My ‘Top 8 Favorite Documentaries That Aren’t Boring’
They can’t all be Tiger King
My love of documentaries began many years ago-the combination of history nerd and a short attention span for non-fiction narratives. While this list won’t impress any academics or film buffs, it won’t turn off any superhero movie fans looking for a good time, either. I was recently afforded the opportunity to executive produce a documentary film series about the fall of the USSR for an upcoming release date commemorating the 30 year anniversary. It is a real thrill for me and a genuine dream come true moment that all my hours of mindlessly perusing the iTunes documentary lists watching trailers and hoping for a hit are finally paying off. I would say for every great, entertaining documentary on this list, there are 20 or so that didn’t live up to their attempts — although I always appreciate the effort. Documentary filmmakers are a unique class of their own and I marvel at the time, effort and dedication it takes to attempt to explain something complex while also trying to entertain. They can’t all be TIGER KING!!! A good friend of mine told me an anecdote about Michael Moore. He used to hang signs around the editing bays that said “Remember, people need to go home and have sex after watching this” to remind people that no matter the subject matter, you have to still be entertaining if you want people to come to the movie theater on a date and enjoy themselves. Even if everything on this list doesn’t exactly make you want to have sex, it won’t make you not want to either.
So in respect to my latest undertaking and to combat the quarantine streaming blues, I offer you my top 8 list of favorite documentaries for these strange times. None of them are overly sad (unless you plan on a life of crime) and all of them have at least one interview, animal, or character in the film that absolutely makes it impossible to stop watching. Some of the filming and footage is crappy, maybe, but all of the stories are fascinating-which to me is the basis of a great doc. Hopefully there are a few here that you find entertaining.
OPERATION ODESSA- this film is outrageous. It really showcases the fall of the USSR and how easy it was to buy anything over there- even a Russian nuclear submarine for the Cali drug cartel in Columbia…. A cast of characters you will not forget! On of the characters in this film owns a strip club so there are definitely some parts not for younger audiences. Netflix recently added it and we have owned it for years and regularly watch it just for the laughs. I honestly wouldn’t believe this story but they had the photos to prove it!
THE SEVEN FIVE I’m always nostalgic for old NYC but this one I am especially fond of. Pretty unbelievable to be named the most corrupt cop ever in 1980’s NYC and even more outrageous that the subject agrees on film. Dramatic situations for sure, but very funny in moments too. I’m always amazed how these filmmakers find these criminals and get them to tell everything on camera. It is a true art form. I’m also equally amazed how much I root for the bad guys to make it.
MURDERBALL: I volunteer with disabled persons at an equine therapy facility and what all my clients really want is to be talked to normally and to even be able to joke about their “disability.” When I asked my first client of the day, who is in a wheelchair, if she tells people she’s going to go ride horses and then play tennis afterwards just to mess with them she fell out laughing and we became friends immediately (she does). Nothing embodies that more than this film. The toughest rugby players and coaches you’ll ever meet! They also delve briefly into some of the more personal aspects of being a young man in a wheelchair and open up an interesting dialogue on a subject most people are afraid to ask.
THE RUSSIAN FIVE: One of the best sports movies I’ve ever seen. I don’t even follow hockey and this had me cheering from my sofa. If you’re sensing a Russian trend this is the last one, I promise. They are a compelling society nonetheless and these hockey players, along with the competitive storyline, are totally unforgettable.
WILD WILD COUNTRY Most people have already seen this one on Netflix but if you haven’t, its an incredible ride! I grew up in Oregon and any time someone wore red my mom would side eye me and say “Rajneeshe” in a barely disguised stage whisper. I was always surprised this didn’t get more mainstream news coverage but watching this I learned more than I even knew at that time or saw covered on the nightly news.
JOSHUA: TEENAGER VS SUPERPOWER also on Netflix. This is the unbelievable story of a 14 year old boy who started the Hong Kong protests against China. It’s also done by the same director and producer as the documentary series I’m producing. I spent time in Hong Kong when I was in my late teens and it was such a progressive, stunning country. I used to party at a club called 1997 way before that day arrived and with it the Chinese Government. With everything that’s going on in China, this is a very educational and inspiring film about what’s possible at any age and if we all stick together to stand up for what we know is right — even if it is against incredibly powerful sources. If the possibility that COVID-19 came out of China and its spread was a massive state coverup seems a bit far-fetched to you-watch this film and get a first hand look at how China handles it’s dissenting citizens.
DARK HORSE: Try and not cry during this I dare you! Not because the horse dies (he doesn’t! spoiler alert sorry! Life is too weird right now to throw a dead horse curveball at anyone) but because of the small Welsh town that pools their money to take a horse all the way to the biggest race. Such a fantastic example of believing in yourself and in this case, your horse.
I LOVE THIS MOVIE.
BIGGEST LITTLE FARM: This movie was shot by a NATGEO animal videographer and it is just unbelievable-the slow movement filming of flowers opening and animals growing up plus an incredible story. You rarely see documentaries shot this well over this long a period of time-it just isn’t profitable to do it that way. He and his wife decide to leave a small apartment in LA and build a completely organic, sustainable farm outside the city. It will blow your mind and you will learn so much about farming. It lead me to find my favorite farm here in the Chicago area, Mint Creek Farm https://mintcreekfarm.com and they have been delivering me my fresh meat and eggs every week straight to my door all through this entire pandemic.
I LOVE THIS MOVIE TOO.
Happy watching!! Send me your lists or let me know if you liked any of these and you got a chance to check them out.