Six Must-see Documentaries

1859c3928dea5f54919f565e3c87ca86Published in Issue 23, Craccum Magazine 2016
  1. Blackfish (2013)

If you’re an animal lover, you seriously need to watch Blackfish. It’s transformative. Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, the film follows the sad life of one of Sea World’s orca’s, Tilikum. Beginning with Tilikum’s capture as a calf, we learn of his history before Sea World, performing in a rundown sea park where he was bullied by the other whales and kept in a tiny enclosure at night. When he was involved in the death of a trainer, Tilikum was sold to Sea World Orlando, where he went on to be involved in two more deaths. Cowperthwaite goes deep to bring to light Sea World’s immoral and inhuman response to the deaths, defending themselves and refusing to admit that Tilikum’s poor treatment was likely the cause of the deaths. Fact: there are NO recorded incidents of orca’s harming humans in the wild. This is a convincing doco which uses found footage and interviews with former Sea World trainers to make its argument against whales in captivity. 


  1. Cartel Land (2015)

If you loved Narcos, chances are you’re going to love this. But really, who isn’t interested in the obscene drug world of the Americas? Winner of the Best Director Award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 88th Academy Awards, Cartel Land is a gripping and informative look into the Mexican Drug War. The film mainly focuses on Tim Foley, leader of a group of vigilantes called the Arizona Border Recon who fight against the Mexican cartel presence in America. Below the border, a Mexican physician parallels Foley’s anti-drug war efforts by fuelling a citizen uprising. This is one exciting documentary. Watch it. 


  1. Heart of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991)

Fan of Apocalypse Now? Then this is the documentary for you. Depicting the making of the 1979 Vietnam War film, Heart of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse uses behind the scene footage and interviews with the cast to reveal the many difficulties the crew faced. Opposition to American involvement in the Vietnam War grew throughout the Sixties, and it came to be known as the Immoral War. This is an interesting look at an American-made film, created just a few years after the war’s end. Whether you’ve seen Apocalypse Now or not, this is a film worth watching. Even if just for those Martin Sheen moments.


  1. Virunga (2014)

If you’re looking for something to inspire you and also pull at the old heart strings, Virunga is it. This British documentary follows the brave conservation efforts of a group of rangers battling to protect Virunga National Park. Located in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the park is home to the last mountain gorillas in the world, and must be protected from poaching, civil war and oil explorers. What this documentary does best is capture in time a rare and beautiful place which might not be around in the near future because of human involvement. It’s also a great look at the economic and political issues that poaching, war and oil exploration raise.


  1. Bowling for Columbine (2002)

Michael Moore is pretty well known in in the film world, and Bowling for Columbine is a good example of why. It’s confrontational, its informative and it does the best thing a documentary or film can do: make its audience think (and I mean really think) about the topic it explores. Moore uses the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School as a platform to interrogate the growing issue of gun violence in America. Rather than focussing on the actual shooting as such, he examines the possible factors which could have led to the shooting – the culture of violence in the United States, the lack of laws surrounding firearms and the culture of fear he asserts has been generated by the government. A powerful, though-provoking and increasingly relevant documentary.


  1. The Black Panthers: Vanguard of a Revolution (2015)

Anyone interested in the youth and civil rights movements of the Sixties, or American history, will enjoy this. It’s a polished piece of work with a lot of emotional impact. Consisting largely of found footage and secondary interviews with Sixties activists, the documentary traces the rise and fall of the revolutionary African American organisation, The Black Panther Party. Covering the group’s grassroots organisation, awareness of legal rights, and use of the black power ideology, the film raises questions around racial inequality, assimilation and black nationalism. Taking seven years to make, the film provides a comprehensive look into the life and times of ones of America’s most controversial and transformative social change organisations.


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