6 Fascinating Documentaries


I spent quite a bit of the holiday break (when I wasn’t just working straight through it) watching documentaries. I like watching documentaries for fun because I feel like it’s a chance to relax in front of the television, but it’s still productive because I’m learning something new. I thought I’d share with you some of the documentaries we watched.


Blackfish is about orcas in captivity (specifically those in aquatic parks like SeaWorld). The film is really well done and, in addition to making me think about the depressing plight of orcas in captivity, it also made me think a lot about the exploitative nature of human-animal relations more broadly. Orcas are more highly evolved emotionally than humans, a point which is driven home in the film through the beauty of pod communities, and the devastation felt by the orcas when mother and baby are torn away from each other. This, juxtaposed with humans who find it entertaining to watch a whale trapped in a bathtub slap the water with his fin, is both heartbreaking and infuriating.

We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks

We Steal Secrets follows Julian Assange and Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning through the largest leak of classified U.S. government documents in history. It tells the story of how the leak occurred, the escalation in Assange’s and Manning’s lives leading up to, and following, the leak, and it explores the politics of secrecy and knowledge. This is a fascinating film, whether you have followed the story of WikiLeaks or not.

We are Legion

On a similar note, We are Legion follows the rise of the hacktivist group, Anonymous, and explores the politics of freedom of information through online channels. One of the interesting parts of this film is the evolution of the group from being hackers playing internet pranks, to becoming deeply involved in political activism.

Eco-Pirate: The Story of Paul Watson

Eco-Pirate follows Paul Watson’s life story from his involvement in forming Greenpeace to his departure from the organization and his creation of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, an organization that uses direct action tactics to defend the lives of dolphins, whales and other marine mammals. A theme in this film which was also present in We Steal Secrets is the notion that society desperately needs intensely radical voices — not necessarily because we will ever end up living in the future of radical ideals, but in order to have any hope at all of moving society in the direction of a more just future for all.

Last Call at the Oasis

This film was chilling in its depiction of the water crisis – globally and in the U.S. What I took away from this film was the knowledge that we *must* be thinking (and acting!) in an immediate and serious way to have any chance of surviving the global water crisis. In the U.S., many of us are insulated from thinking about these issues. Many of us use as much water as we want without thinking; we turn on the faucet and water comes out. I’m planning to watch a number of other documentaries on water. If you have any suggestions, let me know!


I don’t know if I would necessarily recommend this documentary, but it sure was interesting — a window into a (to me) bizarre world. Somm follows four men who are studying to take their Master Sommelier exam (a sommelier is a wine expert who specializes in food/wine pairings). The exam is one of the most difficult exams in the world to pass, and the film follows the intensity of studying for, and taking, this exam. A window into a world that was completely foreign to me.

Have you watched any documentaries lately that you would recommend? I’d love suggestions for others to watch!

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  1. I’d recommend “Helvetica” – which is about the histroy of the font, but also broadly about how type has/continues to impact our everyday lives. I happily geeked out to it 🙂

    1. Ooh! Kevin, I’ve heard good things about that one! I’ll definitely add it to my to-watch list. Thanks!! 🙂

  2. We LOVE documentaries (and will rely heavily on them for homeschooling if I can get better at previewing and drawing out educational bits for a precocious 7 year old beforehand!). I have been putting off watching Blackfish because I love orcas so much that I fear the content will break my heart. Somm sounds right up my alley, though (lol). We’ve been watching Powering the Future lately, but it has some anxiety-producing bits in it. It’s hard to find documentaries that are totally “feel-good” (which we need more of in our household) AND educational…would love recommendations!

    1. I think that’s great to use documentaries for the homeschooling. I’ll try to think if I can come up with any feel good documentaries. That’s tough. Somm is about the most feel good type doc I’ve seen in ages… Does M need an education in wine tasting? ha!

  3. Oh! And yesterday we found this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tt2AYafET68 (Surviving in the Wilderness for 70 years) about a Russian family who took to the hills in 1936 & lived totally isolated from the rest of the world until 1978! It was way too short and didn’t give me nearly as much info as I wanted, but it was a good start…I have the book (Lost in the Taiga: One Russian Family’s Fifty-year Struggle for Survival and Religious Freedom in the Siberian Wilderness) on order from the library!

    1. Whoa! That sounds so interesting! Wait, I think there’s a movie about that, too, called Happy People or something? I think I saw it on Netflix…. Will definitely check out the video you posted! Thanks!

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