You know those documentaries you wish you could unsee? I feel ya. That’s why I’ve compiled a list of documentaries that are sure to leave you with a sense of awe – you know, the kind you’ll probably be thinking about for a long time afterwards.
Get ready to sit back and pop in a movie. (You know what I mean.) Here are my top five picks for this year’s weird and wonderful docs that will hit close to home. If you only see five this year, see these five. I promise they won’t let you down.
Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World
If you haven’t been to BC’s Haida Gwaii, this is a chance to see some seriously drool-worthy landscapes. But besides that, it covers in detail the deep and heart-wrenching history of one of the last places on the earth that’s still untouched, how it has stayed that way, and what may become of Canada’s well-loved archipelago. It earned “Best Canadian Feature Documentary” at the Hot Docs Documentary Festival this year in Toronto, and “Most Popular Documentary” at the Vancouver International Film Festival. I say watch it for the beautiful scenery alone, and maybe you’ll learn a thing or two about why the place is so darn magical.
The Birth of Saké
What do families and Japanese rice wine have in common? A lot, apparently. This unique, spellbinding documentary follows the lives of saké makers in Japan. It’s essentially a doc about handcrafted booze, which lovers of quality food and drink will appreciate. But what’s interesting is how the film weaves together family life, alcohol and ancient tradition in a really unique way. Think arthouse drama meets your fave Food Network show. All right, so this has the potential to be a bit of a slow burner, but the cinematography is as exquisite and palatable as the drink itself, and will hold your attention the entire way through. Definitely worth a watch. Just don’t blame me if you really want some saké afterwards.
How to Change the World
Many people are unaware that Greenpeace actually started out in Vancouver in 1971 as a small group of daring, passionate activists who tried to, quite literally, save the whales. And that’s what this award-winning Canadian doc is about. It delves into the history of Greenpeace when Bob Hunter was at its forefront—and has a lot of cool retro footage from the 70s. It’s also a poignant tale on the power of media, protest and activism, spanning from 1971 to 1979. It was a “Top Ten Audience Favourite” at this year’s DOXA Documentary Film Festival in Vancouver. Watch it, and you just might find out how to change the world.
It might sound strange to have a whole documentary based around breastfeeding, but this one is compelling because it considers women’s rights when it comes to their own bodies, particularly within the frame of childbirth. Seriously, how often do people really talk about breast milk? The film also manages to successfully take on the topic of childbirth and infant feeding from a global perspective, which is a pretty impressive undertaking. Ok, maybe not the best thing to watch if you’re lactose intolerant, but it ventures into some pretty shocking territory around nutrition, food industries and modern childbirth, such as breastfeeding being banned in public. Directed by the talented Noemi Weis, it’s a provocative (Canadian!) work that’s both “artistic and political” – and it’s great when a documentary can pull that off.
This is one of the most fascinating documentary premises in a long time, especially if you’re a film buff (which I’m assuming you are, since you made it to the end of this list). The Wolfpack is about seven children who grow up in New York City and literally aren’t allowed to leave the house because of their controlling father. Movies are their only link to the outside world and end up teaching them everything they know. Ironically, this doc lends a huge nod to the power of film in a way that kind of makes you feel uneasy. How much of our cultural understanding is based on the films we watch, even for those of us who are free to leave the house?