Investigative Documentaries

Yes, sometimes truth can be stranger than fiction, and often just as entertaining. My wife has convinced me to watch more documentaries, and some of them are quite excellent.  (Others, not so much!) The best have a clear narrative structure, often with a mystery at its core or a twist or two as the story reveals itself.

Documentaries aren't just straight-forward recordings of reality. Anytime a cameraperson chooses to frame something with her or his lens, she or he is making a subjective, editorial choice. The documentarian(s) use cinematic techniques in editing to give their films specific tones and draw out emotional responses from viewers. The selection of which camera shots and interviewee statements to use all paint a picture just as a storyboard and screenplay would for a fictional movie. Do the documentary-makers have an agenda or are they approaching their subject matter objectively, looking for answers in what they shoot?  The question is moot, because subjective approaches can be just as effective.

Here's a look at some of the documentaries we recently viewed. I've added a list of a bunch of others at the end for anyone interested in more.

Cropsey (2010)
This is definitely a creepy look at child abductions in Staten Island and connections to an urban legend. It raised more questions than it answered.  

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008)
Without giving anything away, my heart was broken watching this effectively made chronicle of the murder of the filmmaker's childhood friend.

Extraordinary: The Stan Romanek Story (2013)
I couldn't finish watching this crapfest. It is amateurishly done and comes across as a propaganda vehicle for its star, who claims that aliens are communicating with him. Some of the moments are so fake that they will either make you laugh or make you angry for watching.

Holy Hell (2016)
While not my favorite, it was still a compelling inside look at a cult.

The Imposter (2012)
One of the better documentaries I've seen, at first the premise seems outlandishly farfetched. (The title spoils it right from the beginning, but the suspense in the storytelling is still gripping.) There's a point later on when the filmmakers seem to hint at a much more diabolical explanation for the family's seemingly blind acceptance of an actual fraud as their long-missing kid.

Room 237 (2012)
Full of bizarre observations about the cryptic content in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, the only flaw is that it's all a hodgepodge in dire need of a cohesive analysis. In the end, none of the conspiracy theories or fan speculations seem to add up to much.

There's Something Wrong with Aunt Diane (2011)
Since I remember the tragic accident that's the basis of this documentary, it hit me hard. Maybe we'll never know what really happened that day, but some pieces of the puzzle are revealed here. Be warned, it's an emotional experience.

The Wolfpack (2015)
Here's a prime example of how a documentary can take an interesting real life story and tell it in a way that feels like you're watching a fictional tale. Intriguing characters, fascinating circumstances, and when it's all over you're left hoping for a sequel.

If you're looking for more to check out, here are some of the more popular documentaries over the years.

13th (2016)

9/11 (2002)

Amanda Knox (2016)

The Armstrong Lie (2013)

Best Worst Movie (2009)

Bill Cunningham New York (2011)

Blackfish (2013)

Bowling for Columbine (2002)

Catfish (2010)

The Central Park Five (2012)

Crumb (1995)

The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? (2015)

Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)

Food Inc. (2008)

Going Clear (2015)

Hearts of Darkness (1991)

Hoop Dreams (1994)

Hot Girls Wanted (2015)

An Inconvenient Truth (2006)

The Jinx (2015)

Jodorowsky's Dune (2014)

Listen to Me Marlon (2015)

Lost in La Mancha (2002)

Man on a Wire (2008)

Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (2004)

O.J.: Made in America (2016)

Paradise Lost (1996)

Roger and Me (1989)

Super Size Me (2004)

Thin Blue Line (1988)

Weiner (2016)

When We Were Kings (1996)

Do you have a particular favorite documentary that I didn't list? Let me know in the comments.


Ed said…
I'd think you'd like "Searching for Richard"
Nick Leshi said…
Thanks for the recommendation, Ed.