Top 10 Lists We Recommend in January

Top 10 Lists We Recommend in January

With the holidays over, time to look through the amazing list of documentaries that you can sit and watch at home. This is the second in our series of DOCU@HOME recommendations and once again we seek your input. We have added a few of the suggestions that came in from fellow DOCU@HOME members.

If you do have a recommendation that we might share on this page, click the survey button below. But even if you don't have a suggestion, tell us in the survey about your favorite genres, networks, and interests. Takes just 2 minutes for the survey and be part of the DOCU@HOME team.

Click on the film image to watch film trailers


The winner of the 2014 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, 20 Feet from Stardom takes a look at the backup singers who support major artists but live in a world that lies just beyond the spotlight. Their voices bring harmony to the biggest bands in popular music, but we've no idea who they are or what lives they lead.The film was able to get interviews with Mick Jagger, Sheryl Crow and Bette Midler.  The film follows the behind-the-scenes of Darlene Love, Judith Hill, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Táta Vega, and Jo Lawry, among many others. You might recognize Darlene who played Danny Glover's wife in the Lethal Weapon series, and also became known for appearing each Christmas on The Late Show with David Letterman.

Lisa Fischer said of backup singing: "I reject the notion that the job you excel at is somehow not enough to aspire to, that there has to be something more. I love supporting other artists." She added: "Some people will do anything to be famous. I just wanted to sing."


Here's one we showed last year at the Firehouse and it was a highly appreciative crowd that walked out that evening. You probably know that Hedy Lamarr as a stunning actress from the ’30s to the ’50s. But she had quite the back personal story and you might not know she was an accomplished inventor, and that the principles of her work were incorporated into Bluetooth technology. Bombshell examines her youth, her rise to fame, her six marriages, landmark inventions and her death at the age of 85 in 2000. So if you missed our showing or want to watch it again, now you can.


“If you were in a bathtub for 25 years, don’t you think you’d get a little psychotic?” That’s a question that comes up in Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s investigative look at the gap between SeaWorld’s public image and behind-the-scenes reality when it comes to its treatment of its orcas, as seen through the case around Tilikum, a bull orca implicated in the deaths of three people. Though a difficult watch, Blackfish is notable less for its direction or its camera work than for its calm, reasoned argument, and its real-world results: Attendance at SeaWorld has plummeted since the film’s premiere; the company has ended its controversial orca-breeding program and begun phasing out its “Shamu” show in California. Shocking footage and riveting interviews with trainers and experts manifest the orca's extraordinary nature, the species' cruel treatment in captivity over the last four decades and the growing disillusionment of workers who were misled and endangered by the highly profitable sea-park industry. This emotionally wrenching, tautly structured story challenges us to consider our relationship to nature and reveals how little we humans truly know about these highly intelligent, and surprisingly sentient, fellow mammals that we only think we can control. When you look into their eyes, somebody's home.  Somebody's looking back at you. . . but it may not be what you think.


In April 2017, it was marketed as the party of a lifetime. The Fyre Music Festival was billed as a two-weekend, immersive experience in paradise where festival goers would enjoy top musical acts, party with supermodels and stay in lux accommodations on a private island in The Bahamas once owned by Pablo Escobar.

But attendees who paid thousands of dollars to fly to the Caribbean for Fyre Fest were greeted with complete chaos. When they arrived, they found a tent city and half-built structures. As more ticket holders arrived, they discovered there was not enough security, lights or food. Live tweets from ground zero of the pseudo-concert turned the fest and its co-founders, rapper Ja Rule and entrepreneur Billy McFarland, into the laughing stock of the Internet. Now you can look further into this story and there is a new twist. Netflix announced its own documentary - Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened - was to be released on January 18th and then Hulu unexpectedly released its own documentary - Fyre Fraud -the day before. Can Hulu fight Fyre with Frye?


If you enjoyed The Crown, you'll certainly love this docu-series about the House of Windsor. For some background, the House of Windsor is the reigning royal house of the United Kingdom and succeeded the House of Hanover following the death of Queen Victoria. The present Queen is the fourth monarch of the dynasty. The house is originally of German paternal descent and a branch of the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, itself derived from the House of Wettin. The name was understandably changed to the English Windsor (from "Windsor Castle") in 1917 because of anti-German sentiment in the British Empire during World War I. That name change is possibly the most obvious, but not the only way, the dynasty has adapted to a changing world that has helped it survive and prosper while royal families elsewhere lost prominience.


OK, we've all thought about giving up Facebook, maybe some of you have but it is so darn useful helping to keep up with family and the community. The early promise of Facebook was to create a more open and connected world. But the company’s failure to protect personal data as it chased revenue, to the proliferation of “fake news” and disinformation, mounting crises have raised the question: Is Facebook more harmful than helpful? This two part Frontline series investigates warnings as the company grew from Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard dorm room to a global empire. With dozens of original interviews and rare footage, The Facebook Dilemma examines the powerful social media platform’s impact on privacy and democracy in the U.S. and around the world. Maybe after viewing you'll give up Facebook but not until you've liked our page I hope.


OK, this documentary is not new - it was made in 2010 but there is a true feeling of deja vu here and it would be amiss of us not to bring it back to your attention. In Oct. 2006, the U.S. government decided to build a 700-mile fence along its border with Mexico. Three years, 19 construction companies, 350 engineers, thousands of construction workers, tens of thousands of tons of metal and $3 billion later, was it all worth it?

In The Fence (La Barda), Rory Kennedy follows her subjects through private ranches, protected wilderness, bustling border towns and scrub deserts for a revealing, often surprising look at the controversial southern U.S. border barrier. Featuring candid interviews with Border Patrol guards, ranchers, environmentalists and voices from both sides of the immigration controversy, the film also uses humor to highlight the contradictions and misinformation that have dogged the fence from its inception, underscoring the sometimes stark contrast between fact and political opinion. Approved by Congress under the Secure Fence Act of 2006 and passed by 73 percent of Congress, with support from both Republicans and Democrats, the fence was constructed at a cost of more than $3 billion, a figure that continues to grow with maintenance. In March 2010, the Department of Homeland Security froze all funding for the project. Despite the freeze, U.S. taxpayers will pay $49 billion in fence maintenance costs over the next 25 years.


Not sure if you've come across this story but apparently there are rumors the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. The movie Active Measures lays out the likelihood of collusion featuring among its talking heads Hillary Clinton, John McCain, and John Podesta. Its evidence includes details about cyber propaganda schemes, money laundering, and historical precedence. There’s an overwhelming amount of information in the film, which is probably intended but you might need to watch it a second time to understand everything. Buts its worth it.


If you missed this when it was on at the Screening Room, here's a second chance. Benefited by its timeliness, which has become even more apparent since its release, RBG is a celebratory spotlight on the life and work and recent memetic notoriety of the 85-year-old U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The documentary mixes biography, mostly highlighting significant legal cases involving Ginsburg before and since joining the highest bench in the land, and character study, following the subject in her routines. Friends, family, and colleagues honor her with favorable anecdotes and praise while Ginsburg herself appears for a charming personal interview. The whole thing, but especially scenes focused on her health, seems aimed at convincing the audience that she needs to be around a while longer.


For all those that still sing along to any Beatles song, take a look at Ron Howard's film about the touring years. Their groundbreaking world tours changed youth culture forever and, arguably, invented mass entertainment as we know it today.  All the while, the group were composing and recording a series of extraordinarily successful singles and albums, however the relentless pressure of such unprecedented fame, that in 1966 became life threatening, led to the decision to stop touring.  In the ensuing years The Beatles were then free to focus on a series of albums that change the face of recorded music.



Here's one for those that enjoy quirky movies. Sriracha is one of the all-time unexpected food success stories. In the US, we might have thought we were all set on hot sauce. We may as well have invented the art of throwing spicy red liquid on chicken wings. Then out of nowhere (well Thailand actually) come these red bottles with chickens on them that straight up change the game. Sriracha, is a love letter to the now ubiquitous chili sauce and a helpful explanation of its history and new role in the world. ENJOY

For the People, By the People Corner

OK, in the last DOCU@HOME email, we asked for movie recommendations and I'm delighted to say we received quite a few.  We've listed two below but our plan is to create a library of choices and then choose some to be at the center of a 'film club'. We want to bring like-minded people together to talk about documentary films. So please, please if you have a suggestion, don't be shy. 

For those that made a suggestion last time, I'm afraid we forgot to ask for your first name so unable to acknowledge you.


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.


A documentary that should make bird watchers do the unthinkable: put down their binoculars and head for the TV set.  “Birders: The Central Park Effect,” directed by Jeffrey Kimball, follows an eclectic group of birders through the seasons as they pursue their passion in New York City’s Central Park.

Central Park? A bird paradise? You bet. Despite the fact that everything about the 843-acre park is man-made (except for the glacier-strewn boulders) it is a magnet for birds migrating up and down the East Coast. It’s one of the few green spaces where birds can rest and refuel on their grueling journey. This is the “Central Park Effect” explained in the documentary by one of the experts in the film, Cornell Lab of Ornithology director Dr. John Fitzpatrick. The film will appeal to and move people who already watch birds and may help non-birders “get” why birders are so passionate about it. A few may fall asleep in the recliner, but they’ll do it to the sounds of birds singing sweetly.


Movies are shown at major festivals to help find distribution partners. We are delighted in Newburyport to play our own small role and eager to shine light on those films that are able to reach that broader audience

CRIME + PUNISHMENT - HULU - Newburyport Festival Judges Award Winner 2018

This film played at the Firehouse during the 2018 festival. It won the festival judges award and now in an acknowledgement almost at the same level, it was included in the documentary short list for the Academy Awards - aka the Oscars.

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.


On a hot summer's day in September, this film played at the Screening Room as part of the 2018 festival. On the last beach day of the year, not enough people were able to watch but now it is scheduled to show on PBS.

At the intersection of racial identity, historical narrative, and international commerce, Black Memorabilia follows the propagation of demeaning representations of African Americans. From industrial China to the rural South to Brooklyn, meet the people who reproduce, consume and reclaim these racially-charged objects.