52 Documentaries

Another year over, another 52 things done. This year I watched 52 documentaries. It was an interesting journey and honestly, one of the better ’52 things’ ideas I’ve had. I learned some things, most notably that I really enjoy true crime documentaries. I also learned that some documentaries are incredibly hard to get a hold of, which I’ll talk about more later. But without further ado, here are the 52 documentaries I watched in 2019, in the order I watched them:

  1. The American Meme
  2. Babies
  3. Dealt

This was the first documentary of the year that I really enjoyed. (No offense, The American Meme and Babies). It tells the story of Richard Turner, a masterful card magician *spoiler alert* despite being completely blind.

  1. Fyre: The Greatest Party that Never Happened (the Netflix one)
  2. Walt: the Man Behind the Myth
  3. Oklahoma City
  4. McQueen
  5. Train Hopping

I came across this documentary on a plane and it is by far the worst documentary I watched all year. It’s hardly 20mins long, and documents a man ‘travelling across the US’ by train. There were a lot of shots of him sitting on a train while it was moving, and not a lot of talk about the actual process of getting across the States. The only dialogue was voice over and was extremely repetitive. The man didn’t seem too bright either. When asked about the legality of train hopping, he replied, “Well, you know. Sure it’s not legal, but I’m doing it.”

  1. Three Identical Strangers

I also watched this documentary on a plane and was infinitely more satisfied than with Train Hopping. It showcases a fascinating story of triplets that were put up for adoption individually. If you haven’t already seen it (because I know I was late to the game), I’d recommend it.

  1. Period. End of Sentence.
  2. 40 Year Old Virgins
  3. Won’t You Be My Neighbour?
  4. Pick of the Litter
  5. The Fear of 13

I found this documentary on a ‘Best Documentaries on Netflix’ list. I didn’t expect much and the name doesn’t allude to the story at all, but as I was slowly becoming aware of my draw towards true crime, I gave it a shot. If we’re giving out awards, The Fear of 13 gets ‘Worst Title’ and ‘Above and Beyond Expectations’.

Worst Title, because ‘the fear of 13’ is merely a line stated in the film and largely holds no other meaning to the documentary. Above and Beyond Expectations, because I was entranced by the story being told. The Fear of 13 is the story of Nick Yarris, a man who was on death row for over 20 years. Told entirely by Yarris, he goes into the details of the crimes he did and didn’t commit in an increasingly complex story line. With supplementary footage and sound effects, it’s a great example of storytelling.

  1. 7 Days Out: Westminster Dog Show

The 7 Days Out series on Netflix is a set of hour long documentaries that follows the 7 days leading up to a significant event. It’s an interesting concept and gives you a look behind the scenes at what it takes to pull off these famous events. Of the series, Eleven Madison Park and Chanel Haute Couture Fashion Show were my favourite.

  1. Evil Genius

Evil Genius gets the award for ‘Most Recommended By Me to Others’. This docu-series on Netflix tells the story of the collar bomb bank robbery. The first place I heard of this case was on Buzzfeed’s Unsolved. But this docu-series brought up so many angles, sides, and perspectives that Unsolved couldn’t even hope to cover in their 30min format. I was so enamoured by all the details and layers in the case that I watched all 4hrs of it straight. I highly recommend this series to anyone, because I loved it. I really hope you watch it, but if you don’t have the time or interest to dedicate 4hrs to the topic, you can watch the Unsolved episode here.

  1. Amanda Knox
  2. 7 Days Out: Eleven Madison Park
  3. Four of a kind
  4. The Disappearance of Madeline McCann
  5. Chasing Happiness

Of the documentaries I watched this year, the Jonas Brothers documentary was on the lighter side of things. I was a bit disappointed though that it didn’t go more into the break up and reconciliation of the band. It focuses largely on their childhood and initial rise to fame.

  1. Perfect Bid: The Contestant Who Knew Too Much
  2. 7 Days Out: NASA’s Cassini Mission
  3. 7 Days Out: Kentucky Derby
  4. 7 Days Out: Chanel Haute Couture Fashion Show
  5. 7 Days Out: League of Legends
  6. Afflicted

This docu-series followed a handful of people that live with seemingly undiagnosable afflictions. It was interesting at the beginning to learn about symptoms and diseases (afflictions, perhaps more accurately) that so few people suffer from doctors don’t know what to do about it. However, it became repetitive as each person largely followed the same path: trying to find a name and answer for their affliction, it causing familial problems, and ultimately, not finding a perfect solution by the end.

  1. Tim’s Vermeer

This was a documentary I had seen before, but forgotten I had seen before. Nevertheless, it was an interesting watch. An inventor (Tim) recreates a contraption believed to be used by Vermeer that allowed him to paint incredibly accurate and detailed paintings.

  1. The Rachel Divide
  2. The Great Hack
  3. Abstract: The Art of Design: Typeface Design
  4. Tig
  5. Billionaires, explained

Explained is a collaboration between Vox and Netflix. Vox, an explanatory journalism company, has been posting what I’m going to call micro documentaries on YouTube for years. This series on Netflix takes on a longer format, about 20mins each episode, and focuses on breaking down the basics of one topic. Hence the title format [Topic], explained.

  1. Cults, explained
  2. Inside Bill’s Brain
  3. Animal Intelligence, explained
  4. Loving Vincent

Loving Vincent is perhaps the most movie-esque documentary I watched, along side Three Identical Strangers. But it is unlike any other movie I’ve seen: the entire movie is painted in Van Gogh’s style. Over 65,000 frames were painted for the 853 shots in the film. Regardless of the content, that is a feat in and of itself. But the film does a beautiful job of telling a little more of Vincent’s story. Unfortunately it’s not on Netflix anymore, but you can learn more about it on the website. The credits song has also become a song I listen to often.

  1. Athleisure, explained
  2. Abstract: The Art of Design: Costume Design
  3. Coding, explained
  4. Pirates, explained
  5. The Mind, explained
  6. The future of meat, explained
  7. The next pandemic, explained
  8. Abstract: The Art of Design: Digital Product Design

Abstract is a series I thoroughly enjoy watching, but this episode focused on the work of Ian Spalter was particularly interesting for me. Product design is very similar to/includes UX design, and I found it interesting to see what it’s like at a powerhouse like Instagram.

  1. The Toys That Made Us: LEGO
  2. The Staircase

The Staircase is a 13 part series about Michael Peterson’s trial and life after he’s found guilty of murder of his wife Kathleen Peterson. Peterson maintains that he is innocent but the jury finds him guilty and he spends 8 years in prison. 15 years after Kathleen’s death, the faulty work of one of the key Special Agents on the case offers a new perspective on the evidence and scenario presented by the prosecution. The first half of this documentary was interesting as it covers the 5 month trial and for me personally, reveals how a trial in general takes place. The second half of the series focuses more on Peterson’s life after prison, being on house arrest, and eventually *spoiler alert* filing an alford plea. This half was significantly less interesting.

It wasn’t until after I finished the whole series that I realized that the first half of the series, from the death of Kathleen up to Peterson going to jail, was released as a film by itself. The film then got added on to (twice) when Peterson was released from jail and eventually went back to court.

  1. Diamonds, explained
  2. Beauty, explained
  3. Blackfish
  4. 13th
  5. BIG Time

Some other documentaries I wanted to watch or were recommended to me include:

  • Somm
  • The Hunting Ground
  • Where to Invade Next
  • The Happy Film
  • Design Canada
  • The Vietnam War
  • Icarus
  • Social Animals
  • The End of Fear
  • The Curse of the Elephant Man

I didn’t watch them either because I never found myself in the mood to watch a documentary on the topic, despite overall wanting to watch it, or the documentary not easily accessible (or free). This was especially true for Design Canada and The End of Fear.

I still haven’t decided what my 52 things of 2020 is going to be. Hopefully I can come up with something in the next week or so. Otherwise, we won’t be off to a great start. What are your New Years Resolutions?

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