For Your Netflix Weekend: Documentaries


Note: This post is the second in what I’m hoping to make a weekly feature. Do you plan to spend a weekend night or two watching Netflix, then instead spend most of the night trying to decide what to watch? This is for you. Recommendations from me. I’m including runtimes, links to IMDb profiles and basic topic info, where I can. Let me know what else you’d like to see. Thanks!

Something very exciting is happening this weekend in my college town, Columbia, Mo.: The True/False Film Festival. It’s a four-ish-day extravaganza centered around documentary films. I went three times while I was in school and had such a great time, seeing great movies and learning a lot. If ever you have the chance to go, please do.

This year, I can’t make it to True/False, so I’m planning to make up for it by having a little Netflix documentary film festival of my own. And you should, too! Even if you’re “not a documentary person.” Before I went to my first True/False, I wasn’t, either. I hadn’t seen many documentaries, and I had it in my head that they were boring. Wrong! So wrong. True/False taught me how fantastic they can be, how they can be just as gripping as “normal movies,” how they’re inspirational and entertaining as much as they are educational or informative. I learn, I laugh, I cry, I cheer, I get angry. Documentaries are great.

I’m going to give you two lists: Documentaries I’ve seen and loved, and documentaries I want to see. Use them to plan out a festival of your own! One of the things I love most about documentaries is that they’re generally pretty short, so you can get two or more in a night, if you want. Everything listed was on Netflix as of Feb. 26.


I’ve seen and loved these:

  • Craigslist Joe. One of my favorite things on Netflix – I’ve watched it at least three times! Joe, who works in films in LA, decides to give up all of his money and possessions for a month and live on the generosity of strangers, whatever he can find on Craigslist. He ends up traveling the country and meeting some amazing people. You’ll laugh, cry and be inspired. And possibly start reading Craigslist for fun. You’ve been warned. Fun fact, for my hometown friends: Joe’s from Arlington Heights! 90 minutes.
  • 20 Feet from Stardom. A really fun look at the world of backup singers. You know these people’s voices – from The Lion King, from that one Christmas song, from singing with Mick Jagger, Ray Charles, Michael Jackson and many more. Now you can learn their names and hear their stories. Oscar winner. 91 minutes.
  • Reporter. Journalism friends, this is for you. This documentary sparked my journalism crush on New York Times writer Nick Kristof. It follows him on a reporting trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he gets into all kinds of things. Don’t miss it. 90 minutes.
  • The Queen of Versailles. Completely fascinating. The story of a woman who starts out incredibly wealthy, planning to build a massive home (the titular Versailles), then falls on harder financial times. It’s equal parts hilarious and thought-provoking — it makes you think about what really matters in life, about family and wealth as well as money and things. 100 minutes.
  • The Invisible War. Remember how I said that sometimes documentaries make me angry? This is exhibit A. It’s a look at sexual assault in the military. Oscar nominee. 93 minutes.
  • Undefeated. SPORTS. I am not much of a sports fan, but I love sports movies, and that includes sports documentaries. This is the classic high-school-football-underdog story, but it’s real life, which makes it even better. Oscar winner. 113 minutes.

Honorable mentions: Virunga (Oscar nominee about gorillas in Congo, 103 minutes), Tiny: A Story About Living Small (people living in super itty bitty houses, 63 minutes), Blackfish (that SeaWorld movie everyone’s talking about, 83 minutes), Bill Cunningham New York (Charming old New York Times street photographer, 84 minutes).

I want to watch these:

  • That Guy… Who Was in That Thing. This has been in my  Netflix queue for ages! About character actors, those actors you don’t know by name but recognize from somewhere. I’m excited to see who I recognize. 79 minutes.
  • We Always Lie to Strangers. This is set in Branson, Mo., not super far from where I went to school, though I never managed to make it there. My former Columbia Missourian beatmate Sky Chadde wrote a great article about the making of this doc for VOX Magazine (link to come when I’m not posting from my phone, sorry!), and it sounds interesting. 108 minutes.
  • The Overnighters. I don’t know much about this one – there are homeless people and a pastor in an oil town? – but it was much discussed after True/False last year, and my favorite Columbia movie theater refers to it as “a film that should have been nominated for an Oscar.” 102 minutes.
  • Mudbloods. This is about a college quidditch team. Enough said. 89 minutes.
  • The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life. The story of a 109-year-old woman who was the oldest Holocaust survivor. Oscar winner. 39 minutes.
  • We Could Be King. Another high school football story! 80 minutes.
  • Who Is Dayani Cristal?. I was sad to miss this at True/False last year. It’s a documentary, but somehow also stars Gael Garcia Bernal? I don’t understand how that works, but I can’t pass up a GGB movie. 85 minutes.
  • How to Die in Oregon. A look at legal physician-assisted suicide in Oregon. Feels relevant right now. 107 minutes.
  • Particle Fever. At True/False last year, much buzzed about. It’s about physics? I don’t know. 99 minutes.
  • Restrepo. Tim Hetherington, a journalist who was later killed covering the conflict in Libya, spends a year with a military unit in Afghanistan. Oscar nominee. 93 minutes.

There you go! Watch away. Let me know what you watch and how you like it! And feel free to recommend documentaries you’ve seen, too.

P.S. – This isn’t on Netflix, but I can’t make a post about documentaries without giving a shout-out to my all-time favorite, Jodorowsky’s Dune. Look for it at your local library. Read more about it in my 2014 post-True/False blog post.


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