Documentaries feed our curiosity – the best ones ask the questions about life we hadn’t thought to ask. It’s an art form known for presenting us with political arguments and stark facts. But the form has come a long way since the heyday of Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine in the 90s. Over the last two years, we’ve seen documentary makers attempting to use film as a means of celebration rather than simply as a campaigning tool. Here are six of the best documentaries to put you in a positive mood.
A window into six lives, this documentary looks at ways in which people become part of the sea. Though each works differently in the water, they have striking similarities: their shared humility, seemingly grown from their respect for the ocean and appreciation of its power. The sea is a way of life, and in the case of Kim Werner, a spear fisher in Hawaii, it is survival – her means of putting food on the table. This film is visually beautiful, with stunning shots beneath and above the surface of the sea, moving all over the world to capture the colours of different waters. But it’s the people who make it so inspirational, living this extraordinary existence between land and sea; they take pleasure in what our planet has to offer, harnessing its natural resources at the same time as respecting them.
Watching Jane Goodall find a home amongst the chimpanzees in the region of Gombe, Tanzania, is an inspiring and humbling experience. Her patience, courage, and interest are extraordinary, gaining the chimpanzees trust after months of observing from a distance, to enter their world and learn their behaviours. Her family story runs parallel to this journey in Gombe – both narratives full of joy and tragedy. This documentary, made from recently discovered footage, is surprising, beautiful, and personal. It’s about a woman who defies expectations, with a passion so strong that it forces her to make sacrifices as a mother. Though we might already know the facts of these first discoveries, watching it happen is a new experience – a reminder of where we come from, and how beautiful is the pursuit of knowledge.
For years, holistic medicines have been dismissed by many as “just in your head”. However, science is now willing to focus its attention on the mind-body connection. What for so long has seemed like an abstract concept, is now becoming our means to deal with excessive pharmaceutical drug use and stressful lifestyles. Meditation, for example, is not just a means of escape, but a time in which your body can move from “fight or flight” mode, to “rest and repair”, allowing natural functions, like digestion, to perform optimally. This documentary argues that, yes, it is in your head, but your mind is where your body begins. The science is interesting and detailed, but also accessible, as are many of the recommended lifestyle choices. The message isn’t to dismiss modern medicine and its amazing power to save lives, but to explore our bodies’ ability to heal – our own natural pharmacies.
Harold and Lilian: A Hollywood Love Story
In this story about love of all kinds, Harold and Lilian Michelson finally get the recognition they deserve for their impact on the film industry. A “power couple” of an understated and humble sort, this storyboard artist and film researcher are described by those that knew them as the unknown ‘heart of Hollywood’. A combination of interview, original footage, and clips of Hollywood classics, we’re led through their strikingly normal but extraordinary life.
Lilian’s account of their love story and working lives is heart-warming and incredibly funny. Their whirlwind romance makes you believe in soul mates, their careers a humble reminder that it’s always a climb to the top, but that being kind and good natured is more important than quick success. The storyboard images that accompany Lilian’s narration give Harold his own strong presence, this artistic touch turning their life story into some great fictional truth to be treasured.
Two men take us through their journey to living, and teaching about, a minimalist lifestyle. We are not asked to throw away every possession, but simply made to think about the role consumerist habits play in our lives, and how they go much deeper than appearances. Quelling our consumerist urges can save money or the planet, it’s about coming to terms with the fact that new things and clothes won’t eliminate anxieties.
For Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, this change in lifestyle coincided with a redefinition of success, letting go of the idea ingrained in them at college that money makes you someone. Though minimalism sounds extreme, these men lead normal, sociable lives, with their partners finding their own happy-medium. They are passionate about it, most simply, because it’s makes them happy. And what else can we ask for?
The Creative Brain
To be creative is to take advantage of what it is to be human. But it also improves our world; makes us better people. This is the central argument of neuroscientist David Eagleman who explains why we are a creative species, how we can be more creative in our every day lives, and what positive impact it can have on our well-being.
The best parts of this documentary explore the social impact of improving the imaginative process, looking at the role of creativity in rehabilitation and school learning: prisoners rewrite their own stories through workshops, and a school in Vermont transforms itself and its students by putting creativity at the heart of every subject. It’s also a reminder that anyone can be creative, giving you that small push to try something new.