2018 has been a strong year for documentaries. With so many of documentaries sharing similar themes and topics. This is my personal pick of the documentaries that I consider the top of this year, although there are many that have just missed my list. Like On Her Shoulders, Bisbee’17, MATANGI / MAYA / M.I.A., Whitney, McQueen, and Studio 54.
The documentaries that I have selected have left a lasting impression. And all offer the viewer a rewarding experience, which will allow us to take something valuable away with us.
Documentaries like Generation Wealth explore the complications with a capitalist culture and consumerism, revealing the ugly side with our obsession with wealth and fame. Whereas Dark Money, sheds light on a political scandal which shows how wealth can truly corrupt people. Documentaries like The Raft and They Shall Not Grow Old, show us how far we have become as a society, but there is still so much work to be done.
There have also been documentaries such as Three Identical Strangers, which explored issues with identity and discussed the debate of nature Vs. nurture. Three Identical Strangers, along with Hal, is perhaps the most light-hearted documentaries on this list, but their message of being true to yourself and their overall impact is still as powerful. Hal revisits the work of director Hal Ashby, while Filmworker helps bring light to a man who was a big player behind the scenes on films like The Shining and Eyes Wide Shut, showing us that everyone has a role to play in the medium of filmmaking.
Documentaries RBG and Half the Picture also explore the ongoing struggle that women have to establish themselves as equal in our society. RBG looks to be this year’s favourite at the Oscars, and it certainly deserves to be seen by as many people as possible. There’s no denying the impact that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has had on the lives of so many women, and she has managed to surpass her reputation to become an icon in our culture.
Another icon to grace the big screen this year was Mr Rogers in Won’t you be my Neighbor. A film that we all needed during these troubled times, and one that promotes a message of love not hate.
1) Won’t you be my Neighbor?
In these troubled times, it’s a good feeling to see a funny, touching and vital doc that is both timely and timeless. – – – Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
Directed by Morgan Neville, Won’t you be my Neighbor details the life and guiding philosophy of Fred Rogers, the host and creator of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Through the use of interviews of his family and his colleagues, the life of this would-be pastor is explored as a man who found a more important calling to be a guide for children across America.
His series, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood (1968), was a show that could gently delve into important subjects no other children’s show would have dared for that time. The TV show discussed a range of topics from racism to grief and the loss of a loved one, in a way that spoke to children directly without being patronizing or too complex for children to understand.
Rogers experienced a career where his sweet-tempered idealism charmed and influenced the world, and his work made a real impact on so many people. Including governmental bodies. Neville reveals that Rogers held deep self-doubts about himself, which gives us a unique insight into this iconic man.
To many outside the US, they won’t have necessarily watched any of the episodes from Mister Roger’s Neighborhood, but viewers can still take away so much from this documentary and the man himself. The documentary is a love letter to a man who helped shape a generation of children, and it should be seen to remind us all that love will always triumph hate.
This riveting, surprisingly touching documentary reveals how the quiet, intense Ginsburg became one the most iconic Supreme Court justices in American history. – – – Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
RBG is directed and produced by Betsy West and Julie Cohen. The documentary chronicles the career of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which spans several decades, and how she developed a legal legacy while becoming a pop culture icon. Directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West (who had both previously worked on projects involving Ginsburg) followed Ginsburg around to various meetings and speeches, including in Chicago and Washington, D.C., for a total of 20 hours, showing viewers a rare and behind the scenes view of Ruth which we haven’t seen before.
The documentary shows us a more playful side of the normally reserved Ginsburg. She engages in jovial banter with arch-conservative Justice Antonin Scalia while acknowledging their love of opera was one of the few things they shared in common.
The documentary is inspiring to many of us (men and women alike), as the filmmakers show how that despite being in her eighties and having survived colon and pancreatic cancer, Ginsburg works relentlessly late nights and often gets only a few hours of sleep. With an approval rating of 94% on Rotten Tomatoes, RBG is also one of the highest-grossing independent films of 2018. The story of Ginsburg will also be revisited in On the Basis of Sex, a biographical drama film focusing on Ginsburg’s work to end gender discrimination, set for release in 2018.
3) Half the Picture
Half the Picture is a celebration of women directed cinema and the women who have fought so hard to get their films into the world. – – – Amy Adrion, Filmotomy Interview, Sept 2018
Filmotomy were lucky to speak to Half the Picture‘s director, Amy Adrion this year regarding her documentary. The documentary investigates the dismal number of women directors working in Hollywood and looks into discriminatory hiring practices. Adrion talks to an array of successful women directors about their career paths, their struggles, their inspiration, and their hopes for the future, allowing viewers to get a truly insightful look into the situation in the Hollywood film industry.
This was Adrion’s feature debut and it has made a great impression. In this film, she has gone to great lengths to gather enough varied voices and personal anecdotes to provide plenty of valuable insights into why it is that women make up about half of all film-school directing majors, but represent less than five percent of directors behind of the top-grossing U.S. films for the past 10 years. The documentary doesn’t shy away from discussing how the industry is rooted in sexism, and it’s not just about money.
We hear of so many male directors who hit the jackpot their first time out or score an indie winner early in their career and reap rewards for their efforts, however that isn’t the case for female directors. This is truly an eye-opening documentary, which is a force for good and should be watched by all of us so we can all work together to change the industry and improve the situation for everyone.
4) The Raft
The Raft is a powerful documentary…a fascinating insight into one man’s determination to get results and assert his authority. – – – Bianca Garner, Filmotomy
The Raft is the directional debut from Swedish director Marcus Lindeen, and managed to shed light on the 1973 sociological experiment that was dubbed as ”big brother at sea.” Revealing what really happened at sea during the experiment that was led by Santiago Genoves, Lindeen manages to weave together a narrative that leaves many on the edge of their seat. The director manages to use super-8 footage and interviews to help tell this fascinating story, which makes for one of this year’s truly visually impressive documentaries.
Lindeen came across the experiment in a book ”about the 100 strangest scientific experiments of all time” This led Lindeen down a rabbit hole where he ”started digging into the subject and found out that the captain of the raft was a female Swedish captain. Which intrigued me even more. I quickly realised it was a fabulous adventure story.”
Genoves’ The Acali Experiment, placed five men and six women of various religions, nationalities and social backgrounds on a raft which drifted across the Atlantic for 101 days. Genoves’ claimed to be interested in exploring peace but really this was a man who suffered from a ‘God Complex’ and was interested in exploring the battle of the sexes.
I was intrigued by Leon’s story because it represented the underdog or the unsung hero. People like Leon, the people below-the-line or behind-the-scenes have been overlooked forever in the film industry. – – – Tony Zierra, Filmotomy Interview, July 2018
Filmworker is the incredible true story of Leon Vitali, who surrendered his promising acting career to become Stanley Kubrick’s devoted right-hand man. For many years Leon’s stroy has remained unknown to us, but via Tony Zierra’s excellent documentary, Leon gets a chance to tell his side of the story behind the creation of The Shining, Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut.
Filmotomy got the opportunity to speak to Tony Zierra and producer Elizabeth Yoffe earlier this year. And it was a delight to discuss Leon’s work and how the pair got involved with the film.
Filmworker highlights the stress, and sheer amount of work that is involved in the creative process, and we witness a side to Kubrick that many never saw. This is a documentary that helps reveal the passion that drives many directors and individuals in the film industry to create great films, even to the point where they sacrifice everything in order to ensure a film gets made.
If you’re a Kubrick fan then you must see this film, but even if you’re not a fan of Kubrick’s work then it is still a rewarding experience and we can all appreciate the years of hard work and dedication that Leon Vitali gave. A true inspiration.
Amy Scott’s engaging documentary Hal tracks the rise and fall of Hal Ashby, one of the most admired American directors of the 1970s. – – – Manohla Dargis, The NYTimes
Hal Ashby is one of my favourite directors, and his films mean so much to me. It was my stepfather (who sadly passed away recently) who introduced me to Harold and Maude and Being There, both films which have remained a favourite of mine. Amy Scott’s documentary about the life and work of Hal Ashby is a touching love letter to the director.
During the 70s, Ashby directed a series of groundbreaking films which dealt with themes and characters that audiences hadn’t seen before on the big screen. Ashby was a man who took on the authorities, never allowing anyone or anything to stop him from obtaining his vision. Hal is a documentary that helps to remind us to stick to the man and to keep fighting for art even if it means going up against the big studio executives.
7) Three Identical Strangers
The knockout documentary Three Identical Strangers begins as a goofy, believe-it-or-not tabloid story and slowly drifts into darker waters — the realm of horror, then of tragedy. – – – David Edelstein, Vulture
Imagine discovering that you were actually part of triplets, who acted, spoke and walked in the same way. It may seem like the stuff out of fiction, but this actually did occur. Tim Wardle’s documentary Three Identical Strangers details how identical triplets (David Kellman, Eddy Galland and Bobby Shafran) became separated at birth and adopted by three different families.
Years later, their amazing reunion becomes a global media sensation. Three Identical Strangers is a documentary that is both entertaining and highly informative, giving us a unique insight into what it means to have our own sense of identity and personality. The documentary is full of twists and turns, going to places that the viewer isn’t expecting. The end of result is one of this year’s most captivating and thrilling documentaries.
8) They Shall Not Grow Old
An emotionally rich documentary that wows both as a technical achievement and an unforgettable portrait of a terrible period of 20th century history. – – – Jonathan Pile, Empire
Peter Jackson is the director who brought us such visual delights as Lord of the Rings saga, The Hobbit films and The Lovely Bones, this is a man who isn’t afraid of technology but rather embraces it. He returned this year with a new film, one that is just as epic as anything from Middle Earth.
Using state-of-the-art technology and materials from the BBC and Imperial War Museum, Jackson explores World War I using the unheard voices of the men who were there. All the footage was originally shot in monochrome and was colourised by Peter Jackson’s Wingnut film’s production company a century later, bringing life to these old black and white frames.
Rather than glorifying war and conflict, Jackson details how the war affected so many young men’s lives and reflects on the great cost that freedom demands. Historical and educational, They Shall Not Grow Old, is a must see, thought-provoking documentary.
9) Dark Money
A case study all too applicable to the nation at large in an era when moneyed interests seem to be trumping (ahem) citizens’ will and welfare on every front. – – – Dennis Harvey, Variety
In Dark Money, director Kimberly Reed explores the effects of corporate money has on the American political system. Reed’s visits her home state of Montana using it as a primary case study to advance a broader, national discussion on governance in an era of super PACs and Citizens United.
An intelligent piece of investigative journalism and an educational journey back into the past, Dark Money reveals the complex history that Montana state politics has with corporate influence in politics. Starting with the story of the Anaconda Copper Mining Company, Dark Money shows how the influence of mining corporations caused state legislators to relax mining regulations, which resulted in an environmental catastrophe.
When asked about her decision to make the film Reed explained that she was motivated to make the film because the way to understand any public issue is to understand what guides it. “The first thing you have to look at is the money that’s fueling that issue.”
10) Generation Wealth
Generation Wealth is both an eye-opening thrill ride, and a hard slap in the face. – – – Bianca Garner, Filmotomy
It seems that everyone is obsessed with wealth and fame nowadays, but there are a few who take it to a whole new level. In Generation Wealth, Lauren Greenfield examines materialism, celebrity culture, and social status and reflects on the desire to be wealthy at any cost. Greenfield has a way of capturing what is truly happening in our society, ad isn’t afraid of holding a mirror up to how ugly and self-obsessed we can all be.
The film documents the somewhat tragic stories of students, single parents, and working class families who have fallen under the spell of the ‘American Dream’ and reveals the ugliness of consumerism. Greenfield’s journey starts in Los Angeles, and spreads across America, and then across the globe to places such as Moscow, Dubai and even China. It would seem that the entire globe has been hit with the virus of the ‘American Dream.’ Generation Wealth, is a documentary that we need to remind us that true happiness cannot be brought.
What documentaries do you consider to be the best of this year? Do any of the above make your list? Let us know by leaving us a comment below or tweeting us. And, what documentaries are you most looking forward to in 2019?