The New Year is always a good time to reflect on previous accomplishments. In the world of documentaries, 2019 was a great year. Read on to discover the films that made our “best of the year list”. Films are listed in random order. Feel free to suggest your own nominees.
One Child Nation
One Child Nation studies the one-child policy of China and its effect on society. The policy began in 1979 intending to solve the problem of overpopulation in China. The result was a deep effect on the personal lives and gender roles of generations to come. The film was directed by Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang and doesn’t shy away from difficult matters such as abortion and sterilization: grim side effects of the policy.
At the Heart of Gold
Stories of sexual abuse have become much more mainstream lately. Few were as upsetting as those surrounding the US gymnast community, and the national Olympics team. Team doctor Larry Nassar was accused of assaulting more than 250 young women and girls, with more than 160 speaking out in testimony at his trial. At the Heart of Gold is an HBO documentary that explores their stories in a tasteful yet powerful way.
The release of this film was an instant public bombshell, sparking fresh conversations about celebrity, rape culture and how we respond to news of sexual abuse. The film follows allegations against pop legend Michael Jackson, putting the focus on the victims. It’s a difficult watch, but one you should see.
Hail Satan begins a bit roughly but finishes as one of the year’s most interesting documentary films. It follows the Satanic Temple and its occupants, exploring what it’s like to be Satanist in the majority-Christian country of the US. The documentary studies the anti-theist aspects of the religion, exploring issues of prejudice throughout society. It’s quite an interesting film, especially if you’re a religious person yourself.
Jawline tackles a variety of subjects all at once. It follows a rising YouTube star and his young manager, exploring the role technology plays in the lives of today’s youth. Jawline tackles the experience of being a minor celebrity: garnering a large following online but remaining largely unknown outside your circle. Beyond the trappings of technology, the film highlights the teenage experience and the attempts to forge one’s own identity: a timeless tale.
Amazing Grace was filmed several years prior but was not released until 2019. It is a genre hybrid, somewhere between a concert video and a music documentary. The film follows Aretha Franklin in her performance at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles. Amazing Grace feels like a close, intimate performance for the close friends of Franklin, despite its professional, polished production.
Fyre Festival is now somewhat infamous for the utter catastrophe that it was. Fyre Fraud explores the festival as a commercial and professional failure, which was largely due to the actions of founder Billy McFarland. The film doesn’t shy away from interviewing McFarland personally about the many ill-advised and downright illegal actions that ultimately led to Fyre’s demise. The result is an honest and thrilling portrait of fraud, and the perfect storm that made it possible.
Which films would you add to our list, and why?