10 Top Must-See Documentary Films

To Be Watched Time and Again

This is an ever evolving list of important documentary films that deal with the pressing issues of the day. They range from the effects of war on soldiers and citizens to the indoctination of children at a religion-themed summer camp, from the wonders of nature and animal life to the dangers of propaganda and causes of our economic breakdown. Documentaries are a rich source of information and inspiration. Of the many must-sees, these are, in alphabetical order, current top ten recommendations.

A Film Unfinished

Oscilloscope Pictures
Yael Hersonski's A Film Unfinished is a remarkable holocaust documentary comprised primarily of previously unedited historic footage that was shot by Nazi filmmakers, ostensibly chronicling daily life in the infamous Warsaw Ghetto during World War II. In showing how the Nazi's manipulated information and public impressions about life in the Warsaw Ghetto, it reveals the tremendous power of media and the dangers of propaganda. The film reminds us that we must be continually wary of misinformation and disinformation. Buy from Amazon »

The Cove

Infra Red Photography Used in 'The Cove'. Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions
In The Cove, the 2010 Oscar-winner, animal rights activists, Richard O'Barry, the man who trained dolphins for Flipper, and Louis Psihoyos recruit an A Team-like crew of filmmakers and environmentalists to expose Taiji, Japan's fishermen's annual dolphin roundup and slaughter of thousands of dolphins. The film plays like a spy thriller, while revealing the nasty practices of Taiji's annual dolphin slaughter. Buy from Amazon »

Enemies of the People

Enemies of the People - Theh Sambath interviews Nuon Chea. Old Street Films/International Film Circuit
Before escaping from Cambodia in 1979, at age ten, Thet Sambath witnessed the murder of his father, forced marriage of his mother to a Khmer Rouge soldier and disappearance of his eldest brother. In 1998, Sambath, by then a journalist in Phnom Penh, embarked on a personal journey to uncover truths about the genocide in his country under the Khmer Rouge. After years of getting to know former Khmer Rouge soldiers and gaining their trust, Sambath got to meet and interview Nuon Chea, Pol Pot's second in command. Sambath's quiet demeanor and objectivity make Nuon Chea's shocking revelations all the more heartbreaking.

Inside Job

Inside Job, the 2011 Oscar winner, presents a comprehensive analysis of the global financial crisis of 2008, which at a cost over $20 trillion, caused millions of people to lose their jobs and homes in the worst recession since the Great Depression, and nearly resulted in a global financial collapse. Filmmaker Charles Ferguson is an extraordinarily capable journalist and investigator. His exhaustive research, revealing interviews with key players and commentators in the financial game, and smart use of relevant archival footage of government hearings adds up to a searing -- and infuriating -- expose. Buy from Amazon »

Jesus Camp

Jesus Camp on DVD. Photo: DVD of Jesus Camp © Magnolia Pictures
Nominated for an Oscar, this 2006 documentary reveals preteens who are being taught to talk in tongues, go into trances and commit themselves to crusading--to dying, even--for Jesus. We follow them from their home environments to summer camp, and then to the streets where they preach to strangers. Much to the credit of directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, Jesus Camp maintains its objectivity to the degree that the movie is praised equally by fundamentalists, who consider these kids to be their next generation of missionaries, and by liberals, who identify them as potential religious fanatics and terrorists. It is up to you to take in the information, and make your own judgment. Buy from Amazon »

Neshoba: The Price of Freedom

Still Showing The Bodies of Slain Freedom Riders. First Run Features
Forty years after the 1964 murders of civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, the State of Mississippi's indictment and trial of 80 year old racist preacher Edgar Ray Killen, the alleged mastermind of the killings, brings out dissension about whether the belated revelation of truth and consequent punishment will bring reconciliation to the community or ignite residual racial tensions. Buy from Amazon »


Filmmakers Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor follow Montana sheep herders as they drive 3,000 sheep through the Beartooth Mountains of Montana during the summer of 2003. This challenging and dangerous journey was the final annual sheep drive along a trail that has been followed since the early 1900s. The documentary is cinema verite in its purest form. Sweetgrass is an exquisite example of what the directors call 'visual antropology.'

The Tillman Story

'Taxi To The Dark Side' - Detainee. ThinkFlm
By all accounts other than his own, Pat Tillman, the pro football player who turned in his multimillion dollar contract to turn himself into a patriot soldier, was a hero -- no, make that Hero, with a capital H. His death in combat came as a shock to his bereaved family and fans, especially as Pat's mother persisted in finding out the truth about its circumstances. This film follows her steadfast journey to learn the truth. Buy from Amazon »

Wartorn 1861-2010

Soldiers returning from combat experience severe depression, sleep disorders and other symptoms collectively known as post-traumatic stress disorder. Wartorn presents the history of the effects of war on combat veterans from the time of the U.S. Civil War -- when doctors called it hysteria, melancholia and insanity -- to the present traumas suffered by veterans returning from Iraq or Afghanistan. Buy from Amazon »

Winged Migration

A migrating bird in flight over the desert in 'Winged Migration'. Sony Pictures Classics
Directors Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud and their crew of 500 people spanned the globe for four years to capture these amazing and startlingly beautiful images of various species of migrating birds as they fly thousands of miles twice annually in search of food. Buy from Amazon »