Documentaries have a bad reputation, and that changes now. What some perceive as a boring genre is actually a home to some of the most inspiring, angering, joyful, and heartbreaking filmmaking. From grief to murder to fashion, the documentary genre has it all.
James Marsh’s 2008 documentary profiles French tightrope walker Philippe Petit, who famously walked between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. It is based on Petit’s book, To Reach The Clouds, and features interviews and footage of the stunt — as well as a look into the behind-the-scenes prep work that was done beforehand. Watching Petit retell the story behind his stunt and wax poetic about the way he needed to do something grand to feel personally satisfied with his craft is nothing short of inspiring.
Watch this if you want to feel: tiny, awestruck, creatively inspired
For fans of: Hugo, Amélie
2Exit Through The Gift Shop: A Banksy Film
The prolific and enigmatic street artist Banksy directed this 2010 documentary about Thierry Guetta, a street art-obsessed French immigrant living in Los Angeles. Rhys Ifans narrates the piece, and Banksy’s hidden identity is maintained through pixelation and voice-altering post-production. The film is an exciting look at its subject, but more so at the way Banksy sees the world and captures it.
Watch this if you want to feel: joyous, intrigued, mystified
For fans of: Trainspotting, Requiem For A Dream
*Trigger Warning* This 2015 documentary about the violent gang rape of a 23-year-old medical student in Dehli, India, is horrifying and heartbreaking. Filmmaker Leslee Udwin captures the horrible attack which killed Jyoti Singh, while also demonstrating the important legal and societal changes that came out of the violence.
Watch this if you want to feel: heartbroken, angry, ready to create change
For fans of: Elle, Half The Sky, He Named Me Malala
4The Thin Blue Line
Errol Morris’ 1988 true crime documentary explores the case of Randall Dale Adams, who was convicted and sentenced to death for shooting a teenager in 1976. The twist: Adams didn’t do it. The documentary explores the story of what really happened and the legal misconduct that shaped the trial. Considered one of the greatest documentaries ever made by many critics, the film features a score by Phillip Glass and will have you on the edge of your seat from start to finish.
Watch this if you want to feel: creeped out, thrilled, analytical
For fans of: The Serial podcast, Law & Order, Catch Me If You Can
5Dior et Moi
Belgian designer Raf Simons is profiled in this 2015 documentary by Frédéric Tcheng. The film follows the designer and his team as they create his first collection for French fashion house Christian Dior. Not only do you get an inside look at one of the most luxurious labels in fashion, you are pulled into the lives of the seamstresses and highly skilled teams who turn ideas into realities. Fashion documentaries are the best.
Watch this if you want to feel: visually stimulated, focused, impressed
For fans of: The Devil Wears Prada, The September Issue
6Finding Vivian Maier
John Maloof and Charlie Siskel direct this documentary about a mysterious nanny who took over 150,000 photographs of street life in Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles during the ’50s and ’60s. When Maloof stumbled on a box of photographic negatives at an auction, he had no idea he would be revealing Vivian Maier’s previously unseen work to the world. Her hobby became her posthumous legacy, and the documentary is a testament to the importance of creating art even if no one is looking at it.
Watch this if you want to feel: nostalgic, emotional, excited