Our big list of favourite documentaries to binge during the storm | 9Lives
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I only recently got into documentaries and now I am obsessed! I love well-researched, interesting documentaries that take you on a journey where you get to meet interesting people, see some crazy stuff go down and either find out more about a subject or it leaves you wanting to know more.

I shared this love with the 9Lives team and guess what? We have quite a few documentary fans. I, therefore, reached out to the team to find out which documentaries they enjoyed so I could also add it to my to-watch list.

Angy

Making A Murderer
Available on: Netflix
Genre: True Crime Documentary/Docuseries
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Making a Murderer is an American web television series that tells the story of Steven Avery who was wrongfully convicted and served an 18-year prison sentence for the sexual assault and attempted murder of Penny Beerntsen. This highly addictive Netflix documentary taught me a lot about the tunnel vision syndrome that is often prevalent in the criminal justice system, while sometimes causing me to question whether Steven Avery is guilty or not. If you are a fan of true crime documentaries that are comprehensive and spellbinding, then this is the one for you.

Flint Town
Available on: Netflix
Genre: Documentary/Docuseries
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Flint Town follows the story of an understaffed police department that must serve and protect a community of around 100,000 people in one of America’s most violent cities, Flint, Michigan. Flint Town, as it is known by its unofficial nickname, is riddled with poverty and crime, and crippling under financially strapped public services, all in the wake of a citywide water contamination cover-up. Flint Town is an intriguing and informative documentary about the state of policing in America and a town in trouble.

Tiger King
Available on: Netflix
Genre: True Crime Documentary/DocuSeries
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‘That b*tch Carole Baskin’ will forever be one of the most popular quotes of our generation, and we’ve got convicted former zookeeper, Joe Exotic, to thank for that. Love him or hate him, his life, and the lives of those who know him are fascinating. While seeing exotic animals trapped in cages is quite upsetting, the absurdity of the show captivated audiences across the world. With everything that the show has to offer, including bitter year-long feuds, three-way same-sex marriages, hitmen, and murder conspiracy theories, what’s not to love?

Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner
Available on: Netflix
Genre: Documentary/Docuseries
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With Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner we join Chef David Chang and his celebrity guests as they explore the cuisine and culture of different cities around the world. The show takes a relaxed and organic approach to the travel docu-series genre, supplementing it with stunning visuals that give you a taste of multiple different cultures and cuisines. Nothing has made me want to explore what the world has to offer more than this show, and it is precisely what I imagine traveling to different countries with my friends would be like. It’s definitely a must if you are a foodie with an itch to travel!

Cheer
Available on: Netflix
Genre: Documentary/Docuseries
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Cheer follows the competitive Navarro College Bulldogs cheer squad from Corsicana, Texas, and the lives of some of its team members. This docuseries gives you a lot of insight into the highly competitive and dangerous nature of the cheerleading industry, as well as the incredible commitment, resilience, and passion of the athletes who make up the squad. I was glued to the TV from the first episode and binge-watched all six episodes in a single day. Cheer is incredibly heartwarming, inspiring, and eye-opening to the impact that one person can have on the lives of others.

How to Fix a Drug Scandal
Available on: Netflix
Genre: True Crime Documentary/DocuSeries
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What I found most interesting about How to Fix a Drug Scandal was how it shined a light on the drug lab chemist career that not many people know about. This simple, yet strong documentary, tells the story of how two drug lab chemists crippled a state’s judicial system and blurred the lines of justice. It is a bit of a slow burner, but once you get into it, it becomes compellingly disturbing and depressing but also completely eye-opening. It really makes you think about who really is to blame, how easily issues that are flagged are ignored to avoid complicating situations, and the ludicrousness of the criminal justice system.

The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez
Available on: Netflix
Genre: True Crime Documentary/Docuseries
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The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez is a heartbreaking documentary that left me thinking long and hard about how the system fails vulnerable children. Gabriel Fernandez was an eight-year-old boy from Palmdale, California, who was abused and tortured for months and ultimately died at the hands of his mother, Pearl Fernandez, and her boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre. It’s an extremely difficult documentary to watch but it highlights important issues including how child abuse reports get lost in the system and how often children who are abused are failed by the people sworn to protect them. This documentary is a hard pill to swallow and will leave you feeling raw and outraged. It brings the incompetence, inefficiency, and malpractices of all the parties involved to the fore, and it changes our perspective on how children should be protected moving forward.

Becoming
Available on: Netflix
Genre: Documentary
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In Becoming, former first lady Michelle Obama discusses her life, hopes, and connections with others. I have always admired Michelle Obama but her transparency and authenticity in Becoming made me love her even more. She reminds us that despite the adversities we may face in life, we are all important, that our voices matter, and that we matter. If you’re looking for an inspirational, heartwarming, and honest documentary, this one is perfect for you. Michelle’s story will impact and uplift you in all the right ways and will encourage you to love yourself, to be strong, bold, and courageous. You’ll feel like anything is possible after watching it.

Miss Americana Taylor Swift
Available on: Netflix
Genre: Documentary
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I have never been a big Taylor Swift fan and chose to not pay much attention to her, but this all changed after watching her candid documentary. It is raw, genuine, and shows the viewers who Taylor Swift truly is and what she stands for. I have gained a lot of respect for Taylor after she spoke about her stance towards equal rights and her respect for the LGBTQ+ community. This documentary carries a lot of emotion. It will touch your heart and will stay in your mind long after you have watched it. Even if you do not like Taylor, I would still recommend that you watch it as it is truly inspiring and can motivate and inspire everybody regardless of age, gender, or race.

A Secret Love
Available on: Netflix
Genre: Documentary
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This tender film explores two women who kept their lesbian relationship a secret from the public and their families for seven decades. This incredibly touching story will have you laughing and crying throughout and serves as a reminder to everyone that love is love. This documentary is uplifting, emotional, and highlights important conversations around how the LGBTQ community has faced discrimination over the years and also how attitudes are changing. A Secret Love is a must-watch, even if it is just to experience the true love that Pat Henschel and Terry Donahue shared.

The Case Against Adnan Syed
Available on: Showmax
Genre: Documentary/Docuseries
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The first time I heard about Adnad Syed’s story was after listening to the podcast, Serial. I was instantly intrigued by the documentary which explores the 1999 disappearance and murder of 18-year-old Baltimore County high school student Hae Min Lee, and the subsequent conviction of her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed. Where ‘Serial’ wasn’t sure Adnan Syed was innocent, Amy Berg’s work takes a somewhat biased approach but raises some serious issues and presents some reasonable doubt like the fact that there was proprietorial and police misconduct in this case and that whether he did it or not, he deserves a new trial. Despite the documentaries’ flaws, it makes for pretty compelling viewing especially if you are familiar with Adnad’s story.

Ruben

Chernobyl
Available on: Showmax
Genre: Historical Documentary/Docuseries
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Chernobyl documents the full-scale of the 1986 nuclear disaster from the perspective of those who lived through it. The five-episode miniseries features a stellar cast as well as a harrowing visual depiction of the impact on the lives of those afflicted by the fallout. The gripping pace and implications of this series will leave you chilled for months to come as you realize how much worse our reality could have been. While it does veer on historical accuracy in favour of streamlining the story for the viewer, little else can be given as reason for not immediately placing this in your must-watch list. However, be warned, as Chernobyl does not pull its punches and is not easy viewing.

If you are a fan of science gone wrong, exceptionally well-acted drama, and political intrigue; I simply cannot recommend Chernobyl highly enough.

The Big Short
Available on: Netflix
Genre: Biographical Documentary
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If you had ever found yourself wondering exactly why the 2008 global financial crisis occurred, then you absolutely must watch The Big Short. You might not be any more enlightened afterwards, but you will have a barrel of laughs while stumbling through the financial jargon. While this movie features a cast of top Hollywood actors, it shines in its comedic attempts at clarifying the financial waffle of the event for the average viewer to understand. Hence its name.

However, towards the end of the film you will have a sobering understanding of how fragile a financial market can be when manipulated under false confidence, and serves as a stark juxtaposition against our current global financial turmoil. Think of it as the financial throwback to the virus movie throwback you may have experienced since the Coronavirus lock-down (Looking at you, Contagion and Outbreak).

And so, if you’re a fan of comedy that imparts a lesson, I would definitely recommend The Big Short. If you prefer cold-facts and mature delivery, it is perhaps not for you.

Marie

Fokofpolisiekar: Forgive them for they know not what they do
Available on: Amazon Prime Video
Genre: Biographical Documentary
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For fans of Fokofpolisiekar this is the holy grail. This documentary tells the story of 5 young Afrikaans rockers that changed everything related to Afrikaans and the Afrikaner. The story of all the roles and systems that this band questions in rock poetry comes to the light in this documentary. From the Witbank incident to the Nelspruit fight, and beyond. Watching this documentary, you will learn something new about “die Bende” even when you thought you knew everything about them.

What I like about this documentary is that the people involved are telling the stories themselves. It’s not like your typical music documentary where the music is the key element running through the film, and is focused more on the honest rock story.

“Iemand moet vra hoekom” – `’Forgive them for they know not what they do`’, asked the questions and gave the answers in 1 hour and 48 minutes of pure rock and roll.

This film is one of those documentaries that I rewatch every few years, because there is something hidden in it for me each time. Not just because it’s the history of one of my all time favorite bands, but it takes me back to a place where I tried to figure life out and to speak for myself, with a little bit of help from “die Bende.”

Who killed Johannes Kerkorrel
Available on: Showmax
Genre:  Biographical Documentary
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I grew up with Johannes Kerkorrel being a big part of our household. I think I knew the words to “Hillbrow” before I could even speak. So when the long-awaited documentary, “Who killed Johannes Kerkorrel?” aired in 2005 I jumped at the opportunity for a look inside the world of the father of this genre. I watched it with my dad, and he paused more times than I could count to tell me bits and pieces of the history and how he came to love Kerkorrel. The film takes a look at the controversial life of Kerkorrel and his revolutionary approach to music and his life. A lot of the burning questions are answered by people close to him. Questions surrounding his alleged suicide, his HIV status and his sexual preference.

Director and writer,Deon Maas, is one of the many reasons why this film made the list. Taking a very personal and objective look at his approach to music and his life. What stands out the most? The brutal honesty with which his story is told is exactly the type of raw, originality with which we came to love Johannes Kerkorrel.

I hold this film close to my heart, because this is the closest I will ever get to know Johannes Kerkorrel, alongside the stories my dad told me.

The Great Hack
Available on: Netflix
Genre: Political documentary
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This is one of those documentaries that will make you sit in silence afterwards and delete all your social media platforms immediately. Unfortunately, I work in social media, so that option is not on the table for me. And I think that’s why my silence was even longer, because I work in social media!

The documentary takes a look inside the Cambridge Analytica scandal that was tied to both Brexit and the US presidential election of 2016.

Yep, that one.

From the get go, this documentary is powerful. With an opening image from the Burning Man festival, Brittany Kaiser writes “Cambridge Analytica” on a sculpture and ties a whistle to it. Chills am I right?

This film tells two stories. The one story of the political machine that was Cambridge Analytica and the story of the everyday social media user who was exploited by networks and companies like Cambridge Analytica. The film is fast and keeps you engaged. I sat on the edge of my couch the entire time and I know how social media works, so imagine how close to the television you will be if you just use social media for fun, and not business. I enjoy movies that make me think long after the film is done.

I would recommend watching this movie if you are one of those people that overshare on social media or tend to be very politically driven on social media in general.

Searching for Sugarman
Available on: Amazon Prime Video
Genre: Biographical documentary
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Looking for one of the wildest stories of all time? One that you can’t believe is a true story and not fiction? Well, Bob’s your uncle! Bob being Sixto Rondriquez and your uncle “Searching for Sugarman!”

This documentary is about the singer/songwriter from Detroit who was an enigma. After his second album, “Coming From Reality” the story kind of ended. But years later, his albums traveled to Cape Town, South Africa where his songs became anthems. An indie record store owner released them and they took off. But he was on the search for this enigma. “Searching for Sugarman” is where the search started and ended. Using archival footage about the quest. Music fans will love this indie documentary full of heart-stopping footage using a well-balanced mix of talking interviews, archival imagery and dreamy animated sequences.

This film is one of my all time favourite documentaries, because it shows that even when the music business is not on your side, you still have your music and that no one can take that away from you.

I recommend this film to anyone, even when you don’t know who he is. To this day, I’m so grateful that they went on this quest, because now we found something even greater.

Nina

Everybody’s Everything
Available on: Netflix
Gere: Biographical documentary
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Everybody’s Everything, a documentary film, traces the life of Gustav Elijah Ahr, a singer, rapper, songwriter, and model known to the world as Lil Peep, from the dingy basement of his house where he first started creating music, to his rapid rise to fame when he joined the group known as GothBoiClique, and to his untimely death when he was only 21.

Now this might be an odd one to some considering the nature of Lil Peep’s music, described as being a unique mix of punk, emo and trap, but what drew me in to this documentary was the beautiful juxtaposition between the hardcore nature of his music and the tender depiction of him as an artist, son, and grandson. Lil Peep was an incredibly giving person and the film’s title “Everybody’s Everything”, taken out of one of his songs, attests to this. Unfortunately, this facet of his personality is also used in the documentary to point a few fingers at the possible culprits involved, if only implicitly, in his death.

Never have I felt more conflicted about a genre of music than after watching this documentary film – the director, Sebastian Jones, draws you in to the most intimate parts of Lil Peep’s life and his lyrics find an entirely new meaning. I would recommend this film to anyone interested in the entertainment industry, as well as lovers of experimental, expressionist, and provocative music.

The Keepers
Available on: Netflix
Genre: Religious documentary
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If you have always been fascinated with religion and the Catholic church’s seemingly constant involvement in alleged sexual misconduct cases, then this docuseries is definitely for you. I know a documentary really hit me square in the face when I am still angry about the events portrayed in the series days after I have finished watching it.

This series follows the investigation around the unsolved murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik, who was murdered during her time working as an English and drama teacher at Baltimore’s Archbishop Keough High School. What unravels from this investigation are numerous accounts of sexual misconduct at the hands of a priest at the high school, Joseph Maskell. More than that, the authorities involved in the investigation as well as the Roman Catholic Church are also implicated, creating a web of deceit and cover-ups which makes for a very tense viewing.

I thoroughly enjoyed this docuseries and think the pacing of the episodes were excellent – each episode revealed another facet and unsolved question which leads you down a massive rabbit hole of mistrust and suspicion. What makes this series so infuriating is the authorities involved and the church’s continued silence and denial even after the testimonies of numerous survivors. Watch this docuseries if you are ready to have your blood boiling and fists waving for social justice.

Don’t F*ck With Cats
Available on: Netflix
Genre: Limited docuseries
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This is a docuseries that goes from zero to a hundred during the span of three episodes, and at the end you can’t really believe what you have just watched, but a quick Google search will reveal that “yes, people on the internet really are that crazy”. This 3-episode docuseries revolves around the hunt for an internet cat killer who turns more deadly in the eyes of countless viewers. A group of animal activists on Facebook essentially solve a heinous crime months before it happens, while the authorities turn a blindeye to a case that is, in the real world, without any real evidence. It is only much later, in fact too late, that they realise what the animal activists have been arguing for all along.

I really liked the self-reflexive nature of the series in that it questions our own participation in internet trends and the creation of filmstars, music stars, activists, criminals, and murderers. There is not a minute of this show where you are not glued to your seat, entirely enthralled in the events playing out before you and the absolute bizarre nature of the internet and its effect on the human psyche. Watch this if you’re willing and ready to have your mind completely blown, after which you shut your computer in guilt and shame.

Ansumi

Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates
Available on: Netflix
Genre: Biographical documentary
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If you have any interest in following success stories, or just scrolled through Netflix to find your next watch, you probably would’ve stumbled across this ‘docuseries’ about Bill Gates. Although Gates has been a household name for decades, we don’t know much about him.

The series is all about what drives one of the wealthiest people to walk the earth, where did he come from, what are his habits and how did he come to be one of the most successful people in the world. Davus Guggenheim, the director, really captures Gates’ every day, giving us a literal look into his mind, so much so that the series is directed to try and replicate the same pattern that Bill’s mind works in. This isn’t always a good thing though, because his mind is so busy jumping from one idea to the next, even when there is no connection between the subjects.

I basically binged watched this three-part documentary, because there is something about watching successful people and learning from them. I definitely took some valuable tactics and habits from this that I implement into my daily life, like reading more. If you are like me, always wanting to learn more, this series is for you my friend.

Elené

Ted Bundy: Falling for a Killer
Available on: Amazon Prime Video
Genre: Docuseries
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This is one of those docuseries that just makes you think… how have I not thought about it in that way before? Told from the perspective of Ted Bundy’s long-term girlfriend and her daughter, we not only get to see what it was like being in a relationship with him, but also how it affected women during that time.

It is really the Ted Bundy story like you’ve never seen it before; it takes an in-depth look at the physical and emotional abuse suffered at his hand by those that cared about him most. It was not all bad, though, and that certainly is some food for thought as they also give insights into the very nature of a psychopath.

McMillions
Available on: Showmax
Genre: Docuseries
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By far the most enjoyable docuseries I have ever watched, it tells the story of how a group of guys scammed the Monopoly game of McDonalds in the US. The investigator on the case is one of the most hilarious, charismatic people you’ll ever come across and his energy is infectious, making the series so enjoyable and easy to watch.

The story itself is also fascinating. You won’t believe what goes down and there is at one point even mention of the mafia. This documentary from HBO is shot beautifully and the story is told in such a way that it keeps you at the edge of your seat – highly recommended!

Wild Wild Country
Available on: Netflix
Genre: Religious docuseries
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I love a good cult, especially ones with really weird religious angles and twists demanding unfaltering loyalty. In the American North West, this community was created with the aim of raising its followers’ consciousness. Excited yet?! It’s a wild ride that tells the story about how a guru from India established himself in Oregon and built up a following of Westerners.

As usual, once things start going bad, it gets really bad. From smugglings to assassinations, violence and more. It leaves the audience feeling amazed, shocked and awed all at the same time.

Honourable mention: The Staircase on Netflix, we did an entire review, check it out here.

Have any favourites to share? Let us know below! We’ll be checking out Zac Efron’s new series this weekend.

Author

Free State-girl, living in Stellenbosch. Love to explore small towns, read in Afrikaans and everything pop-culture. My favourite yoga move is 'The Pigeon' and one day I'd like to own my own vintage cinema.

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