If you thought Gorillas in the Mist was harrowing, then prepare yourself for what the inhabitants of Virunga National Park face. We're not just talking simians, but the brave park rangers whose attempts to rescue these mountain gorillas from extinction is an utterly heart-wrenching feat. The film scored an Oscar nomination for its expose on the Congolese park and the horror of poachers and the devious tactics of oil companies. It isn't entirely bleak though, the real message here is the lengths that people will go to in order to save a species.
9. Chef's Table
You've seen Masterchef, you've gobbled up Bake Off, and now it's time to dip into the process of culinary perfection. Profiling six prestigious world-renowned chefs, whose discipline and determination is staggering, the series visits each of them in their own restaurants. It's like watching artists at work. There's no contest here to maintain your interest, no drive to the finish as popularised by most cooking shows. And this isn't about the commercialism of the restaurant industry either, it's simply about how the creative process is born in each chef and the joy they derive from plating up their masterpieces.
8. Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey
The vast reaches of space have always served as an endless source of intrigue for astrophysicists, which led to Carl Sagan's original Cosmos series back in 1980. Neil DeGrasse Tyson picks up where Sagan left off. And it's breathtaking. Tracing back from the Big Bang up until the present day, the show uses a series of well-crafted animations and cartoons to illustrate its points in ways that don't require any scientific knowledge. The end result is a compelling series, one of wonder and excitement at the world we live in.
7. Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Region: US, UK
It doesn’t matter whether the thought of raw eel drenched in soy sauce makes you gag or drool, the story of Jiro Ono is an absolute joy to watch. One of the world’s greatest sushi chefs, his quest for culinary perfection at the age of 85 is the driving force of this cheerful documentary. It’s hard to not become smitten by his bounding optimism as he dishes out plates that go for $300 a pop at his Tokyo restaurant. Your heart will go out to his son, Yoshikazu, who carries the burden of continuing his father’s legacy.
The truth behind keeping whales in captivity is chronicled in this Netflix Original, tracing the story of an Orca named Tilikum who killed three humans while at Sea World. While there's no doubt that those deaths were tragic, filmmaker Gabriela Cowperthwaite delves into why the killer whale acted in this way. Is it in his nature? Or was it because he was torn away from his family at two years of age, and kept in isolation and confinement for twenty years? Hearing the testimonies of his former trainers will only further break your heart.
5. Making a Murderer
Unless you've been living under a rock, you will have heard about Steven Avery, a Wisconsin man who served 18 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Two years after his exoneration he was found guilty of murder. So, did he do it? The ten-part docuseries covers his life extensively, beginning with his first brush with crime right up until the present day. It's the murder trial episodes that carry the most tension, as his defence team argues he was framed by the Manitowoc police department and back it up with some pretty convincing evidence. There's a reason this show has captured the public's interest.
4. Cartel Land
Zero Dark Thirty's Kathryn Bigelow executive produces this unflinching look into the Mexican drug trade. The bravery of director Matthew Heineman is commendable, as he troops into areas where two vigilante militia groups fight to reclaim their territory from the country's most notorious drug cartels. These ordinary citizens, the Arizona Border Recon and The Autodefensas, arm themselves in the name of justice. Both are desperate to stop the violence - but what happens when these self-appointed do-gooders become just as terrifying as the people they're trying to stop?
3. Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Mankind’s desire to create stretches back a long way which is what makes Werner Herzog’s documentary so fascinating. The motivation of humans, and our innate need to express ourselves, can be traced back 32,000 years ago through a series of paintings in the Chauvet caves of France. The site is protected by authorities, who guard the world’s oldest surviving paintings in the hopes of preserving them, and learning more about where we came from. This is the central mission of Herzog’s: that through the analysis of those pieces, we might discover the truth behind our distant ancestors’ hopes and dreams.
2. The Thin Blue Line
In 1977, Randall Dale Adams was sentenced to life in prison for a crime he did not commit. Private investigator Errol Morris learned of the shady circumstances leading to his incarceration after interviewing psychiatrist Dr. James Grigson, hoping to base a film around his experiences testifying in capital cases. This prompted Morris to dig deeper, and he ended up conducting new interviews with Adams and several eyewitnesses which helped re-create several key moments surrounding the shooting. Woven together in his 1988 documentary, the evidence that proves Adams’ innocence is outstanding. The result? You’ll have to watch to find out.
We all have at least one point during the day when we're steered toward YouTube. Usually for a good chuckle at a dog and a ferret that have become the best of friends through an amusing happenstance. But imagine if you clicked onto a video... and you were in it. Except, you don't remember filming it. That's sort of what happened to Samantha, a Parisian fashion student, who found herself watching a video of her doppelganger. Naturally she went on a quest to find this mysterious YouTube version of herself. Twinsters charts that fascinating journey (with a bit of a spoilery title) as she learns about the identical sister she never knew she had.