Friday, December 23, 2011

The 12 Docs of Christmas...

Hi, Ted Sarandos, Chief Content Officer of Netflix here. I am a huge fan of documentary films and helping our subscribers get access to them even if they don’t live in the big cities is one of my favorite parts of this job. Our documentary selection is a point of great pride for me and my team. Documentary films play a very important role in a world where news is coming is shorter and shorter bites and the stories of our lives are becoming more and more complex. Documentarians entertain, inform and sometimes change the course of history. This year has been a great year for docs and some of the world’s best storytellers have brought their films to Netflix for streaming. It is hard to choose just a dozen of the best documentaries recently added, but I thought it might be a way to help you catch up over the long holiday break.

#1 Senna
For me, this is the best documentary in the last few years. This is the story of Ayrton Senna, the great Brazilian Formula One racing star. Director, Asif Kapadia compiles an amazing amount of footage that follows Senna’s brilliant career as well as intimate private footage that document the full and rich life of a true risk-taker. Even if you don’t like racing, you will not be able to take your eyes off of this great film.

#2 Black Power Mix Tape 1967-1975
The history of the Black Panther movement is the history of this country seen through the eyes of a foreign film crew and documented over 9 years. The film features extraordinary never before seen footage along with commentary from some of the most important African Americans reflecting on their legacies.

#3 Cave of Forgotten Dreams
A fascinating film that explores the Chauvet Cave in France, which contains some of the oldest human painting on earth. Warner Herzog's hypnotic narration takes you on a journey and contemplates what these ancient artist must have been like more than 30,000 years ago. It is a visually stunning and endlessly interesting exploration of humankind.

#4 Waiting For Superman
Oscar winning director Davis Guggenheim turns his attention and his camera to the failings of our education system. It is a personal as well as journalistic mission. This film is partly emotional and partly informative in equal measure. Guggenheim is one of America’s finest documentary filmmakers. Also take a look at his other recent doc “It Might Get Loud” and you will get a sense of his amazing range.

#5 Winnebago Man
This is a film made for the Internet generation. It is a funny and fascinating exploration of what happens when a moment that you did not plan for anyone to see gets uploaded to the web and you become an Internet sensation. filmmaker Ben Steinbauer tracks down Jack Rebney -- who's become known in underground circles as the "Angriest Man in the World" -- and tries to discover what makes the loner tick.

#6 Buck
Buck Brannaman was the inspiration for the movie “The Horse Whisperer.” This Sundance Film Festival Best Documentary winner explores his complex life and work. He is an inspiration and source of wonder. Cindy Meehl reveals much about how Buck came to learn so much about communications with horses as well as humans.

#7 The Arbor
Ok, This is no easy watch, but it is one of the most inventive ways I have ever seen a story told in a documentary. Actors lip sync to actual recorded interviews with the family of British Playwright Andrea Dunbar. Dunbar wrote of her turbulent family in her works and this film explores the people who inspired those tales. It is subtitled because the British accents are often very thick.

#8 The Last Mountain
Watch what happens when ordinary citizens in West Virginia stand up to the mining industry. This film is filled with inspirational and personal stories and presents a controversial story with balance and dignity. Filmmaker Bill Haney captures the passion of Robert Kennedy Jr. working side by side with a community fighting for their lives.

#9 Forks Over Knives
This movie will make you smart, skinny and have a longer life…or it is a great way to kill 96 minutes. Either way, you won’t regret the investment in this interesting and powerful documentary about the challenges of processed food in our bodies and how medicine cannot keep up with the advancements of the processed food industry. It is enlightening and actually entertaining too.

#10 Casino Jack and the United States of Money
Oscar winning director Alex Gibney, who has turned his camera on Enron, Eliot Spitzer, Hunter S. Thompson and military torture takes a fast paced and hard hitting look at the life and times of lobbyist Jack Abramoff. It is one of the best films yet from this great documentarian. After you watch this one, check out how Kevin Spacey lights up the screen as Abramoff in the narrative version of this tale called “Casino Jack.”

#11 Camp Victory, Afghanistan
Carol Dysinger introduces us to the men and woman of one American military base in Afghanistan who are training Afghan troops. It is a rich world filled with characters and stories that will stay with you after you see this film. While we are celebrating the holidays at home it is a great time to remember that our troops are still on foreign soil and to see how they spend their days and nights.

#12 Storage Wars
I know the purist documentary lovers will boo and hiss, but I love “Storage Wars.” I admit it. I am addicted to this show. It is a reality doc-style TV series that I cannot stop watching. The cast of characters are bidders at auction for abandoned storage units and their stories are of the treasures they find there. It is the same formula over and over again and it just works. It is part “Antique Roadshow” and part side-show but it makes for addictive viewing. Watch both seasons and if you feel like you still want more, check out “American Pickers” and “Pawn Stars.”