14. Louis and the Nazis
Louis Theroux thrives in casual conversation. Understated moments with abhorrent people are the fixtures of his exposes, as his beguiling nature and humane treatment of subjects allow for candid conversation unparalleled in the medium. He can extract the most powerful ideas from the simplest interactions, which his Nazi documentary exemplifies.
Following members of American white nationalist organizations, notably the leader of the White Aryan Resistance, Tom Metzger, Louis observes expected racist behavior and rhetoric, but also moments of civility and contradictory racial tolerance, like the revelation that Metzger’s favorite client and obvious—if denied—friend is Hispanic. Along with Metzger, Louis follows a preteen Nazi pop duo called Prussian Blue, whose brainwashing at the hands of their mother and grandfather is astonishing.
Whether you see monsters or misguided humans, you’ll add much needed context to a disturbing—and often abstract—concept.
13. Food, Inc.
The veil on the food industry has been securely removed in recent decades, and documentaries like Food, Inc. made significant contributions.
It’s easy to turn a blind eye to the unwanted truths of reality when the ideas stay fixed in abstraction. Food, Inc. hits you square in the face with everyday society’s most repressed truth: the health and ethical violations of standard food production. The film confirms all the deep-seated fears about what happens to your food in the process of raising, butchering, harvesting, cooking, to on your plate. They’re not revelations for the squeamish.
While those with strong constitutions may have no problem accepting most of Food, Inc.’s revelations, the deliberate contamination of meat for cost effectiveness is a hard one to stomach—literally and figuratively.
12. Manufacturing Dissent
It’s easy to fall victim to the expansive tractor beam of Michael Moore. His films are so convincing and entertaining that even the most incredulous person may be temporarily bamboozled. Not that all he says is false, but his documentaries, like any other, are propaganda: meant to validate one side at the expense of another. Therefore, in response to his success, there have been myriad documentaries made to refute the claims on which Moore has built his livelihood.
One of which is Manufacturing Dissent, a Canadian film on the techniques Moore employs of converting viewers, some that are simply lying and trickery. Selective editing, misinterpretation—or pure fabrication—of events, and factual inaccuracies are all relied upon heavily to create whichever narrative is being espoused. Even Moore’s character, as a fame-whore and huckster, is investigated and contested.
Manufacturing Dissent is not just a reproach of Moore but a valuable exploration of media manipulation and ideological brainwashing.
13th refers to a clause in the thirteenth amendment of the U.S. constitution. It states, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” And this, the documentary contends, is slavery under another name.
Prisons are portrayed as loopholes for human rights violations. The mass incarceration of citizens, buttressed by corporations, has caused devastating effects on the people of this country, especially African Americans. This, in effect, has birthed the heated political climate in which we live.
Institutionalized racism is a tried and true aberration of history, and the ways it echoes in a fundamentally equal country may be hard to see, but 13th does a commendable job of explaining without condescending.
10. The Hunting Ground
The average rapist is not the ski mask-wearing, knife-wielding caricature of nightmares. He’s a normal person, sometimes a popular person—and often a friend—and this violation of trust is worse psychologically than violation from a stranger.
This is what The Hunting Ground discovers, and much more. Chronicling the litany of rape cases on college campuses and the lack of due process, the film features dozens of victims who share their horror stories.
What’s especially enlightening, from these interviews, is the focus on malpractice by both university and government powers, whose Weinsteinesque cover-ups and victim shaming caused many of the film’s subjects to claim that the legal processing was more traumatic than the rapes themselves. In a system that’s supposed to help victims, this is a revelatory statement on the bastardization of legal priorities.
Presented by comedian Bill Maher, Religulous is a wry but surprisingly effective documentary on the ridiculousness of religion.
Much religious belief is skewered in this film, but Christianity is the sitting duck that is attacked over and over with no means of defence. Throughout the film, all walks of Christian life are made to look ridiculous through Maher’s smug argumentation, displaying a belief system devoid of reason. Christianity, as an entity, is also dissected. Essential parts are removed and examined, consequently determined as belonging to other religions and superstitions, showing that the doctrine may neither be divine nor unique. Instead, just a Frankensteinian monster of selective tenets from human nature.
Humor is an important tool for unearthing absurdity, and Maher, paired with Seinfeld and Borat director Larry Charles, make Religulous a funny and frightening tour de force.
8. An Inconvenient Truth
Al Gore the character has supplanted Al Gore the vice president and Al Gore the activist in millennial consciousness. It’s a shame, because, in making An Inconvenient Truth, he helped send global warming to the frontlines of mainstream concern. A pursuit any environmentally-conscious millennial would revere.
The film follows Gore on his campaign to raise awareness for global warming in all types of public forums. This, in its own right, was beneficial and did much to legitimize the threat, but An Inconvenient Truth packaged this ethos into an entertaining and accessible entity which was profoundly moving and became one of the highest grossing documentary films of all time.
The cause may not be as revolutionary now, but it’s still a polarizing issue, which An Inconvenient Truth can certainly help resolve.