By: Jaimee Jacobczak
If you’re anything like me, Netflix has become like an old dependable friend, in that, when there’s nothing to do or you simply want to stuff your face with popcorn and curl up on the couch, it’s there for you. But once I’ve finished binge watching the latest craze-currently hooked on “Black Mirror,” get into it–I find myself drifting into the Documentaries section. Honestly, if it wasn’t for Netflix, I probably wouldn’t have seen any of these…documentaries simply aren’t as widely discussed as the latest Marvel or Leonardo DiCaprio film. But they should be! These docs are so well directed and thought provoking that they will literally change the way you view the world; some for the better, others for far worse. In both instances though, they provide thoughtful narratives that are sensitive to the subject matter while providing you with stories that you might’ve otherwise skimmed passed during your morning social media scroll, taking a look at some of society’s deepest and darkest flaws, the world over. They will leave you feeling awestruck, inspired, maybe a little depressed (I’m looking at you, “Blackfish”) but regardless, they’ll make you think, and as a self-proclaimed Netflix-doc expert I highly, highly recommend all of them.
I’ll go ahead and start with the aforementioned “Blackfish” as it is arguably the most successful documentary that is still available on Netflix. If you haven’t caught it yet, the film sheds light on the realities of holding large mammals captive and narrows in specifically on the highly publicized death of animal trainer, Dawn Brancheau and the killer whale responsible, Tilikum. “Blackfish” takes you on an emotional journey through the inner workings of SeaWorld and begs the question, who is truly responsible for these tragedies? Is it the whale’s fault or perhaps, is human interference with these otherwise tame giants to blame?
AUDRIE & DAISY (2016)
With the sudden influx of high-profile sexual assault cases in mainstream media, it is of no surprise that documentarians worldwide are fixing to get their stories heard. “Audrie & Daisy” showcases two high-profile instances of American teen girls who have fallen victim to sexual assault, been subsequently cyber bullied, and the devastating lengths they will go to stop the pain. While the two girls titled have never met, their stories are strikingly similar, but only one lives on to tell her side. What follows is an in depth investigation into how schools are combating issues of sexual assault, the shocking attitudes male adolescents have towards women’s bodies, the impact the girls’ peers have on their lives, and what we can do to work on this issue together as a community.
THE MINIMALISTS (2016)
“The Minimalists” began as a book, or perhaps more accurately, a change in lifestyle by the film’s creators, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. In a world where we are constantly bombarded with ads for the latest tech, must-try foods, and must-wear fashions, Nicodemus and Millburn realize that they own a whole lot of things but wonder if those things are truly enriching their lives they way they were sold to. What if you woke up tomorrow and purged your entire apartment and got rid of the things you truly haven’t used or worn? According to Joshua and Ryan, that might be the very thing you need to do in order to truly find peace of mind, happiness, a greater sense of accomplishment, and health. “The Minimalists” is their story, and after viewing, it could be yours.
WELCOME TO LEITH (2015)
People from small towns often catch themselves saying the phrase, “that would never happen here,” and that’s exactly what residents of Leith, North Dakota-a town that boasts a population of 16-found themselves saying when white supremacist, Craig Cobb, decided he wanted to plant his roots there. “Welcome to Leith” gives a frightening look at the deep-seated racism that is still abundant in America and how one person has the ability to influence others to follow his desires. On the other hand, it also shows the strength and sense of community instilled in humanity as residents of Leith struggle with defending their town from their new cult-like Neo-Nazi neighbours.
WEST OF MEMPHIS (2012)
The story of the West Memphis Three is not a new one by any means, having been portrayed in 1996’s “Paradise Lost” and its two sequels, but the story is just as riveting now as it was then. “West of Memphis” gives a further glimpse into the lives of Jessie Misskelley, Damien Echolls and Jason Baldwin, the then-teenagers convicted of murdering three 8-year-old boys, and shifts the focus onto Terry Hobbs, the father of one of the victims. The police never considered Hobbs as a suspect, and thus never investigated his personal life and whereabouts on the night of. “West of Memphis” offers chilling insight into the corruption and incompetence of the Memphis police at the time and following the murders. The case has been widely argued at length and the West Memphis Three have received celebrity support throughout their prison sentences.
MATT SHEPARD IS A FRIEND OF MINE (2015)
“Matt Shepard Is A Friend of Mine” retells the story of the life and upbringing of Matt Shepard, a young man that was brutally murdered in one of the most gruesome hate crimes in recent U.S history. Filmed largely by friends of Matt Shepard and his family, this personal look into Matt’s life showcases that he was more than just the gay man he was murdered for being; a man with hopes and dreams not unlike any of our own. It encompasses the loss of love and the grief that hangs over the shoulders of those that knew him in such a poignant way that at its end, you will feel as if Matt Shepard indeed was a friend of yours.
INDIA’S DAUGHTER (2015)
“India’s Daughter” is not for the faint of heart. This documentary is gripping from the start as it unravels the events that led to the disturbing gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old medical intern in Delhi, India. If the events themselves don’t distress you, the chilling recounting and lack of remorse by the individuals who committed the crime and their attitudes towards women surely will. In total, six men were arrested for the attack including a 17-year-old juvenile. The event has been so controversial that it is banned from airing in India, a move that has only garnered more attention to crimes against women as protesters for women’s rights worldwide continue to fight for justice.
FED UP (2014)
“Fed Up” is an insightful and shocking look into the American obesity epidemic and what writer and director, Stephanie Soechtig, believes lies at the root cause of it; sugar. More specifically, it directs attention to the world of “Big Sugar,” the lobbying power that is seemingly fighting tooth and nail to keep sugar in our diets due to its addictive elements. The more addicted you are, the more you’ll eat, and the more obesity rises. It’s a fascinating look into the structure of the food industry and at the very least, it may make you rethink that walk over to the vending machine for a mid-day chocolate bar.
THE IVORY GAME (2016)
“The Ivory Game” is the byproduct of a 16 month undercover investigation of the ivory trade in China, where buying and selling is legal. The film shines a bold spotlight on the illegal poaching it inspires in Africa by those in search of vast wealth. In its exploration, the film shows the impact the black market of ivory has on the elephant species as a whole. The less ivory there is, the more value it brings at the market-and thus, we now are faced with a real problem where elephant poaching has run so rampant that if action is not taken, elephants will potentially be extinct in as little as 15 years.
MISS REPRESENTATION (2015)
“Miss Representation” delves deep into the media to explore the impact the images we are fed through television and advertising has on our psyche and society as a whole. The film presents startling facts on how male-centric television stunts the growth and development of the young girls that view them, in an effort to deter them from assuming positions of power later in life, regardless of what they aspire to become. It is a truly eye-opening experience that will undoubtedly change your perception of the media and those in positions of influence of what images and messages our society receives.
Edited by: Rebecca Besnos
Jaimee Jakobczak is a budding Canadian writer whose work has been published in The Huffington Post and various online media publications. She holds a diploma in Audio Production and Engineering from Metalworks Institute and spent several years working as a studio recording engineer and live technician. Not one to be tied down to one avenue, her passion for politics, health, and pop culture have driven her to pursue a career in writing and she is currently putting the finishing touches on her first fictional novel.