A collection of long-awaited and highly praised works entering the 2024 documentary season.
My mom used to tell me that TV rots the brain, and it wasn’t an unpopular adage. However, film is far from mindless, and there are many that actually aim to increase our societal awareness. This has been done through scripted film and television, but an increasingly popular and direct line to the font of human knowledge is documentary. Documentaries can focus on a subject in excruciating detail, providing watchers with the emotion and depth of story, along with tangible facts.
For those who are already frequent “doc watchers”, you may need very little convincing to dive back in this new year. For others whose documentary familiarity only extends as far as the “true crime” category on Netflix, perhaps this can persuade you. The art of film adds richness to learning that can impact us in profound ways. Let’s take a look at some of this year’s breakthrough docs that are truly worth the watch.
A Sundance Directing winner, Julian Brave NoiseCat brings us a look into the story of missing indigenous children in his film Sugarcane. NoiseCat is an award winning journalist and activist who is bringing light to the not-so-mysterious story of unmarked graves at a segregated Catholic school for Native children run by the Canadian government.
If you’ve followed national breaking news in the last year, chances are you heard about the 200 unmarked graves found at a native residential school in Saskatchewan, Canada. NoiseCat investigates a chillingly similar case in the Pacific Northwest that unmasks the grisly truth about forced assimilation and the generational pain carried by First Nations tribes.
Another Sundance winner, this time for its exemplary editing, is FRIDA by Carla Gutierrez. The film follows the life and work of the legendary Frida Kahlo in her own words. Constructed from archival footage and Kahlo’s own diary, Guitierrez paints a vivid picture of the life of the famed artist in a way we’ve never seen.
3. A House Is Not A Disco
Premiering for the first time at South by Southwest in just a few months is A House Is Not A Disco from director Brian J. Smith. In a world of its own, not far from the bustle of New York City, lies the queer community of Fire Island Pines. A beach town and safe haven for queer people, the documentary presents the history and current reimagining of this unique gay community and the challenges it presently faces.
4. How To Build A Truth Engine
What makes “fake news” so popular, and why does it work so well on us? This documentary takes a deep dive into the neurological responses in our brains that make misinformation so popular and pervasive.
Following award-winning journalists from around the globe, Austrian filmmaker Freidrich Moser investigates political disinformation and war crimes through the lens of some of the most well-respected publications in journalism. George Clooney, a lifetime advocate for responsible journalism and activism, has executive produced this cutting-edge doc through his production company Smokehouse Pictures.
It will premiere in March at the South By Southwest Film Festival.
5. God & Country
The name Rob Reiner doesn’t scream “hard-hitting socio-political documentary”, and yet, here we are. From the maker of classics such as Spinal Tap and The Princess Bride comes an examination of Christian Nationalism and the co-opting of a massive religious belief system. Director Dan Partland brings together some of the most prominent Christian thought leaders to ask the question, “What happens when the state becomes the church?”.
The film will hit theaters on Feb. 16 following another documentary in the same vein, 1946, which looks at the lasting effects on the societal treatment of homosexuality from a potential mistranslation of the Bible. While God and Country has no official score on the Tomatometer yet, 1946 has an incredible one hundred percent.
While You’re Waiting…
Although these are some of the best upcoming documentaries set to release this year, an infinite catalog is already available at our streaming fingertips. If A House Is Not A Disco piques your interest, you’ll surely enjoy the classic queer doc Paris is Burning. The film takes one of the first deep dives into the world of drag shows and the New York City Ballroom Scene. It also inspired Steven Canal and Ryan Murphy’s television drama Pose.
For those tech fans excited about How To Build A Truth Engine, Netflix’s The Great Hack is a great way to fill the void until it’s release. It follows the data mining of Cambridge Analytica and it’s use of personal data for political campaigns.
The world of documentaries is vast, and this year holds some very promising additions!