From corruption to summer camp: the best documentaries of 2020 (2022)

Collective

“Plays like a thriller” can be trite when describing a documentary but in the case of Collective, Alexander Nanau’s watchful, truly galling film on the corruption-addled aftermath of a 2015 club fire in Bucharest, the description holds water. The two-hour film plays like the best of journalism features, from All the President’s Men to Spotlight, as a team of sports journalists – seemingly the only ones asking the government difficult questions – burrow into layer upon jaw-dropping layer of grift in the Romanian healthcare system. Twenty-seven people died in the fire at the nightclub Colectiv, but another 37 died from treatable wounds in the following weeks, many from bacterial infections caught in the country’s bribery-laced hospitals. Nanau’s hawk-eyed camera watches from car stakeouts, press conference audiences, and meeting rooms, as journalists expose a system mottled with rot. How to uncover truth the powerful seek buried? How to even bend a system resistant to change? Those questions, and the searing crusade of Collective, extend far past Romania.

All In: The Fight for Democracy

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Stacey Abrams’ film on voting rights for Amazon recasts dual timelines of America’s failure to fulfill the basic building block of its democracy: equal access to the vote. One timeline stretches all the way back to the country’s founding, when only white male property owners could vote, and traces the painfully slow, non-linear history of enfranchisement in America, from the gains of Reconstruction and crackdown of Jim Crow laws in the south, to the promise of full democracy with the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the new wave of voter suppression tactics employed after a 2013 Supreme Court ruling gutted the law. The shorter timeline revisits Abrams’ 2018 gubernatorial race in Georgia, a state long notorious for its aggressive suppression of black voters, and in which her opponent Brian Kemp’s purging of the rolls probably cost her the race. All In offers a cogent history lesson, a grounded warning, and an empowering call to action. Given the prescience of Abrams’ voter registration work in Georgia, which helped tip the national election to Joe Biden, and the fragility of America’s democratic gains, it’s a broadly accessible and succinct message worth heeding.

Time

In 1997, Sibil Fox Rich and her husband, Robert, were convicted of a bank robbery in Louisiana, an act of desperation after a business failure and a crime for which they took responsibility. Sibil took a plea deal and served three and half years. Robert, given bad legal advice, refused the deal and was sentenced to 60 years without parole. Time, Sundance documentary director prize winner Garrett Bradley’s wistful observance of the bruising passage of years in the wake of one devastating sentence, with a combination of Sibil’s remarkable, stirring home archives – videos of her belly pregnant with twins, birthday parties with her six sons – with recent black-and-white footage as she fights for Robert’s release. Time excoriates America’s prison system as a reincarnation of slavery, but unlike works such as Ava DuVernay’s 13th, Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, Douglas Blackmon’s Slavery By Another Name, Bradley’s film sticks to the strictly, painfully personal, the burden of mass incarceration and excessive sentencing refracted through one permanently altered family. It’s an achingly intimate, time-lapse portrait that at times plays almost as a narrative drama, on the resilience of one black family in Louisiana and the unending toll of America’s punitive criminal justice system that still manages to conjure moments of light.

Boys State

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What happens when you task 1,000 high school boys, isolated at the Texas state capitol, with two-party self-governance? A rollicking, at times inspiring, at times terrifying ride known as Boys State, the longstanding American Legion summer youth program and the title of Apple TV+’s Sundance breakout by married film-makers Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine. The Texas Boys State convention in summer 2018, in which participants elect party officials, run rapid-fire campaigns and pass party platforms, is of course not representative of American democracy in microcosm (the girls have a separate week, and the group is overwhelmingly white). But Boys State, the film, is still a fascinating portal into late 2010s adolescent masculinity and alchemic, nascent political instincts at their best (star Steven Garza’s dogged idealism, quick friendships, the occasional prevalence of better natures) and worst (unproductive showboating, the toxic current of demagoguery, racist and personal attacks). It’s a simulation of government and an absorptive, fly-on-the-wall peek (what are the teen boys talking about?) that breeds both hope and deep concern for America’s democratic future.

Through the Night

Through the Night, Bronx-based Afro-Dominican director Loira Limbal’s tender, intimately observed film on one 24/7 home daycare in New Rochelle, New York, both presages the pandemic focus on essential workers and envisions how generous, curious attention on their lives and work could look. Over two years, Limbal follows the daycare run by married couple Deloris (“Nunu”) and Patrick (“PopPop”) Hogan, whose home serves as a pillar of support for both children and their parents, often Latina and black single mothers, strained ever tighter by the demands of American capitalism. Limbal’s camera lingers on small acts of love and the everyday work of caregiving – rubbing lotion on a child’s feet, braiding hair, hugs for tired toddlers and bleary-eyed mothers. It’s a small, quiet film, long in the making for a profession too often dismissed or overlooked, that nonetheless argues implicitly for a radical reorientation of what is considered essential work, and how we could value it accordingly.

Disclosure

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Netflix’s Disclosure traces a shameful century of depictions of transgender people in popular culture, from silent film caricatures up through cis actors playing trans characters in awards-bait roles. Director Sam Feder’s film cogently synthesizes a disturbing accumulation of horrific stereotypes, and considers – with the participation of such trans entertainment figures as Laverne Cox, Trace Lysette, Jazzmun, MJ Richardson, Candis Cayne and Tiq Milan – the explosion of promising but still often problematic depictions of trans characters in the past decade. Disclosure also reflects on the double-edged sword of representation – how visibility opens new doors but invites backlash, provides pathways but can mask a lack of policy and material protections for trans people, particularly trans women of color. When 84% of Americans do not personally know someone who is transgender, according to a Glaad survey, cultural depictions take on outsize significance; Disclosure exhumes both the long trail of damaging portrayals baked into our present and how much better we have to do.

On the Record

No documentary that I’ve seen on the by-now long arc of the #MeToo movement approaches the fallout of publicly revealing one’s story of sexual violence with more nuance and psychological acuity than On the Record. The HBO Max film caused a stir at Sundance when, just days before its premiere, executive producer Oprah Winfrey backed out citing vague “inconsistencies”, effectively scrapping its Apple TV+ release. The off-screen drama does not detract from the risky, strikingly vulnerable story told by the accusers of music mogul Russell Simmons, founder of Def Jam records and an elder statesman of hip-hop. Nominally, On the Record, from film-making duo Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering (makers of the campus assault doc The Hunting Ground), follows former Def Jam executive Drew Dixon as she considers telling the story of an alleged rape by Simmons in the mid-90s to the New York Times in fall 2017. But the film smartly balances Dixon’s story with both cultural context – the specific burden of black women speaking out against a black cultural icon, the longstanding misogyny in hip-hop and the music industry at large – and Dixon’s own ever-shifting understanding of what happened to her. What are the consequences of reopening a wound in public, of seeing your story retold in push alerts and relitigated online? The answers are frustrating, ongoing, and demanding of attention past the headlines.

The Painter and the Thief

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A magnetic, meticulously rendered portrait of an unlikely and peculiar friendship, The Painter and the Thief delves into the dark forest of human connection. The Painter would be Barbora Kysilkova, a Czech artist relocated to Oslo; the Thief is Karl-Bertil Nordland, a former narcotics dealer who, for reasons seemingly unknown to himself and with the help of an unnamed accomplice, stole two of Kysilkova’s photo-realist paintings with unusual and striking care (the thieves unhooked each canvas from 200 staples, a task that would take an art expert over an hour). The two meet at a court date, then lunch, then embark on a mutual experiment of observance and understanding, as Kysilkova, perhaps ill-advisedly endeavors to paint his portrait. All the while, the Norwegian film-maker Benjamin Ree passively observes from within, in what amounts to a three-year odyssey of empathy, vulnerability, and in a standout, minutes-long scene in which the painter surprises the thief with his portrait, the crackling, yawning human desire to feel seen.

The Scheme

I found HBO’s The Scheme to be one of the more surprisingly enjoyable films of the year, in large part because of the ludicrousness of an FBI sting operation to nail Division I NCAA basketball coaches for corruption by targeting … a low-level 24-year-old sports agency runner. Christian Dawkins, the film’s wry, refreshingly candid star, was a small fish in the bloated money game of college sports, framed by New York prosecutors as a blow against the NCAA’s alleged pay-for-play scheme. Pat Kondelis’s film covers all the absurdity: botched FBI stings, deals struck on a yacht, damning wiretapped phone calls with such powerful coaches as LSU’s Will Wade and Arizona’s Sean Miller, the farce that is Dawkins, a black man, serving 18 months in prison for, as Kondelis put it, “doing the exact same thing that coaches who are older white guys who make $3.5m to $5m a year are [doing].” It’s a toss-up who comes out looking worse in The Scheme, the NCAA or the FBI, but the hare-brained ride is nevertheless, like the big-business racket that is D1 college basketball, very entertaining.

Crip Camp

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Crip Camp, Nicole Newnham and Jim LeBrecht’s sweet, surprisingly sweeping film co-produced with the Obamas’ Higher Ground, breathes magic back into the memories of a 70s summer camp for disabled teens in upstate New York. Camp Jened, which LeBrecht attended as a 15-year-old in 1971, was a Woodstock for disabled teens both in setting and its utopic vision of a world that did not automatically assume an able-bodied perspective. With invaluable rolls of vintage footage, Crip Camp fondly recalls the heat of summer camp – first joints, first love, first attempts discussing and articulating a worldview – and the remarkable trail blazed in its wake, as many ex-Jenedians participated in the oft-underplayed disability rights movement in America. It’s nothing short of beautiful to see familiar faces from an informal Jened picnic roundtable about overprotective parents reappear years later, in marches on Washington or a shutdown of Madison Avenue, demanding visibility for disabled Americans and the right to participate fully in American society.

FAQs

From corruption to summer camp: the best documentaries of 2020? ›

From corruption to summer camp: the best documentaries of 2020
  • Collective. Magnolia Pictures & Magnet Releasing. ...
  • All In: The Fight for Democracy. Prime Video. ...
  • Time. Prime Video. ...
  • Boys State. A24. ...
  • Through the Night. Through the Night. ...
  • Disclosure. Netflix Film. ...
  • On the Record. HBO Max. ...
  • The Painter and the Thief. Madman Films.
Dec 30, 2020

What is considered the best documentary of all time? ›

Best documentaries of all time
  • Photograph: BBC. Shoah (1985) ...
  • Photograph: Argos Films. Sans Soleil (1983) ...
  • The Thin Blue Line (1988) ...
  • Night and Fog (1955) ...
  • Harlan County U.S.A. (1976) ...
  • Dont Look Back (1967) ...
  • The War Game (1965) ...
  • Nanook of the North (1922)
Mar 22, 2022

How do you find good documentaries? ›

Best Places to Watch Documentaries Online (and Off) Reference guide for filmmakers looking to showcase and/or sell their films
  1. Filmmakers, Submit Your Documentary To PBS.
  2. Top Documentary Films. This is a another hub for a variety of documentaries. ...
  3. Internet Archive. ...
  4. Hulu. ...
  5. YouTube. ...
  6. Vimeo. ...
  7. Amazon. ...
  8. OWN Documentary Club.

What do you call a person who loves documentaries? ›

Documentarian Definition & Meaning - Merriam-Webster.

Where are the best history documentaries? ›

The 20 Best History Documentaries
  • 'Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution' (2020) Netflix. Netflix. ...
  • 'Woodstock: Three Days that Defined a Generation' (2019) Netflix. ...
  • 'Jackie Robinson' (2016) PBS. ...
  • 'Apollo 11' (2019) Hulu. ...
  • 'Medal of Honor' (2018) Netflix. ...
  • 'RBG' (2018) Hulu. ...
  • 'The Roosevelts: An Intimate History' (2014) PBS. ...
  • 8. '
May 14, 2020

What's the best documentary on Netflix at the moment? ›

Here are 40 of the best documentaries currently streaming on Netflix right now:
  • Procession. Year: 2021. ...
  • Dick Johnson Is Dead. Year: 2020. ...
  • Shirkers. Year: 2018. ...
  • 13th. Year: 2016. ...
  • No Direction Home. Year: 2005. ...
  • Crip Camp. Year: 2020. ...
  • Becoming. Year: 2020. ...
  • Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese. Year: 2019.
Aug 5, 2022

Which app has best documentaries? ›

Hulu. Hulu is a top destination for documentaries about musicians, celebrities, and pop culture.

What are the 6 types of documentaries? ›

What Are Documentary Modes? In 1991, American film critic and theoretician Bill Nichols proposed that there were six different modes of documentary—poetic, expository, reflexive, observational, performative, and participatory—each containing its own specific characteristics.

What is a movie addict called? ›

A person with a passionate interest in cinema is called a cinephile (/ˈsɪnɪfaɪl/), cinemaphile, filmophile, or, informally, a film buff (also movie buff). To a cinephile, a movie is not just a form of entertainment as they see films from a more critical point of view.

Who watched the most movies? ›

Most movies watched-world record set by Ashish Sharma. [June 20] MATHURA, India--Ashish Sharma has set a world record for watching movies non-stop for 120 hours. Each movie lasted around 90 minutes and Ashish was permitted a 10 minute rest after each film.

How do you get rid of watching movies? ›

How to rein in your viewing
  1. Keep track of how much you watch. To get a better idea of how much TV you usually watch, try keeping a log of the time you spend watching each day. ...
  2. Explore your reasons for watching TV. ...
  3. Create specific limits around TV time. ...
  4. Distract yourself. ...
  5. Connect with others.
Jan 29, 2020

Does Netflix have historical documentaries? ›

DocumentariesExplore more
  • #AnneFrank - Parallel Stories.
  • The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes.
  • Age of Samurai: Battle for Japan.
  • High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America.
  • Gladbeck: The Hostage Crisis.
  • The Confession Tapes.
  • Roman Empire.
  • The Lost Pirate Kingdom.

What streaming service has the best historical documentaries? ›

Best for Documentaries
  • Sign Up. peacocktv.com. Peacock. ...
  • 7-Day Trial. apple.com. Apple TV+ ...
  • Watch. TubiTV.com. Free Option. ...
  • 30-Day Trial. amazon.com. Amazon Prime Video. ...
  • 7-Day Trial. curiositystream.com. Curiosity Stream. ...
  • Learn More. kanopy.com. Free Option. ...
  • 7-Day Trial. magellantv.com. MagellanTV. ...
  • 7-Day Trial. historyvault.com. HISTORY Vault.

What movies are based on true stories on Netflix? ›

Real Life Movies
  • Fatherhood.
  • Rise of the Krays.
  • King of Thieves.
  • 3096 Days.
  • My Best Friend Anne Frank.
  • Against The Ice.
  • 6 Days.
  • The King.

What is everyone watching on Netflix? ›

Most Popular on Netflix: A Look at Today's Top 10
  • Echoes. Years: 2020-2022. Creator: Vanessa Gazy. ...
  • Partner Track. Year: 2022. ...
  • Selling The OC. Year: 2022. ...
  • The Sandman. Year: 2022. ...
  • High Heat. Years: 2022. ...
  • Me Time. Year: 2022. ...
  • Running with the Devil: The Wild World of John McAfee. Year: 2022. ...
  • Look Both Ways. Year: 2022.
6 days ago

What should I watch on April 2022? ›

Best TV Shows of April, 2022
  • 'RuPaul's Drag Race' VH1. Photo: Sling TV. ...
  • 'The Great Pottery Throw Down' HBO Max. Photo: HBO Max. ...
  • 'Atlanta' FX. Photo: Coco Olakunle/FX. ...
  • 'Barry' HBO. Photo: HBO. ...
  • 'Abbott Elementary' ABC. Photo: ABC. ...
  • 'Minx' HBO Max. Photo: WarnerMedia. ...
  • 'WeCrashed' Apple TV+ Photo: Apple TV+ ...
  • 'Killing It' Peacock.
Apr 29, 2022

Does Netflix have documentary series? ›

And with the recent explosion of the "docuseries" format, we have the ability to go deeper into a story than ever before. Netflix has a bountiful of great documentaries that cover a diverse range of subjects, from true crime to sports to even filmmaking.

Where can I find documentaries for free? ›

The Best Websites for Watching Free Documentaries
  • Freedocumentaries.org. Freedocumentries.org streams full-length, thought-provoking, educational, and entertaining documentary films for free, with no registration required. ...
  • Documentary Heaven. ...
  • DocumentaryWIRE. ...
  • Documentary.net. ...
  • DocumentaryStorm.
Aug 30, 2016

Which is the best documentary channel? ›

YouTube5 Documentary Channels on YouTube you can't miss!
  • Vice. With about 8 million subscribers, Vine has undoubtedly been audience's one of the best choices. ...
  • National Geographic. A very well-known media network, Nat Geo has never failed to inspire people to care about the planet, Earth. ...
  • BBC News. ...
  • Real Stories. ...
  • The Guardian.

Is CuriosityStream better than Netflix? ›

Netflix content. When it comes to documentaries, CuriosityStream, without a doubt, has a more robust collection compared to Netflix. Although the company doesn't specify the exact number of titles it offers, it's somewhere around the 2000+ mark.

What is the most common form of documentary? ›

The expository mode is the most familiar of the six types of documentaries.

What is the most common mode of documentary? ›

Expository Mode. This tends to be the mode most familiar to us. It is frequently used in nature and TV documentaries. Expository documentaries use the 'voice of God' narration where by the author provides a scripted commentary to accompany or illustrate visuals.

Do documentaries have to tell the truth? ›

Filmmakers and ethicists generally agree that filmmakers have an obligation to present information that, if not objectively “true,” is at least honest in intent.

What makes a successful documentary? ›

A good documentary shows people from a different perspective than they're used to seeing in the media. It opens people's minds and hearts to the struggles of other people in the world. It makes people question the way things are and the way they should be.

Where can I watch Sans Soleil? ›

Sans Soleil, a documentary movie is available to stream now. Watch it on The Criterion Channel on your Roku device.

Is use me a real documentary? ›

Use Me is a fictional documentary style thriller that's been doing the festival circuit for a while. It's written, directed by and stars Julian Shaw, and adult internet star Ceara Lynch.

How long should documentaries be? ›

That said, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and the Screen Actors Guild, have minimum length requirements of 40 and 75 minutes, respectively, for a documentary to be considered a 'feature film.

Can you make money from a documentary? ›

Of course documentaries can make money, but maybe not much

As a general rule, documentaries are not big money makers unless you're Michael Moore. Of course there are always exceptions, but depending on your subject, there usually is simply not the mass audience for documentaries like there is with fiction films.

What camera did Chris Marker use? ›

The original documentary footage was filmed by Marker with a 16mm Beaulieu silent film camera in conjunction with a non-sync portable tape recorder; the film contains no synchronous sound.

How can I watch Sans? ›

Right now you can watch Sans Soleil on Criterion Channel.

What is San Soleil about? ›

How do I find a story for my documentary? ›

How to find, follow and foster the story for your documentary
  1. You must be willing to let your story surprise you. ...
  2. You must develop trust with your characters. ...
  3. You need to give your story time. ...
  4. Learn everything you can about story structure.
Jul 25, 2017

Why are documentaries popular? ›

Documentary makers are not only picking engaging subjects, they're taking pains to pinpoint cinematic moments, using storytelling techniques, pulling the viewer into the investigation, and presenting reality in a raw, real manner which has proven very appealing to the public.

How do you write a documentary for a school project? ›

Key Steps to Making Documentaries:
  1. Tell a story you care about. Start with a subject that excites you. ...
  2. Research. Learn everything you can about your documentary subject. ...
  3. Make a Plan. Create an outline. ...
  4. Create a Shot List. ...
  5. Start Shooting. ...
  6. Write a Script. ...
  7. Begin Editing. ...
  8. Check Legal and Copyright Issues.

Videos

1. Putin's Way (full documentary) | FRONTLINE
(FRONTLINE PBS | Official)
2. The world of China’s President Xi Jinping | DW Documentary
(DW Documentary)
3. 13TH | FULL FEATURE | Netflix
(Netflix)
4. Losing Iraq (full documentary) | FRONTLINE
(FRONTLINE PBS | Official)
5. (UPDATE) United States of Conspiracy (full documentary) | FRONTLINE
(FRONTLINE PBS | Official)
6. The Baby of Macon - Full Movie
(FilmRise Features)

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