does. What is now a source of entertainment over a tub of popcorn at the movies for us, seemingly caused permanent psychological damage to him. An entertaining and eerie look at when reality and the celestial collide. Don’t watch this alone.

If you’re in the mood to know what’s likely to become the next biggest social issue of our time…

11171866_detAccording to the eye-opening and infuriating 2013 documentary, Terms and Conditions May Apply, big brother is alive and well. This film succinctly sheds light on what is sure to become the next biggest social issue as our lives become more and more digital, and that dear readers, is your privacy. All of those “accept’ buttons you simply check under the “terms” section of a website to be able to swiftly maneuver to the next screen on-line, is costing you more than you know. Add in the use of social media, web browsing, which email service you use, and cell phone tracking, and we’ve all but somehow given our privacy away. Every single human being who uses the internet or takes a phone call needs to see this film. Perhaps you’ll actually read the “Terms and Conditions” sections before you mindlessly “accept” them moving forward. Apparently, we’re all being watched thanks to our devotion to the internet and our “smart” phones.

If you’re in the mood for something to get you inspired to make a change…11164631_det

Vegucated follows three meat-loving New Yorkers who take on the 6 week challenge to adopt a vegan lifestyle. I was actually inspired to write about this film after I saw it last year. You can read my full review here.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Let me know your thoughts if you happen to catch any of these. If there’s something you’ve seen that’s not on my list, I’d love to hear your suggestions.

Until then, happy streaming!

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*images sourced from Rottentomatoes.com.

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Vegucated

An interesting subject matter, a clever title, and a lazy Sunday morning perusing Netflix lead me to Marisa Miller Wolfson’s documentary, Vegucated. The film explores the ins and outs of transitioning from a meat-eating diet to a vegan lifestyle. Three New Yorkers take on a 6 week challenge to get “vegucated” – learning what it means to be vegan from physiological, ecological, and ethical standpoints.

It’s obvious moments into the film that high-end production equipment nor a large budget were factors in telling the journey’s of Tesla, Brian, and Ellen; the subjects selected to engage in a new vegan way of life. The ease and access of digital film making are appropriately used given the parameters of the challenge, though were distracting at times. In essence, while not absolutely necessary when the goal is to educate, the look to the film was somewhat uninspiring. I’m sure this was intentional and in line with Wolfson’s vision to state the facts and tell the story through a guerrilla-style technique. I suppose this is merely my creative perspective – but when following subjects around the fast-paced New York City streets, more of a polished and stylized film might have worked better for my taste.

When approaching the content, the film does what any “food themed” documentary film would do when trying to persuade its viewers toward a new perception: shed light on why this perception is better; share how relatively easy it is to incorporate change; and then beat us over the head with visuals, a few statistics, and graphics to support this new way of thinking and why common practice is wrong. In this case, Vegucated did a nice job of keeping my interest. It did lack some concrete nutritional information, such as how the body responds when that type of protein is suddenly removed from your diet; and it seemingly glazed over how difficult transitioning would be for the typical American other than Tesla’s struggle, where they simply instruct her to try going “vegetarian” as an option. Not bad advice, but I’m surprised there wasn’t a real breakdown of any of our subjects shown on-camera. You’re essentially asking someone to give up a lifestyle that took 20, 30 or even 40 years to develop.

Where the film does excel, and is a common gimmick used when trying to be persuasive about meat-eating diet changes, is spending quite a bit of time highlighting the horrific practices of slaughter houses and exposing the harsh daily treatment of animals in general. (As such, I strongly suggest not eating during the film.) Of course, visuals of baby chicks being thrown alive into grinders, cows being shot through the head with a bolt gun, and watching a pig being killed and then skinned would be the strongest means to get your message across.

What I found confusing and therefore weakened the premise of the film – which I understood was to get people to see how you’re supporting the betterment of the planet, animal-kind, and yourself by adopting a vegan lifestyle – Wolfson oftentimes brings up vegetarianism. By all means, this is still an excellent option that one can explore if veganism is too extreme, but I fail to understand how you can shed light on both diet forms if your core belief is to save animals from harsh treatment? One should not eat meat because of the slaughter practices, but it’s acceptable to drink milk even after it was just shown how exploited female cows are to produce it? While certainly linked in many aspects, being a vegetarian and a vegan are two completely different practices.

At the end of the film, she highlights many famous vegans, “mostly” vegans, and vegetarians from Susan B. Anthony, to Gandhi, to Rosa Parks, to everyday people. What eventually strengthened her approach by intertwining vegetarianism and veganism, was a short line that stated “you don’t have to be an activist or famous to make a difference.” From this I gathered that the point is to make some sort of contribution, at whatever level you’re comfortable with.

In the end, what Wolfson did for me as a viewer is what I believe her intention was in creating Vegucated: to get you to think about your place in the world relative to your dietary choices. In this, she succeeded. I have a largely chicken-based diet. I like a good burger or slice of bacon here and there, but do consciously work to maintain a healthy plant based diet. This isn’t a huge struggle because I actually LOVE vegetables. I don’t see myself becoming a hardcore vegan anytime soon, but the film has inspired me to incorporate more of its practices into my daily life. As of writing this post, I’m still thinking about what that means for me.

If you find yourself home on a lazy Sunday morning, check out Vegucated (available on Netflix) and let me know what you think…

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