Documentaries never get enough love. Their releases are marginalized causing fewer people to see them. Even the best-reviewed docs sometimes struggle to find their place amongst the studio films.
Occasionally a filmmaker will come along who breaks the mold and releases a documentary that becomes a box office hit.
Michael Moore became a celebrity and brought the documentary to the masses. Beginning with his 1989 gem “Roger & Me”, Moore opened America’s eyes and didn’t shy away from exposing this country’s hypocrisy. The Oscar-winning director’s style is smart and funny. Moore’s films find the right balance of the two, giving them accessibility to audiences who might shy away from the documentary film.
Streaming services have become a great place for documentaries to find an audience. These days, with theaters overcrowded by loud and forgettable Hollywood fare (and especially during the Covid-19 pandemic), documentaries are being seen at home by larger audiences than ever before.
Last year was certainly a fruitful year for documentary film. I saw many that moved me deeply in different ways.
An incredibly strong list of choices, here are my Top 5 Documentaries of 2021-
- “Summer of Soul (… Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)-Ahmir Khalib “Questlove” Thompson
(In music and power and historical significance, one of the most exciting and important music documentaries ever made. A film about the sadly overlooked 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival that is full of music and firsthand stories from the people and musicians that were there. A shared experience and a celebration of unity, peace, and Black Pride. Quite simply, an astonishing film.)
- “Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street”- Marilyn Agrelo
(Charming, sweet, and profoundly moving, this is a beautiful documentary about a project that brought together a nation and made us all a part of the Sesame Street family. The show endures through honesty, intelligence, and heart. This film captures everything that makes it so special.)
- “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain”- Morgan Neville
(A raw examination and tribute to a unique and troubled soul. Bourdain was a deep and troubled man with a lust for life that was in constant battle with his mind. Fascinating and soulful, just like its subject.)
- “Some Kind of Heaven”- Lance Oppenheim
(A moving and supremely interesting look at a group of senior citizens in a Florida retirement community who may or may not have had a firm grasp on life as younger people, but who are now faced with the realities of how they will live out their final days. Sometimes hopeful, sometimes sad, this is real human drama at its most intimate and revealing.)
- “Stray”- Elizabeth Lo
(A stirring and profound documentary that touches on our humanity through the life of dogs on the streets of Turkey. Director Lo exhibits a unique style, as it is the dogs who become the most human in a violent and unforgiving world. It is through their contact with different people where true compassion and soul are revealed. An incredibly moving work that deserves a much bigger audience.)