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An antidote to documentary paralysis: What to watch tonight

ByAngus Grinstead

Oct 12, 2023
group of people sitting together staring at a screen

That rare beast of an empty evening stretches out in front of you and the myriad of possible ways you could fill the next two hours is beginning to become overwhelming. What follows is a list that aims to relieve you of the dreaded decision fatigue: ten outstanding documentaries, in no particular order, certain to make it a worthwhile night.

Searching for Sugar Man (2012)
This Oscar winning documentary on a South African cultural phenomenon details the efforts of two fans to uncover the truth about the enigmatic American musician Sixto Rodriguez. Rodriguez’s music, which had sold more in South Africa than Elvis Presley’s, never achieved success in the USA, although little was known about him in either country.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)
85-year-old sushi master Jiro Ono’s total dedication to his craft is nothing short of inspirational. This Japanese-language film, centred around the world of culinary perfection cuts deeper than its superficial subject matter by giving an insight into Japanese culture and revealing life’s secrets to success.

Sherpa (2015)
Sherpa takes us on a gripping journey into the world of the unsung heroes of Everest. Filmed during the 2014 Everest ice avalanche, this documentary offers a unique perspective on these tragic events, shedding light on the challenges faced by those who make summiting Everest possible.

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015)
Based on Lawrence Wright’s 2013 book, this eye-opening documentary exposes the inner workings of the controversial organisation, providing a chilling look into its practices and influence.

HyperNormalisation (2016)
HyperNormalisation is a thought-provoking exploration of the complexities and façades of our modern world, from politics to technology. Director Adam Curtis weaves together a compelling narrative that will challenge your understanding of reality.

Blackfish (2013)
A moving film on the treatment of captive orcas, specifically Tilikum. This documentary dives into the controversial world of marine theme parks and their impact on these extremely complex creatures.

an orca leaps out of the water at Sea World Orlando
Sea World Orlando” by xrayspx is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Grizzly Man (2005)
Esteemed German filmmaker Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man is a reflective exploration of the life and death of the eccentric Timothy Treadwell, who lived among wild grizzly bears in Alaska. This emotionally nuanced yet brutally blunt documentary raises questions about the boundaries between humans and the natural world.

Free Solo (2018)
The second Oscar winning documentary on this list focuses on Alex Honnold’s odyssey to become the first person to free solo the Freerider route of El Capitan, described by the New York Times as “one of the great athletic feats of any kind, ever.” A heart-pounding adventure that delves into the limits of human determination and skill.

Fantastic Fungi (2019)
Fantastic Fungi offers a mesmerising journey into the world of mushrooms and the crucial role they play in our ecosystem. This visually stunning documentary will change the way you view these humble organisms. Heavily features captivating mycologist Paul Stamets and author Michael Pollan.

Around the World in Eighty Days with Michael Palin (1989)
Taking on the challenge of recreating Jules Verne’s classic 1873 novel, the authentic and engaging Michael Palin captures the spirit of exploration and the beauty of diverse cultures. The accompanying travel diary is also excellent and further emphasises just how much travel (and the world!) has changed over the last three decades.

And there we have it! Hopefully your content conundrum has been resolved, for the next
week at least…

Watching home movies” by Wildebeast1 is licensed under CC BY 2.0.