Earlier this month, Netflix tweeted a list of must-watch true crime documentaries for anyone who enjoyed “The Ted Bundy Tapes,” “Frye,” and “Abducted in Plain Sight.”
Shadow of Truth– This docuseries examines the mysterious murder of 13-year-old Tair Rada, an Israeli high school student. Although a suspect was questioned, confessed, and was eventually found guilty, his conviction has been the subject of a great amount of controversy in the country.
Casting JonBenet – Local actors from JonBenet Ramsey’s hometown offer multiple perspectives on her 1996 murder as they vie to play roles in a dramatization of the case.
The Confession Tapes – “The Confession Tapes” explores six true-crime cases where possible false confessions led to people being convicted of murder.
The Keepers – This seven-episode docuseries examines the decades-old unsolved murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik in Baltimore and its suspected link to a priest accused of child abuse.
Wild Wild Country – When the world’s most controversial guru builds a utopian community in Oregon, conflict with the locals and attempted murder escalates into a national scandal.
Minimalism: A Documentary About The Important Things – Can you really become happier with fewer things? If you’ve ever asked yourself that question, don’t miss this documentary that follows people who decided to seriously apply minimalism to their lives. The main characters are Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, two men known simply as The Minimalists, and, who in this documentary as well as in all their projects, will teach you not only to have less, but to free up space for more.
Expedition Happiness – The message of “Expedition Happiness” is simple: life is about sharing with those you love and doing what you want, not about having more and more material possessions. A couple realizes that they’re not happy with their apparently perfect lifestyle. So they leave and, together with their dog, decide to take a trip on a school bus they fixed up. All of their experiences were filmed, and the result is this inspiring audiovisual journey that’s also paired with a beautiful soundtrack.
Abstract: The Art of Design – In eight chapters, this Netflix docuseries introduces us to talented and innovative designers from all different fields of the arts. Each of the subjects invites you to venture briefly into their minds, disciplines, and techniques that have impacted the world with their work.
Stay Here – If interior design is your thing, you’ll appreciate this series for taking you behind the scenes of major home renovations and providing some tips for your own home too. Essentially, a designer and a real estate expert teach property owners how to turn their spaces into vacation rental homes. The series teaches you how to think like a designer, provides tips on renting property, and even serves as a travel guide.
The True Cost – “The True Cost” makes a strong case for being more conscientious when you’re buying clothes. Because sure, that shirt might only be five dollars, but there’s a hidden cost attached. Tl;dr, fast fashion is kind of awful for laborers across the world, and the planet in general. But you already knew that, right?
1. Forks Over Knives (2011) – “Forks Over Knives” sets out to convince viewers to adopt a plant-based diet, and not necessarily for ethical reasons but rather for health. The documentary focuses on research that indicates that a number of chronic illnesses like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes can be prevented and improved by eliminating animal products from our diets.
2. Icarus (2017) – Director Bryan Fogel embarked on this Academy Award-winning documentary with a simple premise – he would take performance-enhancing drugs and then compete in a renowned amateur cycling race, with the goal of proving how easy it is to get away with doping in the cycling world. But the end result proved much bigger than anticipated as Fogel and Russian scientist Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov ended up blowing the whole lid off the state-sponsored Olympic doping scandal in Russia.
3. The Truth About Alcohol (2016) – When the UK introduced new guidelines recommending less alcohol consumption for men (lowering it to six pints of beer a week, the same as recommended for women), British ER doctor Javid Abdelmoneim set out to find—you guessed it—the truth about alcohol. In this funny yet informative documentary, he questions what prompted the change in guidelines, what the health risks (and possible benefits) of drinking are, why some folks get drunker faster, and more.
4. My Beautiful, Broken Brain (2014) – After 34-year-old Lotje Sodderland suffers a hemorrhagic stroke and undergoes emergency brain surgery, she is lucky to be alive. However, she suffers from aphasia, a language impairment that affects one’s ability to speak, read, and write. Almost immediately, Sodderland begins filming herself to document her journey—not quite to recovery, but to learning how to live with her new normal.
5. Unrest (2017) – This Sundance award-winning documentary shines a spotlight on chronic fatigue syndrome, a widely misunderstood disorder that causes extreme fatigue not related to any underlying medical condition. The film follows Jennifer Brea, a 28-year-old Harvard doctoral candidate who is left bedridden following a mysterious fever. When doctors tell her it’s all in her head, Brea and her husband decide to film her struggles with CFS as she connects with fellow sufferers around the world—all without leaving her bed.
Alien Boy: The Life & Death of James Chasse – “Alien Boy: The Life and Death of James Chasse,” is about a man who had schizophrenia and was allegedly attacked by three Portland, Oregon police officers. The attack resulted in the death of Chasse and led to the family suing the city of Portland. The documentary sheds light on how people with mental health disorders can be treated by law enforcement officers who aren’t properly trained.
Simply Complicated – Demi Lovato opens up about her struggles with mental health, substance abuse, self-esteem, and stardom. She may be a celebrity, but many of the pressures she describes experiencing are relatable.
Thin – This HBO documentary follows four women and their struggles with eating disorders. The raw and honest film sheds a light on what self-acceptance looks like and how mental illnesses, such as bulimia and anorexia, affect the daily lives of women in particular.
1. Hale County This Morning, This Evening – “How do you not frame someone?” A bit of onscreen text asks that question at one point in director RaMell Ross’s lyrical, years-in-the-making film about the lives of two African-American teens in sleepy, small-town Alabama. It’s an odd question, but Ross’s documentary provides a stirring answer. Though it traverses years, it doesn’t offer easy stories or pat resolutions. Instead, using fragmentary images and focusing on small, unlikely details and gestures, Ross pulls us into the rhythms and textures of these young men’s lives and their community.
2. Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun? – Director Travis Wilkerson’s striking, confessional essay film delves into a murder in 1946, when his great-grandfather shot and killed a black man in his store in Dothan, Alabama. The filmmaker desperately tries to learn more about the event, as well as about his great-grandfather’s victim. Frustratingly, very little documentation exists of the killing — so the investigation becomes instead a journey into the haunted places of the South and into even darker corners of his family’s past.
3. Amazing Grace – This stunning concert documentary/religious experience about Aretha Franklin’s two-night stand recording her legendary 1972 album of gospel classics was filmed 46 years ago (by the late Sydney Pollack), and was then edited together a few years ago, with Franklin herself twice preventing it from being released. And it’s a wonderful, joyous creation that both completes an interrupted story, and also reveals just how little we still understand about the creative act.
4. On Her Shoulders – When she was 19, Nadia Murad was imprisoned by ISIS as a sex slave. After her ordeal, she became a public spokesperson for the cause of the Yazidis in Iraq, Turkey, and Syria, a small minority who have been murdered and displaced in catastrophic numbers as a result of war in the region. Alexandria Bombach’s enormously powerful documentary follows this young activist around the world, and we understand how Murad’s campaign to raise awareness for her people — which won her a Nobel Peace Prize this year — also forces her to relive her trauma over and over again.
5. Minding the Gap – Following three skater best buds from childhood to adulthood, this film is another fascinating example of a movie that starts as one thing and becomes something completely different. Director Bing Liu was an introverted teen skateboarder when he started shooting himself and his friends as they did various tricks and goofed around. Over the years, as Bing becomes more of a filmmaker, and as life disrupts these relationships in dramatic ways, the picture gains complexity and resonance. And then, it transforms again — into a poignant, pointed essay about abuse, manhood, and the ways that toxic behavior replicates itself across generations and cultures.