The Best Documentaries on Amazon Prime (February 2021)
There’s something really captivating about watching a true story play out in front of you. Unlike a fictional narrative, documentaries don’t have neatly tied-up endings, there is no guarantee of what’s to come. In summation: they feel like a more accurate representation of what the world is capable of, good and evil, nurturing and abandoning. Often a documentary provides a way to dive deep into a story that hasn’t been fully explored previously, maybe even to get answers to long-existing questions once and for all.
As Amazon continues to compete with Netflix to provide a captivating slew of offerings for its viewers, it’s growing documentary selection reflects that. Here we present some of the best documentaries on Amazon Prime, with options for all interest groups from the typical true crime to the exploration of a long-forgotten band to girl power.
All In: The Fight for Democracy
Directors: Liz Garbus and Lisa Cortes
The documentary All In: The Fight for Democracy is a fascinating, insightful, and infuriating chronicle of the history of voting rights in the United States. The film is framed by Stacey Abrams, an advocate for voting rights, and while it certainly covers her gubernatorial race in Georgia, it doesn’t necessarily linger on the controversial results. Instead, All In uses interviews and visualizations to explain how voting rights have worked in the United States throughout the country’s entire history, and the ways in which certain legislatures and lawmakers have succeeded in suppressing the votes of minorities – particularly in the South. – Adam Chitwood
Hale County, This Morning This Evening
This is the kind of movie that demands to be seen, and yet it’s the kind of movie that no one wants because it studiously avoids narrative. Even an issues-based documentary tends to have a narrative of some kind, whether it’s history or some key player, and yet director/co-writer RaMell Ross wants to make his film experiential. That makes it easy to pigeonhole it as “pretentious” (because how dare someone avoid the bonds of narrative) and discard it, but I feel Hale County, This Morning This Evening is essential. It’s a kaleidoscopic view of black lives in 2010s. By just hanging out with the people Ross chooses to film and photograph, we gain a fuller understanding of black lives. Too often, these lives are framed in their relationship to white lives, whether as supporting players or villains, or they’re cast as saintly heroes for which white viewers can approvingly nod our heads. Hale County has no interest in that; it would much rather watch a toddler run around excitedly with no place to go or an athlete shoot hoops. It captures the richness of life itself. – Matt Goldberg
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Director: James Solomon
In 1964 Kitty Genovese was murdered in Kew Gardens, Queens as 38 people witnessed her screams without taking action. Over 50 years later, it’s a story that still haunts New York and stands as a reminder to take action. The Witness focuses greatly on Kitty’s younger brother Bill Genovese, who also acted as executive producer, and was 16 at the time of Kitty’s murder. He goes over headlines, trial transcripts, and police records to determine exactly what happened that day so many years ago. It’s an emotional and powerful story about life, family, and death.
Director: John Lloyd Taylor
Six years ago, the Jonas Brothers were traveling the world, performing, and adored my millions. The only problem? They weren’t happy—so the band broke up. This documentary explores the story of the Jonas Brothers, what led to their break up, how they healed their relationships with each other, and their next phase back as a band. It’s an amazing film for anyone, whether or not you like the Jonas Brothers as it’s raw, honest, and portrays the reality of what it’s like to grow up in the public eye and to find yourself—and happiness, of course.
One Child Nation
Directors: Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang
You may be vaguely aware of China’s “One Child” policy that ran from 1979 to 2015, but Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang’s harrowing documentary delves into the wide-reaching ramifications of the policy. The high cost of totalitarianism yields a nation of people who felt they had no choice but to submit to the government’s cruelty in favor of a policy that was created out of fear of over-population. While some may argue that it was a necessary evil, One Child Nation looks at how much evil had to happen, from mass infanticide to forced sterilization to baby trafficking to family separation. As Wang points out, while some may see this as the opposite of America where abortions are largely outlawed as opposed to carried about by the government, it’s just different ways of the government depriving women of autonomy over their bodies. It would be comforting to think of the one-child policy as something that happened “over there” and “in the past”, but One Child Nation makes its ramifications immediate and unforgettable. – Matt Goldberg
That Sugar Film
Director: Damon Gameau
As Australia’s highest-grossing film documentary, That Sugar Film certainly hit a nerve with society’s fascination on how sugar affects the body. In a similar model to the wildly famous Super Size Me, director and star Damon Gameau decides to consume high-sugar, though commonly thought of as healthy foods for 30 days. His point isn’t to prove how bad items like candy or soda are but, instead, to identify unhealthy amounts of sugar in unexpected places. For anyone feeling run down by sugar but not sure why, this film can be an eye-opener.
Rachel Hollis Presents: Made for More
Director: Jack Noble
As the best-selling author of the book ‘Girl, Wash Your Face’, Rachel Hollis knows how to captivate an audience while providing informative, non-condescending advice. This is an authentic showcase of one woman who hopes to help other women live the life they dream of, in simple and large-scale ways. The documentary details Hollis’ creation of the RISE conference, bringing together women from all different backgrounds and beliefs in a supportive space.
The Milky Way
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Director: Jon Fitzgerald
If you’re looking to watch an empowering, female documentary that will touch your soul, this is it. The Milky Way dives into the way women are treated as mothers, the natural ways their bodies change and adapt, the core of taking care of another human being, and how women’s rights haven’t been protected during the breastfeeding stage in America. Did you know America is one of only four governments in the world with no government-mandated paid maternity leave? You’ll learn that and a whole lot more in Jon Fitzgerald‘s essential film. It is a truly eye-opening production about breastfeeding as a whole and how it is viewed by society.
All Or Nothing
Director: Edward Scott
If you love music then Edward Scott’s debut film about the little known band August Christopher is a must-see. Managing themselves, August Christopher spent years touring and playing their hearts out in 3,000 shows throughout their career. From 1999 to 2014, when the band set their van on fire, August Christopher did their best to make their mark on music. This movie tells the true story of those years, why it all went away, and what can be learned from their journey. Plus, it includes 40 original songs and live performances to enjoy.
The Brain That Changes Itself
Director: Mike Sheerin
Based on psychologist and researcher Dr. Norman Doidge’s best-selling book of the same name, The Brain That Changes Itself eloquently examines the adaptability of the brain. Instead of accepting that the brain stops evolving at a certain point, the film takes time to explain both why this is false and how these changes can occur. A large focus is put on the idea of the brain changing to overcome mental and physical disabilities caused by things that have damaged the brain, for example, a stroke. It provides hope that acceptance of a problem may not always be necessary.
Life Off Grid
Director: Jonathan Taggart
Alongside producer Phillip Vannini, director Jonathan Taggart spent 2011 to 2013 visiting 200 people across Canada that have chosen to live “off the grid.” This means that they create their own electricity in some way or another. The film interviews its subjects about what led them to choose this way of life and what other practices they’ve implemented.
A defining factor of the film is to present living off the grid as a valid way of life instead of sensationalizing the people who do it. Interviewing at least one person in each Canadian province, it’s fascinating to see the inventions that can be created simply from wanting to do better by the Earth. One fascinating example is a solar grill which harnesses the heat from the sun to cook food. By showcasing how similar a life people can live off the grid to those who aren’t, the film provides a jumping-off point for anyone to rethink the way they live—maybe even to go off the grid themselves.
Director: Laura Paglin
This is not your typical true-crime documentary and that’s part of what makes it so good. Instead of creating a larger than life character in the perpetrator, Unseen focuses on the victims. In 2009, eleven women’s decomposing bodies were found by
Cleveland police in the yard of known sex offender Anthony Sowell. A smell had been overcoming the neighborhood for quite some time but little to nothing was done. In fact, Sowell’s horrific actions were known and reported multiple times without much being done. By following the stories of the deceased women, those who managed to escape, and people close to the victims, this documentary analyzes how easily things are often brushed under the rug, no matter how terrible they are.
Out of Mind, Out of Sight
Director: John Kastner
An insightful look at second chances and changing impressions in extreme circumstances, Out of Mind, Out of Sight tells the story of four residents of forensic psychiatric hospital Brockville Mental Health Centre, which houses people who have committed violent crimes. Emmy award-winning director John Kastner asks four patients, two male and two female, to discuss the process of potentially returning to a society that fears them. In total, 46 patients and 75 staff members were interviewed over 18 months for the documentary. It’s truly a rare, well-done look at returning from the fringes of society, forgiveness, and moving forward.
Director: Michael Dominic
A great work for anyone interested in the history of New York and poverty, Sunshine Hotel brings audiences inside the Bowery flophouses. Director Michael Dominic first learned of the location as a waiter in the area and brings that continued curiosity to the film. Subjects are given the chance to speak for themselves and present the story of how they arrived at the Bowery. It’s an emotional tale of struggle, drugs, and loneliness.
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