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24 must-see documentaries to add to your watch list

From vital documentaries to expand our own understanding to recent releases that got everyone talking, plus award-winning films available on demand, KATIE BERRINGTON highlights some of the most important, insightful and extraordinary documentaries to download now

Lifestyle
I Am Not Your Negro documents a personal account from writer James Baldwin (pictured here in 1963) of the lives and assassinations of three of his close friends: Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Medgar Evers

I Am Not Your Negro

Based on James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript Remember This House, Raoul Peck’s multi-award-winning 2016 documentary is an exploration of racism in the United States, narrated by Samuel L Jackson. Using Baldwin’s personal account of the lives and assassinations of three of his close friends, civil rights leaders Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Medgar Evers, it has won acclaim for its powerful presentation of the ongoing struggle with racism in America. On Amazon Prime

My House

Part documentary, part reality series, My House zooms in on ballroom culture and its new generation of vogue stars and commentators in New York City. A modern depiction of the scenes shown in the seminal 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning (also a crucial watch), it celebrates the culture – first started by and for those in marginalized sectors of society – which is now a significant influence in much mainstream media and entertainment. On All 4

Director Ava DuVernay called on influential voices for 13th, including political activist Angela Davis, pictured here

13th

Ava DuVernay’s Emmy-winning documentary is a searing exploration into the history of racial inequality in the US, particularly examining the treatment of African Americans within the criminal justice system. On Netflix

The Last Dance

Basketball fans and novices alike will soak up the ’90s nostalgia of Michael Jordan at the soaring height of his game. Charting his career with the Chicago Bulls – particularly his last NBA season in 1997/1998 – it gives an all-access pass to the on- and off-court action, with interviews from the likes of Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman. On Netflix

The Central Park Five

Prior to Ava DuVernay’s acclaimed 2019 dramatization of the terrible events surrounding the Central Park Five, a documentary examined the 1989 case on screen in 2012. The case, now infamous for its brutal miscarriage of justice, involved five Black and Latino teenagers wrongfully convicted of a violent rape of a jogger in Central Park. Directed by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon, it looks at the arrests, interrogations, trials and, ultimately, the court vacating the convictions of all five men, who each spent six to 13 years in prison for a crime they did not commit. On Amazon Prime

The Last Dance charts basketball legend Michael Jordan’s career with the Chicago Bulls
Ai Weiwei’s film, Human Flow, offers a harrowing insight into the world’s refugee crisis

Human Flow

Ai Weiwei leads this powerful visual journey of human migration, which serves as a representation of both the vast global scale and the individual impacts of the refugee crisis. Filmed over a year across 23 countries (including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, France, Greece, Iraq, Israel, Mexico and Turkey), it follows urgent stories of endurance and survival, ultimately asking the question, “Will our global society emerge from fear, isolation and self-interest and choose a path of openness, freedom and respect for humanity?” On iTunes

Be Water is a profile of martial-arts icon Bruce Lee (pictured)

Be Water

Detailing the rejection that martial arts icon Bruce Lee faced in Hollywood, before returning to Hong Kong to become a star, filmmaker Bao Nguyen tackles issues of representation and prejudice in this recent profile of Lee’s life. Through rarely-seen archive footage and interviews, it explores questions of identity amid the actor’s lasting influence on the industry. On ESPN

How to Survive a Plague

Set in the late 1980s and 1990s, during the AIDS epidemic, this documentary follows grassroots activist groups ACT UP and TAG in the life-or-death battle for an effective government and public response to the crisis and the development of medical treatment. Directed by award-winning filmmaker and journalist David France, who covered the epidemic at the time, it is dedicated to his partner, Doug Gould, who passed away in 1992 from AIDS-related pneumonia. On Amazon Prime

Amy

The 2016 Oscar-winning documentary offers an intimate look into the life, career, struggles and untimely death of Amy Winehouse. Playing archive footage of the singer-songwriter alongside personal testimonials from friends and family members, it offers a personal portrait of the woman behind the headlines. On Google Play

The Birth of Saké

Set in the Yoshida Brewery – a centuries-old brewery in northern Japan’s Ishikawa prefecture – The Birth of Saké presents the passionate and painstaking process of preserving the 2,000-year-old tradition of craft saké-making. It follows a small group of laborers working throughout a harsh winter and amid unusual conditions in the family-run brewery to make this world-class saké. On iTunes

Amy offers a personal portrait of the woman behind the headlines
One Child Nation examines the devastating repercussions of China’s one-child policy in the 1980s

One Child Nation

Directed by Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang, who were both born under China’s one-child policy in the 1980s, this documentary considers the little-known history of the devastating impacts of this social experiment on the nation and its recent generations. Wang taps into her own experience as a new mother, alongside first-hand accounts from her family members, which is presented alongside archive material, records and testimonies. On Amazon Prime

Bill Cunningham New York centers on the life and work of New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham

Bill Cunningham New York

This 2010 documentary showcases the life and work of New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham, best known for his street-style images. Shot six years prior to his death, it depicts his decades-long work bicycling the city and candidly capturing events, the fashion set and trends, with interviews from the likes of Anna Wintour, Michael Kors and Iris Apfel. On Amazon Prime

Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness

This true-crime series gripping Netflix viewers in lockdown shows the sinister underbelly of big-cat breeding in the USA. With a line-up of eccentric personalities, centered on zoo-keeper Joe Exotic, the story encompasses murder-for-hire, a mysterious disappearance and a cult-like ownership of exotic animals.

Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold is an intimate profile of the writer, directed by her nephew

Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold

In an intimate profile directed by her nephew, the actor and producer Griffin Dunne, literary figure Joan Didion contemplates the professional triumphs and personal struggles she has experienced. On Netflix

Crip Camp

Produced by Michelle and Barack Obama’s Higher Ground Productions, Crip Camp is an inspiring account of teenagers who attended New York’s Camp Jened in the early 1970s, many of whom became activists who went on to transform the disability-rights movement. On Netflix

Three Identical Strangers

The story of identical triplets separated at birth and adopted by three different families, before a chance encounter at college brings them back together, is surreal and disturbing given the circumstances and consequences that underly it. On Hulu

For Sama

This multi-award-winning documentary offers an essential and epic portrayal of the female experience of conflict. “A love letter from a young mother to her daughter”, it follows the journey of Waad al-Kateab, filmed over five years of the Syria uprising, as she marries, gives birth to her daughter, Sama, and faces the choice of fleeing Aleppo. On All 4 in the UK and PBS in the US

Three Identical Strangers tells the tale of triplets Edward Galland, David Kellman and Robert Shafran
Get a glimpse into Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s life and work in Knock Down The House

Knock Down The House

This 2019 documentary offers a behind-the-scenes look at four working-class female candidates – including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – and their journeys in the race for Congress in 2018. On Netflix

McQueen features interviews by the designer’s best friends, including Kate Moss, seen here at his SS01 show

McQueen

A moving insight into the genius and torment of Alexander McQueen’s remarkable life and work, his visionary designs and his tragic death. On Netflix

Don’t F*** With Cats

Subtitled Hunting an Internet Killer, this addictive limited series is about a group of amateur internet sleuths who set out to track down a man posting videos online of his gruesome crimes. On Netflix

Alex Honnold takes on a seemingly impossible rope-free climb in Free Solo

Free Solo

This National Geographic documentary will have you on the edge of your seat, as it follows free solo climber Alex Honnold preparing to take on his ultimate challenge – climbing the face of Yosemite National Park’s 3,000ft El Capitan without a rope. On Disney+

Cheer

Cheer tumbled on to our screens earlier this year, showcasing the competitive Cheer Team of Navarro College in Texas, as they prepare for the 2019 national championships in Daytona, Florida. As cheerleading takes center stage, it is both the mesmerizing routines and near-impossible stunts, as well as the engaging life stories off the mat, that make it difficult to look away. On Netflix

Amazing Grace

Released after Aretha Franklin’s death in 2018, this moving depiction of the legendary soul singer was filmed during the recording of her live gospel album of the same name in 1972. On Amazon

Cheer showcases the competitive Cheer Team of Navarro College in Texas
Seven Worlds, One Planet spans the continents and their unique ecosystems

Seven Worlds, One Planet

If you missed David Attenborough’s latest breathtaking, tear-inducing series, now is the time to catch up (apply this to any of his films you haven’t yet seen or would like to rewatch). Marvel at the wonders of the world and wildlife in their natural habitats from your sofa, as each episode focuses on one continent and the impact that humanity is having on it. On BBC iPlayer

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