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Though action films and rom-coms can be great date-night entertainment material, sometimes we all crave a little realism in our lives! Online subscription services like Netflix make it easier than ever before to enjoy documentary films of all varieties.
Whether you’re fascinated by history or have a passion for the true crime genre, there’s an excellent documentary out there with your name on it.
For Sports Fans: Hoop Dreams
Released in 1994, Hoop Dreams is widely acknowledged as one of the best documentaries of all time. Filmed over the course of five years, the film provides insight into the lives of two African-American high schoolers, both of whom have the potential to become professional basketball players.
Far from just a sports documentary, this epic 170-minute film highlights the hardships faced by both young men and their families. The boys attend a private school and must struggle with long commutes, economic hardship, and racism on top of grueling academics and training. The difficult questions posed by Hoop Dreams remain relevant to this day.
For Nature Lovers: Chasing Coral
When imagining the consequences of climate change, most of us picture melting glaciers. Jeff Orlowski addressed this subject in his 2012 documentary Chasing Ice. In his follow-up film, Chasing Coral, the director shows us the underwater consequences of rising global temperatures.
Between time-lapse cameras and deep-sea dives, the researchers behind Chasing Coral reveal the tragic results of ever-warming ocean waters. Brilliantly-colored coral reefs change color, fade to white, and then decay completely, melting into sludge. Entire marine ecosystems fall apart as a result.
A painful film for nature-lovers to stomach, Chasing Coral is a wake-up call our world needs to heed.
For True Crime Buffs: The Imposter
At the age of 13, young Nicholas Barclay disappeared from his Texan home. Three years later, a boy showed up in a youth shelter in Spain claiming he had escaped from a sex trafficking ring. Naturally, Barclay's family was relieved to have their son returned to them. Something, however, was amiss. The boy's eyes and hair were a different color. His accent was French. Still, the Barclays were certain: this was their son.
A mind-boggling look into the world of impersonation, The Imposter explores the way in which Frenchman Frédéric Bourdin stole the identity of young Nicholas Barclay. Featuring interviews with Barclay's family, dramatic reenactments, and archival footage, The Imposter is an artfully-crafted true crime masterpiece.
For Foodies: Jiro Dreams of Sushi
85-year-old Jiro Ono is a master of his craft. For nearly $300, curious diners can try Ono's sushi at his ten-seat, Michelin-starred restaurant, located in the heart of a Tokyo subway station. One of Ono's sons works alongside him each day; the other has opened a nearly-identical restaurant just across town.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi explores the ways in which this sushi maestro continues to pursue culinary perfection. Through the film's delicate and artful direction we begin to see the world through Ono's eyes. We soon learn that creating the perfect sushi involves more than just purchasing the best cut of fish. For a spellbinding look into the Ono family's single-minded dedication to their craft, spend an evening watching Jiro Dreams of Sushi.
For Social Justice Activists: Paris is Burning
In an age in which RuPaul's Drag Race is watched by both young and old, it can sometimes be challenging to remember that LGBT culture was once widely shunned. Filmed in the late 1980s, Paris is Burning explores New York City's ballroom culture. In ball competitions, primarily queer African-American and Latino youth compete against one another, dancing, acting, and donning elaborate costumes in a variety of different runway events.
In this now-famous documentary, director Jennie Livingston sensitively profiles prominent members of the drag scene, concentrating on the importance of ball culture in the queer community. Highlighting issues of gender, race, sexuality, and social class, Paris is Burning is a powerful and poignant look into the struggles faced by queer minorities in America. Though much has changed in the past 30 years, the film illuminates many injustices that continue to plague our society today.
There’s never been a better time to be a documentary lover! Online streaming providers have recently begun financing more and more documentary filmmakers, boosting the number of high-quality films being produced. A quick Google search will inform you of the latest titles, many of which can be viewed at art house theaters or online. No matter how niche your interests may be, you’re sure to find a documentary that captivates you.
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