Tell Me What to Watch

August 2, 2012

Over the last year, Bart and I have started watching more documentaries. We usually try and watch them on Sunday evening, after Ella’s gone to bed, as a nice way to wind down the weekend.

We certainly don’t watch one every weekend, but when the stars align and we have both a chosen movie AND a free evening, it’s been something we’ve really enjoyed. 

A few we’ve watched:

The main downside is that the poor girls I run with on Monday morning get to hear WAY more than they ever wanted to know about whatever movie we just watched the night before.

So now the question is. . . .what documentaries would YOU suggest we watch? You can see we tend to like ones about education, history, and food, but we’re happy to take titles. And then run them through the very reliable filter of “what does our library own?”

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  • Reply Ash August 2, 2012 at 11:32 am

    Have y'all seen The Pixar Story? Fascinating look at how they got started, the animation, etc. Very cool!

  • Reply Laura August 2, 2012 at 12:08 pm

    This is an older one that you may have already seen, but "Spellbound" about the National Spelling Bee is great. (Not to be confused with the Alfred Hitchcock movie of the same name.)

    I also loved "Wordplay", which is a documentary about the world of competitive crossword puzzling.

    (I am a word nerd!)

    • Reply Abby August 3, 2012 at 3:36 am

      I second both these suggestions!!!

  • Reply WicketsMom August 2, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    Great post! I would highly recommend a documentary called The Man Nobody Knew: In Search of My Father, CIA Spymaster William Colby. Carl Colby's father was the head of the CIA and his family lived in Italy and Vietnam in the 60's. His father was a spy for the United States and his story is fascinating. Carl Colby's mother recounts her perception of their lifestyle during those days and hearing her stories were very touching. He was an intriguing man, and not at all what I expected a high level spy to be.

  • Reply Jenn August 2, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    Nursery University is a documentary about the crazy ridiculousness of parents obsessing over what nursery school their children get into. It's insane the lengths they go to (and the tuition they pay)! If I ever am accused of being a helicopter parent, I can point to the parents in this documentary and say "at least I'm not THAT bad." We watched this on Netflix, BTW.

  • Reply tootie August 2, 2012 at 2:28 pm

    I recommend Waiting for Superman (about education in the US) and The Way We Get By (a group of civilians that support the military).

  • Reply smalldog August 2, 2012 at 2:32 pm

    If you're up for more guided documentary stuff (think PBS) I really liked "The Ascent of Money" which is basically an overview of Western financial history, and not nearly as boring as it sounds.

    Along the same PBS lines, I liked "The Fabric of the Cosmos," which is a fabulously understandable introduction to physics.

    Neither of these were topics that I really understood (or frankly cared to) so I was surprised that I found them so interesting. Not quite documentaries, but quite good.

    How is "The Business of Being Born?" I've been curious to see it, but so far too lazy.

  • Reply Ralphie August 2, 2012 at 2:42 pm

    We love a good documentary too. Have you seen "Babies" yet? The cinematography is breathtakingly beautiful. I love how they show the vast differences between civilizations and end it by connecting us all through the common string of love between mother and child. So well done.

    Also super interesting is "Food Matters" and "Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead".

    And (exposing my inner 6 year old) I loved "Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Jouney". I am amazed at how many different ways people can be talented! Puppeteering is so fascinating .

  • Reply RA August 2, 2012 at 3:40 pm

    I loved Wordplay, too!

    Years ago, we saw the documentary, Endurance, which is about Ernest Shackleton and his crew who survived being shipwrecked in the south pole in the early 1900s. The film is especially good because they had a photographer on board (!!!), and the filmmakers digitally restored the pictures and used them. So the whole thing is incredibly authentic and almost real-time. I got the coffee table book for us, and it is really beautiful.

  • Reply Erin August 2, 2012 at 4:15 pm

    The World According to Sesame Street. Very cool look at the cultural and educational impact of Sesame Street across the world.
    I also second Waiting for Superman!

  • Reply Lindsay August 2, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    We went through a documentary kick, too, and we enjoyed some of those that you listed and others commented about as well. Another education one that we liked was Waiting for Superman.

  • Reply Becca August 2, 2012 at 5:43 pm

    They're a hefty set, but we LOVE the PBS documentaries about the National Parks. Tyler is really into National Parks and hiking, which I enjoy, but am not CRAZY about like he is. I thought I'd find these totally boring, but I was entranced and found myself staying up long after he had fallen asleep to finish them.

  • Reply heather August 2, 2012 at 6:57 pm

    We really enjoyed Buck, which is (nominally) about a horse-trainer who uses no violence in breaking horses, but is actually about relationships and forgiveness and finding peace. We found plenty of good parenting lessons.

  • Reply Jenna August 2, 2012 at 8:24 pm

    You must, must, must watch Last Train Home. As well as Inside North Korea. Both were life changing for me.

  • Reply Meg August 2, 2012 at 9:15 pm

    I loved Babies too! I also recommend Wordplay, which is about Will Shortz, people who love or make crossword puzzlesm and a crossword puzzle tournament. It's on Hulu right now. If you want a good political thriller, Our Brand Is Crisis is fascinating. If you want something ridiculous, King of Kongs and Trekkies are both really fun.

  • Reply Meg August 2, 2012 at 9:18 pm

    Whoops! I just saw that someone else had already recommended Wordplay. BUT I stand by my reliable information about it being on Hulu. I found it after we watched Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden, which was also pretty entertaining if you like Morgan Spurlock.

  • Reply Emily August 2, 2012 at 10:40 pm

    Aren't documentaries the best? Two that I've enjoyed recently are Life in Day (available on YouTube. I can't really explain it to do it justice. But it's essentially a day in the life of all the people on earth, really interesting) and 1900 House (a sort of documentary/reality TV show about a modern family that spends 3 months living in a 1900 era home in suburban London).

    And I second the vote for Endurance. Shackleton is a pretty interesting fellow and played by Kenneth Branagh is pretty awesome.

  • Reply Emily Kate August 3, 2012 at 2:03 am

    I thought Being Elmo was utterly fascinating.

  • Reply Gail August 3, 2012 at 5:00 am

    Between the Folds is a really cool documentary about the art and science of origami. It is available on Amazon Prime unlimited streaming. It is also available on Netflix. I used this one as a last week of school activity when I taught art a couple of years ago. We watched the movie and then learned some origami. The kids LOVED it and so do I.

  • Reply Natalie August 3, 2012 at 5:39 am

    I second Food Matters, Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead, & Being Elmo. (I haven't seen the Elmo one, but I heard it's fantastic.) I'd also suggest Hungry for Change. This is a great list! I'll have to jot down a few of these. We love documentaries, too 🙂

  • Reply Shanté August 3, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    We watched Being Elmo last month on a Sunday with our 3 1/2 year old. We all loved it. Depending on how nerdy you guys are, you may enjoy Darkon (available on netflix as well). We thought it was entertaining to watch. I can't believe you got your husband to watch The Business of Being Born. My husband would die if I made him watch it with me.

  • Reply Jennie August 3, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    It's a little off your beaten path but not much. Check out "The Art of the Steal" all about the incredible, highly contested Barnes collection in Philadelphia. I enjoyed Being Elmo and The Pixar Story as well. All of these are available for instant streaming on Netflix.

  • Reply Katie August 3, 2012 at 9:34 pm

    How about Ken Burns's Prohibition?

  • Reply Leslie August 3, 2012 at 10:53 pm

    I second "Life in a Day". I have "180° South" saved in my Netflix queue and it's supposed to be excellent but I haven't watched it yet. One of my favorites and I've seen it several times is "Mad, Hot Ballroom". PS – love this because I see things to add to my list of things to watch!

  • Reply MBC August 4, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    I second The World According to Sesame Street and Mad Hot Ballroom. My other favorite is Spellbound, a GREAT documentary about kids competing in the national spelling bee.

  • Reply Magdalena August 6, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    I would second "Waiting for Superman", "Endurance", and "Babies". All different, but equally excellent. Also, if you haven't yet seen it, "Winged Migration", a little French documentary looking at the amazing feats migratory birds go through each year.

  • Reply G August 6, 2012 at 4:21 pm

    We enjoyed watching "Earth" with the kids and M and I are about to watch "Objectified" any day now. I haven't seen Objectified yet, but M has watched it before and says it's good.

  • Reply Sheyenne August 7, 2012 at 3:07 am

    I need to go back and look at my Netflix ratings, but I'll say that "Babies" was really sweet and very interesting.

  • Reply Melissa August 14, 2012 at 8:36 pm

    Babies, (as many have already suggested) Waiting for Superman, (which you must take with a grain of salt, especially as many of the charter schools around the US are flailing–especially here in Vegas)and MAN ON WIRE–Possibly the most intense documentary I've ever seen, about a man who rigs a tight rope across the World Trade Centers in the 70s and attempts to cross it. CRAZY good.

  • Reply B September 28, 2012 at 9:13 pm

    I know I am late to this, recently found your blog. But, my husband and I also enjoy watching documentaries. Let me second The Art of The Steal and also add Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

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