This is not your average documentary. It is a fleeting memory, a sudden remembrance of times long past, a meditation on time and culture, a touch of an emotional diary. We follow the eyes of a world traveler who makes sharp observations and tries to convey them to his friend. We never learn who they are and where they came from, and this is perhaps a subtle point the documentary wants to make. The narrator’s voice switches from Japanese to German to English to French, thereby embodying the language of the places visited. By observing the cultural kaleidoscope of our planet, the eye we follow seems to shape-shift its way around and conveys to us, the viewer, that ‘what life is’ depends on where and when you are. Sit down, cover yourself in a blanket and sip on a hot cup of coca and join the collaborative dream called Sans Soleil.
Corporate personhood is probably the elephant in the room when it comes politics. More than a century ago corporations could apply for personhood, giving them constitutional rights as if they were persons. Yet. if they truly were persons, they would be power-hungry one-dimensional sociopaths. Directing everything from what we see, drink, think, eat and everything else what we bring into our lives, corporations have an ever-growing grip on the world. We learn how they own the media, influence governments, silence critics and bend everything to their will, all in the name of profit. This documentary does not have a happy ending, and is probably preaching to the choir, but it is still a must watch if you want to understand the global workings of capitalism.
Cosmos: A Personal Voyage
This list wouldn’t be complete without the documentary Cosmos. Made in 1978 and is one the most viewed documentary on earth. And rightfully so. Prominent astronomer Carl Sagan guides his viewers with his enchanting voice through 13 episodes of 1 hour covering a wide range of scientific and philosophical theories, including the start of the universe and the ancient lost library of Alexandria, life on mars and redshifting galaxies, wormholes and the origin of life, natural selection and UFO’s, hindu cosmology and the human brain. He saw the human species as beings that are just dipping their toes in the water of the shores of the cosmic ocean. While reflecting on humanities potential and its danger to itself he makes us feel like one big happy but troubled family on this pale blue dot we call earth. Do yourself a favor, lock yourself in and watch Cosmos.
The Union: The Business Behind Getting High
This is a must watch for everyone. Do you smoke pot? Watch it. You don’t smoke pot? Watch it anyway. There is a huge industry behind the most used illegal drug in the world. This documentary is set out to understand how this business is run, what effect it has on the people and the society they live in and who actually profits the most (which might surprise you!). From pop culture to the police, The Union tries to portray an objective view of the marijuana trade, confirming the fact what most of us have known for quite some time, there is more money for the status quo when kept illegal. Watch this documentary and never lose a marijuana debate again!
Watch The Union on YouTube.
The Century of the Self
If I have to recommend one documentary to anyone, this is it. It is hard to imagine a time without the consumer culture as the dominant force of the economy. Yet, there was a time where the study of control of the masses, the collective unconscious, wasn’t fully developed. Marketing did not exist, our desires weren’t manipulated for profit by corporations working with psychologists. But Freud’s family ran with his theories, and created the first and the mightiest Personal Relations firm. If you want to understand how this came into being, watch this documentary on the history and rise of individualism, psychotherapy, marketing and capitalism.
Life in a Day
1 day, 80.000 clips worth 4.500 hours of video, 192 nations and these three questions. “What do you love? What do you fear?” and “What’s in your pocket?” These were the ingredients for the first crowdsourced documentary ever made. On the 24th of July 2010 thousands of people from all over the world recorded their lives. They opened up their hearts, their dreams and their pockets for the whole world to see. And this whole world is us. In this 90 minute reflection we are reminded of how much we are alike in the core of our being. This emotionally gripping documentary shows us that it doesn’t matter what cultural glasses we wear, we all go through the same fear, sadness and laughter.
Watch Life in a Day on YouTube.
Where does your food come from? How has it been processed? Who regulates and controls the supply? And who profits the most? These are questions with unsettling answers. When the population boomed and the demand for food was high corporations put profit ahead of human lives and their environment. We now have more delicious varieties of food than ever before, yet we seem to pay a high cost. New bacteria, and an epidemic of obesity, cancer and diabetes has become a part of our daily lives. While the USDA and the FDA are supposed to protect consumers from the food industry, this documentary reveals an unsettling close relationship between the handful corporations that control the food supply and the supposed to be independent watchmen. If you want to know what you put in your body everyday, watch Food Inc.
Coined medicine for the soul by LSD inventor Albert Hoffman, this drug is back in the spotlights. After the widespread use in the 60’s where young kids tried to free their minds by going on psychedelic adventures and the banning of the drug that followed, any scientific research was halted. Yet, LSD was the raft that took people to the brink of enlightenment, madness, life-lasting wonderment and revolutionary insights into reality. This short unbiased documentary gives us a quick history of the use and banning of LSD and the potential it still holds today. Can it be used as a smart drug? Can it cure mental illnesses? Watch Inside LSD to find out!
Watch Inside LSD on YouTube.
Taxi to the Dark Side
Torture is designated as a necessary practice by our leaders to protect our democracy in the ‘war on terror’. But what if it happens to someone innocent? And are we still a democracy if we neglect the basic rights on which it was founded? Can we save freedom by destroying it? Taxi to the Dark Side is a disorienting yet extremely well argued documentary that tells us the story of how an Afghani taxi driver got apprehended, tortured and murdered. From the international policies of the United states to the not-so-secret-anymore prisons, this documentary shows us the side our national media won’t show us. This is a must watch documentary that will leave you with a feeling of pure raw outrage. How on earth can our leaders get away with this?
Deliver Us From Evil
Still being looked after by the Catholic church today, Father Oliver O’grady is best known for abusing dozens of children while still remaining active in the clergy. The heart-gripping stories of the victims that are shown in this brilliant documentary are very disturbing, yet gives us a faith-destroying look into how institutions can protect the guilty and destroy the souls of the innocent. These stories are juxtaposed with a shocking interview of O’grady himself, showing the inner workings of a sociopath. This is not a story with a happy ending. It is rather an honest portrayal of the raw pain that trauma carries into the lives of the ones that have been harmed and the cover up that does the impossible, making it worse. This scandal of the century is a must watch for all those who dare to see the corrupted inner workings of the Church and its effects on everyone involved.
Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth
Myths, the stories we tell about our fears, demons, dreams, passions, heroes and our magical existence are still to be found everywhere around us. This documentary by Joseph Campbell, famous author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces and myth expert shows us how deep we are still embedded in imagery, archetypes and symbols. According to Campbell, every human has an innate desire to build a myth to get some grip on reality. Using Star Wars as a prime example, Campbell makes his encyclopedic knowledge relevant for us today, translating old myths into modern teachings. This 7-part series will open your mind and heart to the idea that you can be your own hero of your life by creating your own myth.
God Grew Tired Of Us
This fascinating and inspiring documentary tells the story of three boys from Sudan, Africa. From a country torn apart by civil war and having suffered a life of chaos and destruction they are offered the chance to build up a life in America. Because they were Christians, they had to flee their country. Because they had lost their parents, they had to do it on their own. Now living in America and reflecting back on their youth we see how The struggle continues and the sadness remains. But this documentary is uplifting nonetheless, in the face of utter despair we get shown incredible strong spirits and amazing wit. This documentary gives us a powerful look at our own culture with a new pair of eyes. This will be one of the most beautiful documentaries you will ever see.
Order God Grew Tired Of Us at Amazon.
An Inconvenient Truth
Since the industrial revolution we humans have gotten control (or being controlled by?) of powerful technology whereby we are actually becoming a planetary force. In this documentary, Al Gore shows us how this technology is terraforming our earth and the deadly consequences thereof. We release energy into our atmosphere at an increasing rate, energy that had been gathering for millions of years beneath our crust. This energy is the cause of global warming which in turn causes ice to melt, shorelines to retreat and an increase in hurricanes and droughts. Yes, admitted, the film is political in nature and has some factual untruths. However, there is overwhelming evidence and consensus among scientists that global warming is real. This is not a boring or trivial film. Watch this documentary to understand why you should care.
Man On Wire
Coined by many as ‘the artistic crime of the century’, the illegal walk between New York’s twin towers is a wonder to behold. Man On Wire tells us the fascinating story of how Philippe Petit and his friends planned and engineered a crazy-man dream. In the dark night of August 7th 1974, Petit and his fellowship got past the WTC’s security, carrying the heavy cable that in turn had to carry him, and clamped it tight on both ends. In the morning, he took his first step and walked to the other side, only to return and perform some dazzling stunts. This documentary builds tension just as the wire that was bridged across and shows us a spiritual uplifting tale of a young man and his dream.
Philosophy: A Guide to Happiness
Arguably the most fascinating aspect of being a human is our innate thirst of knowledge. Knowledge that can strengthen our spiritual immune system and help us to cope with whatever reality throws at us. Knowledge that can make us stronger, wiser and help to choose and achieve our dreams. This thirst has culminated over millennia into an art that is called philosophy, short for philo-love and sophia-wisdom, the love of wisdom. In this wonderful documentary we learn about six philosophers and why their works still hold value for us today. The six parts of the documentary are Socrates on Self-Confidence, Epicurus on Happiness, Seneca on Anger, Montaigne on Self-Esteem, Schopenhauer on Love and Nietzsche on Hardship. By watching this documentary, you are planting the seeds of wisdom in your own live.
Watch Philosophy: A Guide To Happiness on YouTube.
This fact-based thriller is a story about the building block of modern civilization. Oil. There is practically nothing we humans do that is not in some way related to oil. Transportation, food, electricity and housing are all dependent on the black gold. It is the main reason why the western nations could have grown so rapidly in the last century. The man who predicted the 2008 financial collapse now urges us to look out for the next one. But this time it won’t be just financial, it will the whole world. Once we move further away from peak oil (the moment we use more than we can produce), oil prices will rise so much, that nobody can afford it anymore, bringing the whole world to a halt.
Baraka is an ancient Sufi word, which can be translated “as a blessing, or the breath, or the essence of life from which the evolutionary process unfolds. In this is exactly what this amazing documentary succeeds in capturing. The opening shot immediately conveys the meditative feel this film inevitable infects you with. It has visually stunning images of the intricate web of rituals we humans are embedded in and shows how every culture is part of the whole collective consciousness. Baraka is so powerful you not only see with your eyes and hear with your ears, but you can sense it in the core of your being. Smoke a bowl and let yourself be immersed in the mystery of life.
In 2008 the collapse of the ‘Too Big Too Fail’ banks shocked the world, leaving millions of people without a roof over their heads and a select few with millions in bonuses. Inside job shows the scandalous truth that the whole financial collapse was in fact, an inside job. It shows us how bankers and politicians rigged the money game and gambled with money other than their own. This is a must watch for everyone who wants to understand the enormous grip Wall Street has on politics and how it is possible that after 4 years, not a single person has been accounted and not a single regulation has changed.
Watch Inside Job on Vimeo.
Compassion and Wisdom: A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life
This rare gem is probably the best documentary on buddhism and its Bodhisattva ideal ever made. Beautifully edited, this documentary shows captivating buddhist architecture and engaged buddhist teachers and scholars. Compassion and Wisdom, the two necessary wings of buddhism, are arguably the most important traits humans can develop. This documentary brings everyone who watches it a step closer to this ideal and inspires everyone to embark on the full journey. This is a must watch for novice and expert alike, it is full of thought-provoking ideas that will leave none untouched. A true masterpiece.
Order Compassion and Wisdom: A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life at VajraVideo.
Iraq In Fragments
In 2003 the United States and the United Kingdom invaded Iraq to search for the never found Weapons of Mass Destruction. Contrary to what we get shown by our national media, this documentary let the Iraqi people speak for themselves. It shows the Sunni, the Kurdish people and the Shia movement and fills in the gap of who the Iraqi people are with real faces of flesh and blood who breathe, feel, suffer and love. With beautifully shot images if their country we learn about their widely different perspectives on the United States, the powerful nation who invaded their land to bring freedom, yet we find out their struggles are universal. We learn about their thoughts, beliefs and their hopes for a brighter future.
Man With a Movie Camera
This amazing film made in 1929 is a silent masterpiece made by Dziga Vertov. Vertov believed that the camera should capture life as it is really lived, not as the maker of the film believed it should be. Nothing in this movie is staged and no narrative to be followed. Just a man with a movie camera. Vertov tried to make the first trans-cultural film by showing the deeply we are intertwined with machine, that we are part of a larger machine and that machines are extensions of ourselves. It depicts an age where the human anthill began to construct their large cities. Startlingly self-reflexive, this documentary can not but make you feel part of some bigger order and chaos, life and death, progress and decay.
You were born on it. You are breathing in it. You are part of its intricate ecosystem. But you haven’t seen it like this ever before. Planet Earth is one of the most amazing documentaries ever made, it took 40 camera teams 5 years to capture this great selection of this planet teeming with life. It depicts ecosystems that are dramatically changing by human behavior. It shows animals their struggles and cruelty in their fight to survive. Narrated by the soft soothing voice of David Attenborough, this documentary is both entertaining as it is educational and will leave an imprint behind to protect this magical place called earth.
Triumph of the Will
The only thing that is more shocking than a whole nation losing their individual identity is that it can be depicted as beautiful. The problem is just this, how can we distinction propaganda from a true ideal? The horrifying truth of being human could very well be that we can’t, and Triumph of the Will, arguably the most effective and powerful propaganda film ever made, is the strongest argument that can be made to support this. The documentary shows the 1934 Nazi Party rally in Nuremberg, Germany, that was ordered by Hitler himself. He knew that effective propaganda was just simple repetition and an appeal to feelings over reason. This film shows over 700,000 Nazi sympathisers, Hitler’s speech and the birth of what was supposed to be the Third Reich.
Watch Triumph of the Will on YouTube.
On the world’s largest garbage dump located just outside Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Catadores, self-appointed garbage pickers sort out the waste from the recyclable material. But contrary to what the title suggests, this documentary is not just about despair, but more about the optimistic resilient aspect of human happiness. World renowned artist Vik Muniz collaborates with the Catadores, creating art out of garbage and sell them to profit the thousands of workers who work under the blazing sun on the immense landfill. The sheer beauty of this documentary makes you cry with happiness while at the same time teaches you how to recycle yourself. A true eco-documentary in both spirit and application, Waste Land is a must watch for everyone.
Exit Through The Gift Shop
Exit Through The Gift Shop is another amazing art documentary that is a mandatory view for everyone. It is the story of how a French shopkeeper, addicted to filming, sniffed the trail of underground street artists and ended up in the world of Bansky, arguably the most notorious, political active, guerilla graffiti artist/prankster. In a Kafkian twist, Bansky turns the camera arround to turn the young Frenchman into a street artist himself, and uses the film to create his own documentary. It shows the birth of street art, its message and reception in the world at large.