With the insane and ever growing amount of video content now available online, choosing a documentary to watch should be easier than ever. Just a couple of clicks on Google will bring up pages and pages of weird and wonderful documentaries to keep you busy.
Of course, this presents a new problem (other than what to snack on while you watch!): with so many fascinating documentary films out there, how do you know which to choose? Even if you’ve got a favourite genre, there are only so many cliché cult rituals or crime re-enactments you can watch (spoiler: it’s always the scorned lover) without losing your mind.
That’s where we come in. We’ve tracked down the 10 most fascinating documentaries you’ve (probably) never seen. From the wildly esoteric to the downright shocking, we guarantee this list will give you something to talk about around the watercooler.
1) The Woman Who Wasn’t There – 2012
Image Credit: CBA
In the wake of 9/11, hundreds of heroic victims had their miraculous recoveries splashed across the newspapers. Their thrilling survival stories inspired fear, amazement and most of all, an outpouring of love from the community.
No one was more vocal than Tania Head, a charismatic Spanish expat who’d lost her brave fiancée in the blaze, after herself suffering from extensive burns and purportedly witnessing the brutal decapitation of her secretary. So, when this incredibly strong woman pulled herself out of her anguish to start the World Trade Center Survivors’ network, she was revered nationwide.
Six years on, the anniversary of 9/11 inspired renewed journalistic interest in her remarkable story. But when a journalist for the New York Times contacted Head to verify a few sketchy facts, everything came undone. Tonia Head wasn’t a survivor. She wasn’t even there.
With twist after twist, the unusual documentary, The Woman Who Wasn’t There, will leave you bemused, outraged and maybe even a little sad.
Where to Watch: Netflix USA
2) I Think We’re Alone Now – 2008
(Image Credit: Movie Web)
Let’s face it, most of us have experienced an embarrassing pre-teen crush (or 3) on a TV or pop star. Maybe you wrote their name all over your notebook or perhaps even ran your own fan forum. The important thing is that you grew out of it (right?).
But what happens when an innocent crush on a celeb doesn’t fizzle out? I Think We’re Alone Now shows us the consequences in excruciating detail by following the lives of two Tiffany superfans. One middle-aged man imagines he and the 80’s starlet are close friends, despite a restraining order. The other, an intensely lonely transgender woman, insists that she and Tiffany share a special connection.
I Think We’re Alone Now will take you on a journey of loneliness, isolation and the tragic reality of infatuation. Unlike the stars of My Strange Addiction, the plight of these two outcasts will leave your heart aching just a little.
Where to Watch: Netflix USA
3) Dr. Money & The Boy With No Penis – 2004
(Image Credit: Life Site)
Often the most harrowing and memorable documentaries of those which depict society’s most vulnerable. Dr. Money & The Boy With No Penis is no different. It tells the story of the David Reimer, a baby boy whose botched circumcision led his parents to raise him as a girl under the questionable guidance of a renowned sexologist, Dr. Money. Money’s agenda, however, appeared to have more to do with proving his controversial theory of the ‘gender gate’ than helping the Reimer family.
After a tumultuous childhood filled with probing and allegedly sexually inappropriate psychiatric consultations, Reimer’s distressed parents ceased all communication with Dr. Money and revealed to Reimer that he was biologically male. For David Reimer, this revelation was a chance at a new and happier life. However, the deeply distressing interviews that follow suggest that Reimer couldn’t quite escape his traumatic past.
Whether you’re interested in psychological theory, gender roles or simply the human condition, Dr. Money & The Boy With No Penis is a profoundly moving documentary.
Where to Watch: Youtube
4) Monica & David – 2009
(Image Credit: HBO)
Not all fascinating documentaries must end in tears. If you’re looking for something a little lighter, take a look at Monica & David. This documentary depicts the heart-warming beginning of a young couple’s married life, starting a few nervous days before their wedding and ending with their one year anniversary.
What makes Monica & David different? Monica and David have Down’s Syndrome. Their wedding doesn’t just mark the convergence of their love, but also a powerful step towards adulthood and independence. The documentary focuses on the way the pair navigate newly wedded life while facing the challenges of both their conditions and their loving but overprotective parents.
It’s hard to say what makes Monica & David so engrossing to watch. It’s not over-dramatic. Nothing miraculous happens. It’s simply a raw and sweet portrayal of a new marriage that challenges the limitations the world so often applies to the disabled.
Where to Watch: Netflix USA
5) Zoo – 2007
(Image Credit: Documentary Heaven)
Moving back into the realm of darker documentaries, we’ve got Zoo, a 2007 documentary based on the unconventional life of Kenneth Pinyan (or ‘Mr Hands’ to veteran Internet denizens), a 45 year old Washington man who died from acute peritonitis after being anally penetrated by a horse.
If you think this is going to be a racy documentary filled with toothless hillbillies extoling the virtues of bestiality, you’d be wrong. Remarkably, Zoo’s exploration of this highly controversial topic isn’t remotely sensationalised in terms of content. Instead, it’s the haunting cinematography and use of shadows that really pack a punch. Low lighting and eerie blue tones ensure that the mood feels more melancholy than pornographic.
Zoo offers a frank and sincere look at the trust and companionship that exists in the tightknit and unusual zoophilic community. The end result is a non-judgemental look at a very questionable sexual preference that’ll leave you wanting to know more about the man and less about the single act that defined his public life.
Where to Watch: Top Documentary Films
6) Child of Rage – 1990
(Image Credit: Pinterest)
Child of Rage is not for the faint of heart. Clocking in at just under 30 minutes, it’s quite a short watch, but the unease it produces will stay with you a lot longer. Through the medium of genuine recorded therapy sessions, it paints the dark story of a deeply disturbed 6-year-old, Beth Thomas, and her sociopathic desire to hurt her brother and adoptive parents.
Born to abusive parents and profoundly neglected, Beth coldly recounts to her therapist incidents in which she tortured animals, sexually assaulted her younger brother and frequently contemplated murder. With surprising articulateness, she also discusses the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her birth father and its repercussions on her relationships with others.
Child of Rage then follows Thomas to a temporary new home under the roof of therapist Connell Watkins. There, she begins extensive behaviour modification to help her learn the empathy and attachment most of us acquire during infancy. At the documentary’s end, we’re still unsure how bright the future is for this troubled young girl.
Child of Rage will leave you horrified but wanting more. We guarantee you’ll be doing a Google search for Beth Thomas by the time it’s through.
Where to Watch: Youtube
7) The Dark Matter of Love – 2012
(Image Credit: Official Site)
At the risk of giving you the idea that we’re obsessed with disturbed children, here’s another fascinating documentary on the topic of adoption. The Dark Matter of Love follows the ambitious journey of the all-American Diaz family as they go through the exhausting process of adopting not one, but three children from a Moscow orphanage.
Despite their pure intentions, Cheryl and Claudio Diaz initially seem to have bitten off more than they can chew and struggle to integrate their three adoptive children (complete with behaviour problems) into their new American lifestyle.
Initially, you’ll feel intense frustration watching the Diaz’s attempt to discipline these kids in a language they don’t speak and sadness for their birth daughter Cami as she fights to redefine her place in the family. But most of all, The Dark Matter of Love will convince you that love is the one language anyone can speak.
Where to Watch: Netflix USA
8) Fetishes – 1996
(Image Credit: Doc Club)
Whether you’re completely vanilla or fist-deep in the BDSM scene, Fetishes provides an intriguing glimpse into the world of professional Dominatrices.
This sneak peek into an increasingly common lifestyle takes place at the stunningly extravagant New York S&M parlour, Pandora’s Box. Through a series of interviews with magnetic, witty Dominatrices, we are taken on a strange and wonderful journey through the world of fetishism. From elaborate medical scenes and slavery to erotic wrestling and Nazi roleplays, we begin to understand why wealthy, overworked and undersexed businessmen are will to pay upwards of $10,000 for the pleasure.
Despite the potentially heavy subject matter, Fetishes is not overly explicit and has a charming sense of tongue-in-cheek humour about it that makes it an unquestionably fun watch.
Where to Watch: Snagfilms
9) Jesus Camp – 2012
(Image Credit: 8Weekly)
Stepping about as far away as humanly possibly from Fetishes is Jesus Camp. This remarkably non-judgemental documentary follows the charismatic but controversial Pentecostal pastor Becky Fischer over the course of one summer at her Christian summer camp, ‘Kids On Fire School of Ministry’. Fischer notes that “indoctrination” at a young age is necessary to support the “army of God” and turn Americans back towards traditional conservative values (If the words “Hitler Youth” just popped into your head, you’re not alone).
Unlike most conventional summer camps, Fischer’s unusual childhood getaway replaces campfire singalongs with rousing sermons and children speaking deliriously in tongues. Horseback riding? There’s little time for that when campers must learn about the evils of abortion with the use of eerie plastic foetuses. Perhaps more disturbing still is the depiction of frenzied children laying their hands upon a cut-out of former President Bush while shouting prayers of support.
Whether you agree with the highly controversial subject matter or not, Jesus Camp’s vastly objective portrayal of one summer at this peculiar children’s camp will leave you feeling ill at ease and with a lot to talk about with your movie buddy.
10) The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters – 2007
(Image Credit: IFC)
Remember that one Seinfeld episode where George tries to carry a Frogger machine across the street to preserve his high score? Ludicrous, right? Surely no one out there could be so invested in a game. That’s where we’re wrong and The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters is going to show us why.
The King of Kong is a delightfully off-beat documentary which accompanies Steve Wiebe’s attempts at achieving the world’s highest score for the classic 80’s arcade game, Donkey Kong. What sounds like a boring premise has all the elements of a fantastic film. We follow Wiebe from the safety and relative obscurity of his garage to the video game big leagues as he fights to rip the Donkey Kong record from the villain of this piece, the mysterious and thoroughly unlikeable Billy Mitchell.
By the end of The King of Kong, you’ll go from wishing Wiebe had a less embarrass hobbies to cheering him on without restraint, whether you’re a video game fan or not.
Where to Watch: YouTube
And that concludes our list of 10 fascinating documentaries you’ve probably never seen. What are you waiting for? It’s time to break out the popcorn and reveal in one of these weird and wonderful documentary journeys.