five documentaries streaming on netflix that are actually good

If you’re ever in the mood for some enjoyable, yet intellectually-stimulating entertainment, I recommend taking a look at any of the following five documentaries, all of which can be streamed on Netflix. Also, if you think watching documentaries is a tiresome activity, these films will likely convert you.

banksy’s exit through the gift shop

Before I watched this film, I remember skimming its plot summary on Wikipedia and being greatly confused as to what it was actually about. Simply put, Exit Through The Gift Shop is a film so genius and unconventional that I feel that a brief summary will not be able to encompass the gist of the film, but I’ll try anyway. Thierry Guetta, a French emigrant residing in Los Angeles, videotapes everything he can and starts videotaping street artists at work after being introduced to street art by his cousin, an artist known as Space Invader. He starts filming artists like Shepard Fairey and eventually meets the renowned graffiti artist who goes by the name of Banksy. He constantly films Banksy’s work, which he claims is part of a documentary he is making. Although Guetta didn’t initially plan to make the film, he attempts to do so after Bansky tells him to. The outcome of Guetta’s project is horrendous, and Banksy takes over the daunting task of completing the movie. During this time, Guetta reinvents himself as the artist Mr. Brainwash, and holds an extremely successful art exhibition. The film is very informative about the world of street art and also explores ideas about what makes art great and what it takes to be a successful artist. The film does not try to push a certain perspective on the viewer, but instead lets him or her make up their own mind as to what the message of the film is. Toward the documentary’s end, Banksy, whose face is not shown and speaks with a distorted voice explains:

I don’t know what it means; Thierry’s huge success and arrival in the art world. I mean, maybe Thierry was a genius all along. Maybe he got a bit lucky. Maybe it means art is a bit of a joke…I don’t think Thierry played by the rules, in some ways. But then, there aren’t supposed to be any rules, so I don’t really know what the moral is. I mean, I always used to encourage everyone I met to make art. I used to think everyone should do it. I don’t really do that so much anymore.

Click here to view the trailer, which is hilarious and one of the best trailers I’ve ever seen.

the imposter

theimposterNicholas Barclay, a Texan boy who went missing at age 13, was found in Spain three and a half years later. His family took him into their home and believed with certainty that he was who he said he was. However, the boy, or rather man, who claimed to be Nicholas was actually Frédéric Bourdin, a 23 year old man from France who did not actually look very much like Nicholas and spoke with an accent. How did Bourdin, who was found to be an imposter by a private investigator, successfully deceive the American Embassy, the FBI, and Nicholas’ family? You’ll just have to watch the film, which includes interviews with Bourdin and Nicholas’ relatives, to learn more. Click here to watch the trailer.

the thin blue line

thinbluelineThe Thin Blue Line is “the first movie mystery to actually solve a murder.” The film led to the release of Randall Adams, a man who had been sentenced to life in prison and previously sentenced to death for the murder of a police officer. Director Errol Morris’ research points to the conclusion that the real murderer was David Harris, who committed many crimes after the murder including another murder. One of the main causes of Adams’ conviction was that three witnesses committed perjury. The documentary’s style of using reenactments and interviews was very innovative for the time. Click here and here to read more about the film and murder case.

hoop dreams

Hoop_DreamsRoger Ebert considered Hoop Dreams to be the best film of the 1990s. For six years, the film follows two inner-city boys, William Gates and Arthur Agee, who both have ambitions to play professional basketball. The boys and their families experience many unexpected twists and turns in their journey, most of them being for the worse. For example, Arthur gets a scholarship to a private school and is then loses it, resulting in his family having to pay a debt in order for him to receive his transcripts; William struggles with injuries throughout the film; and Arthur’s mother deals with losing a job, her husband leaving the family and then returning, and chronic back pain. In addition, both boys try to get college scholarships. The many themes the film explores include family, poverty, and race. In his excellent review of the film, Robert Ebert writes:

No screenwriter would dare write this story; it is drama and melodrama, packaged with outrage and moments that make you want to cry. “Hoop Dreams” (1994) has the form of a sports documentary, but along the way it becomes a revealing and heartbreaking story about life in America. When the filmmakers began, they planned to make a 30-minute film about eighth-graders being recruited from inner-city playgrounds to play for suburban schools. Their film eventually encompassed six years, involved 250 hours of footage, and found a reversal of fortunes they could not possibly have anticipated.

kumare

kumareKumare is “the true story of a false prophet.” Vikram Gandhi, a first-generation American, was frustrated with people posing as spiritual leaders and wanted to understand why these fake gurus were becoming popular in the West. To answer this question, he reinvented himself as the guru Sri Kumare. To make himself look like a guru he grew out his hair, made up fake yoga poses and chants, spoke in an accent, and dressed in simple clothing. Gandhi’s results are very impressive–he gains many dedicated followers who greatly value his made-up teachings. Throughout the film, his followers, who often are seeking Kumare’s help to deal with personal problems, seem to actually benefit from the false prophet’s guidance. At the end of the film, Gandhi reveals to his followers that he had been deceiving them, and their reactions may surprise you. Click here to read an article on the film and here to view the film’s trailer.

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