With the holidays upon us, there might be more time to watch sitcoms, quiz shows, movies, sitcoms, and even to finally binge watch Game of Thrones or Handmaid's Tale. So how about adding the occasional documentary especially those that you can watch as a family. We plan to provide suggestions throughout the winter months but also seek your recommendations. Nothing brings a community together more than having greater knowledge on key social topics.
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It’s an adolescent rite of passage. Every spring, high school students gather at the prom to dance and circle each other awkwardly. A few years ago, the May Center, a nonprofit special-education school south of Boston, created a prom just for kids with autism and other developmental disabilities. Like their peers at traditional schools, the teens at this prom want to look good and have fun. And they can be pretty strong-willed about what they do — and don’t —want to do.
He Named Me Malala is a 2015 American documentary film directed by Davis Guggenheim. The film presents the young Pakistani female activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, who has spoken out for the rights of girls, especially the right to education, since she was very young. The film also recounts how she miraculously survived and has become even more eloquent in her quest after being hunted down and shot by a Taliban gunman as part of the organization's violent opposition to girls' education in the Swat Valley in Pakistan. The title refers to the Afghani folk hero Malalai of Maiwand, after whom her father named her.
Suitable for children
The familiar, soothing baritone of Morgan Freeman’s narration in the opening minutes of “March of the Penguins 2: The Call” tells you everything you need to know about what’s to come. “Meet the remarkable emperor penguin,” he says as the tuxedoed creature waddles along a barren patch of ice. “Again.”
Completed a decade after French director Luc Jacquet’s original paean to the arctic birds made $127 million at the box office and won a best documentary Oscar, this sort-of sequel provides a refurbished, high-resolution dose of the same natural wonders found in the initial installment: the perilous routine of courtship, breeding, and long-distance treks for food in the extreme conditions of Antarctica, by animals that know nothing else.
Suitable for children
Fed Up is an American documentary film directed, written and produced by Stephanie Soechtig. The film focuses on the causes of obesity in the US, presenting evidence showing that the large quantities of sugar in processed foods are an overlooked root of the problem, and points to the monied lobbying power of "Big Sugar" in blocking attempts to enact policies to address the issue. Co-produced by Katie Couric and Laurie David (producer of Inconvenient Truth). This is a must-watch for all parents struggling with their children's sugar habits. Your kiddos won't beg for any dessert after watching the perils of what sugar does to our bodies.
Suitable AND Recommended to watch with children
Maybe you’re watching our current political nightmare unfold on TV and asking yourself how things ever got this bad — how showmanship and bluster won out over substantive debate. For the answer, there’s Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon’s briskly entertaining account of televised punditry during the 1968 presidential conventions. That year, a down-in-the-ratings ABC pitted National Review founder William F. Buckley, Jr. against the transgressive gay writer Gore Vidal, and the two promptly went for the jugular. The mudslinging and sustained character attacks that followed would set the tone for the next five decades of political dialogue in this country, leading right to… well, you know.
Warning: This Netflix documentary The Bleeding Edge will seriously piss you off. It might also make you swear off doctors for the rest of your life. The film is a deep dive into the medical device industry and the dangers that lurk there for unassuming patients. Like the pharmaceutical industry, there are few laws regulating the creation and implementation of medical devices — think everything from birth control to orthopedic instruments — and the doc shows how this is negatively affecting millions of Americans every year from the women unknowingly sterilized by an IUD device to a doctor whose own ortho-device slowly poisoned him. It’s a frustrating watch, but a necessary one.
Some lighter fare, this Hulu-backed doc examines the rise and (inevitable) fall of one of the most underrated sketch comedy series to exist on TV. The Dana Carvey Show boasted a well-known star and some enviable talent – Stephen Colbert, Steve Carrell, Bill Hader and other starred on it before becoming household names – but it crashed and burned, rather gloriously. The film gives us a look at the whys and hows of its ultimate demise, with plenty of laughs thrown in for good measure.
On August 7th, 1974, a young Frenchman named Philippe Petit stepped out on a wire illegally rigged between the New York World Trade Center’s twin towers. After dancing for nearly an hour on the wire, he was arrested, taken for psychological evaluation, and brought to jail before he was finally released. This extraordinary documentary incorporates Petit’s personal footage to show how he overcame seemingly insurmountable challenges to achieve the artistic crime of the century.
Bill Belichick will one day join Bill Parcells in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. When the time comes, they'll have far more in common than a place in Canton-or a first name. The Two Bills, directed by Ken Rodgers and produced by NFL Films, traces the four-decade relationship between these two coaching masters. They first met when Belichick was a teenager and his father was coaching for Navy while Parcells was coaching at Army. On the same day in 1979, they became assistants with the New York Giants, and after Parcells took over as head coach, they won two Super Bowls together. Buttressed by what he learned from Parcells, Belichick would go on to win five Super Bowls of his own with the Patriots. Through all the ups and downs of their careers, including some memorable games when they were on opposite sides of the field, they forged a bond that few men of their stature have ever experienced.
Crime + Punishment follows a group of 12 officers in the New York Police Department who say they were forced to meet monthly arrest quotas—specifically in minority neighborhoods (arrest quotas in N.Y.C. were made illegal in 2010, fyi). The group, now known as the NYPD 12, and most of whom are black or Latinx, filed a class action lawsuit against the NYPD in 2015, and the documentary chronicles their fight for change.This film chronicles the real struggles of a group of whistleblower cops in NYC as they fight back against the illegal arrest quotas they’re pressured to abide by. This film, shown at the 2018 Newburyport Documentary Festival was awarded the Judges Prize so its really worth watching.
In 2015, Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old black woman from Chicago, was arrested for a traffic violation in a small Texas town. Three days later, she was found hanging from a noose in her jail cell. Though ruled a suicide, her death sparked allegations of racially-motivated police murder and made Bland's case a rallying point for activists across the country. Featuring Bland's passionate video blogs, the timely documentary follows her family and their legal team as they try to make sense of what happened, presenting a compelling look at her life as well as her death. Directed and produced by Kate Davis; produced by David Heilbroner.
Brilliant writers, tribunes of the working class and icons of the lost world of newspapering, Jimmy Breslin and his friend, Pete Hamill, personified New York City. This documentary spotlights their unique take on many of the historic events of the second half of the 20th century. Directed by John Block, Jonathan Alter and Stephen McCarthy.
After a routine partial hip replacement operation leaves his mother in a coma with permanent brain damage, what starts as a son's video diary becomes a citizen's investigation into the future of American health care. Using undercover footage, court testimony, verité scenes shot over several years and interviews with people on all sides of the story, the film goes deep inside a flawed healthcare system. Part medical mystery and legal thriller, part investigative journey and meditation on family, this personal story is a cautionary tale. Directed by Steve Burrows.