As of the date this article was written (3/25/13), all the following documentaries are available for streaming for Netflix. But contracts change and sometimes movies will become DVD-only without warning, so watch instantly while you can!
I’ll strikeout the ones that are no longer available. Which, goddamn, are a lot. Netflix is apparently not doing so hot with the goal of turning everything digital. I will write another post with a couple more current documentary suggestions soon and link here to the updated list when I do.
10. e² Design
Director: Beth Levison
Narrated by Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman, this excellent PBS documentary series is riddled with interesting facts for the environmentally conscious. (Did you know that New York City, per capita, is one of the greener emitters of air pollution in the US?)
e² was produced by Kontentreal, a documentary and strategic entertainment company seeking creative, innovative, and market-ready solutions for world problems. Six episodes are available for streaming on Netflix.
9. Trouble the Water
Director: Carl Deal and Tia Lessin
From the producers of Fahrenheit 9/11, Trouble the Water is the gripping tale of a couple surviving failed levees of Hurricane Katrina, the ensuing bureaucracy in trying to obtain aid, and their the story of their own past of poverty. While When the Levees Broke is considered the quintessential New Orleans flood story, this film takes a smaller, more personal perspective of the 2004 tragedy. An extremely moving piece of work.
8. Radio Bikini
Director: Robert Stone
This one hour long, 1987 film uses declassified footage to tell the story of the US Government’s atomic bomb tests on the Island of Bikini Atoll at the start of the Cold War. Known as “Operation Crossroads,” the tests left the Marshall Islanders unable to safely return home, and the area remained dangerously radioactive for decades.
7. The One Percent
Director: Jamie Johnson
Johnson & Johnson heir Jamie Johnson uses his influential heritage to get coveted interviews, such as Milton Friedman, and get into esoteric places known only by the top 1% of the income-earners in the US. Touching the issues surrounding growing wealth inequality, it also probes the culture of the upper-class, and the efforts the rich take to maintain family wealth.
God Grew Tired of Us: The Story of Lost Boys of Sudan
Director: Christopher Dillon Quinn
This movie is the inspirational story of three lucky immigrants of the “Lost Boys of Sudan,” a group of some 25,000 young men displaced during the Second Sudanese Civil War,and the culture shock they experience when they move to the United States. For the first time, these men encounter aspects of life we take for granted, such as running water, supermarkets, and television. An emotional reunion with one of the subjects and his mother after 17 years of separation makes this film a bona fide tear-jerker.
8: The Mormon Proposition
Director: Reed Cowan
“The only way you can win any ballot measure in California is money. That is the number one thing that you need. The second thing you need is volunteers. And the final thing you need–a message that resonates.” –Kate Kendell, executive director of NCLR, interviewed in 8: The Mormon Proposition.
This emotional and insightful documentary describes how The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints organized itself to bring the downfall of California’s 2008 Proposition 8, a piece of legislation that led to the legal banning same-sex marriage in the state.
4. This Film is Not Yet Rated
Director: Kirby Dick
This Film is Not Yet Rated is a thorough, investigative film about the NC-17,R ,PG-13, PG, G movie ratings system America is very familiar with. This picture looks into how the MPAA rates movies and the secrecy that surrounds their tactics. This Film is Not Yet Rated was rated NC-17 for some graphic sexual content by the MPAA.
3. Exit Through the Gift Shop
Academy award-nominated Exit Through the Gift Shop is a fascinating look into the underground world of graffiti art and the people who make it. The artist lifestyle is vesseled through the amusing story of an eccentric, amateur filmmaker’s attempts to befriend street art legend Banksy and then establish a name for himself as an artist.
2. Encounters at the End of the World
Director: Werner Herzog
Directed and narrated by Grizzly Man’s Werner Herzog, this documentary continues the German filmmaker’s style of finding and highlighting the stories of some of the most absurd and arguably lonely individuals of the human race. Filmed in Antarctica over a course of seven weeks, Herzog interviews those who would deign to leave their homes and families to work in the most isolated place on the earth. Here is a film clip on youtube of what Herzog calls “a deranged penguin,” running from its herd.
1. A State of Mind
Director: Daniel Gordon
Considering the tightly controlled outside media access to North Korea, A State of Mind is a gem of a social and cultural documentary. The British film follows the of two North Korean schoolgirls in a world so very far away and culturally diametrically opposed to the United States.
The film crew follows the daily lives of the adolescent girls as they watch their state-sponsored television, learn about Kim Jong-il in school, sing about being good communists, and spend hours in gymnastics practice, preparing to perform in the North Korean Mass Games. The two month-long gymnastics festival is a tribute to communist North Korean founder Kim il-sung, and participation as a performer in the Games is highly competitive.
A State of Mind is not a film about the oppressive horrors so well heard of in the West in the poverty-ridden country nor is it a politically charged piece. The girls featured lead strict but relatively comfortable lives, possibly only allowed by the government to be filmed for propaganda purposes. Anyone with a sense of individualism will find A State of Mind a mind-bending and slightly unsettling film, a definite must-see for anyone interested in international affairs or the psychology of group mindset.