There can be little doubt the 2010s has been a remarkable period in documentary filmmaking. As a thirst for true crime truly captured the people’s imaginations and a strong sense of injustice. Making a Murderer was an epic investigation into the criminal justice system and coincided with a number of other fascinating stories of wronged men and women.
It’s also been a time of huge political unrest, social movements from black lives matter to me too, and through documentaries, voices that are often not heard, spoke loud and proud. There have been whistleblowers, campaigners, tales from the margins and those of epic achievements.
With so many to choose from it’s nigh on impossible to suit everyone’s tastes, but in no particular order, here’s a selection of some of the finest documentary work from the last ten years.
Back in 2011, we got the inspiring story of the Manassas High School football team that had previously never won a playoff game until forward-thinking coach Bill Courtney managed to turn a poverty-stricken group of young men into champions in every sense of the word. His fatherly and non-judgemental approach captured the hearts, as he fostered a belief and nurtured unseen talent, creating a legacy of positivity not previously seen in the downtrodden community. A wonderful cast of characters and a rollercoaster journey of emotions.
Minding the Gap
Young filmmaker Bing Yiu does a remarkable job in assembling over ten years of footage he shot of himself and two best friends Keire Johnson and Zack Mulligan, to tell a cohesive and at times heartbreaking story of young men battling not only domestic challenges and family trauma but also the big wide world as they negotiate adulthood. Bonded by their love of skateboarding and lack of options their connection grows ever stronger. As life-affirming as it is upsetting.
The crazy world of free climbing and the lifelong passion of Alex Honnold to climb the daunting El Capitan is a fabulous piece of filmmaking in a literal and metaphorical sense. The task as it’s described so expertly by legend of the sport Tommy Coldwell, “Imagine an Olympic-gold-medal-level athletic achievement that, if you don’t get that gold medal, you’re gonna die. That’s pretty much what free soloing El Cap is like.” The finale to this epic adventure is genuinely heart-stopping, edge of your seat stuff.
A good documentary can often leave the viewer with more questions than answers, but the central theme of The Imposter is a mind-boggling list of what’s, how’s, why’s and really’s. French nutjob and con man Frederic Bourdin takes on his most challenging role as he impersonates a young Texan boy who disappeared in the early nineties. Despite being seven years senior, with different coloured eyes and hair, and of course, having a french accent, he manages to deceive not only officials but close family too. This incredible tale defies belief. Hope is a powerful emotion.
Blackfish tells the tale of Tilikum, the killer whale kept in captivity for the benefit of the paying public, and how this beautiful and intelligent marine mammal was subsequently involved in the death of three trainers. It explores the corrupt practices of SeaWorld and how they covered up their tracks. Heartbreaking stuff but essential in getting us to reassess our relationship with the natural world, and of course what constitutes entertainment.
Twelve O’Clock Boys
One of our favourite docs of the decade is Twelve O’Clock Boys which focuses inadvertently on young charismatic soul Pug who idolises the bike riding boys of Baltimore, given their name for the freestyling wheelies they perform on their dirt bikes. Filmed over three years, it features some great soundbites and interviews with the disaffected community and is beautifully shot with some epic slow-mo action. A superb investigation into the effects of poverty in inner-city America.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi
This doc follows 85-year-old Sushi Chef, Jiro One, considered by many to be the greatest in his field and his modest restaurant located in Tokyo subway station. As Jiro looks more likely to hand the reins to his eldest son and heir Yoshikazu, will he manage to meet his father’s exacting standards in pursuing perfection? Something that has earned an unprecedented three Michelin stars. Food porn in all its glory.
This 6-parter about the accusations levelled at billionaire property heir Robert Durst is gripping from start to finish as the viewer takes a front seat in what feels like a live murder investigation. Durst makes for a compelling subject as filmmaker Andrew Jarecki tries to discover the truth behind the deaths of three people linked to our mysterious protagonist. It all builds to a dramatic conclusion that has to be seen to be believed.
This pertinent documentary from filmmaker Matthew Heineman honed in on the ongoing Mexican drug battle, and, in particular, the vigilante groups that have made it their daily business to wage war on the cartels along the US/Mexican border. Through the eyes of some compelling characters, viewers are taken front and centre as the complexities of dealing with such issues, alongside the raw brutality, unflinching violence and corruption are brought to the fore.
The Central Park 5
The troubling story of The Central Park 5 has made its way into the public consciousness thanks to Netflix’s excellent drama series When They See Us. However, it is this documentary telling the tale through the eyes of the young men who were so cruelly and wrongly accused of the murder and rape of a young white woman jogging through Central Park, that stirred up huge amounts of emotion and a sense of injustice regarding the US justice system. Alongside issues with the policing, interrogation methods and how easily young black men can find themselves on the wrong side of an unforgiving law.
Click the banner to share on Facebook