10 Documentaries that will blow your mind

Documentaries let film-makers tell a true story through a narrative, which allows spectators to experience similar emotions to those they would when watching a fiction film. Although most of the time they aren't as commercially successful as films from other genres, documentary films do have a great social influence, since they provide perspectives and opinions that lead spectators to learn and question the topics they represent. With the growth of the Internet, many of them are available for free, only a few clicks away, making their distribution easier than ever before. Here we'll present ten documentaries that will change the way you think about certain topics.

The Corporation (2003)

This Canadian documentary directed by Jennifer Abbott, Mark Achbar and Joel Bakan describes the origin and development of the modern day corporation, the most powerful type of organization in the globalised world which only came into existence 150 years ago. As a result of their status of “legal entity”, corporations have taken control and even advanced over the rights of individuals. With that concept as a starting point, the documentary goes on to apply the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders”, better known as DSM-IV, and establishes that, according to its characteristics, the typical corporation fits the profile of a psychopath.

Zeitgeist (2007)

Peter Joseph wrote and directed this documentary that was mainly distributed through the web. The film is structured in three parts: the first part conceives Christianism as a myth that generates new myths. The second part deals with the uses of propaganda and fear by governments with the aim of limiting their citizens’ freedom. Finally, the third part analyses the globalised market, focusing mainly on the use of money and the deployment of military forces. The sequel led to the creation of the Zeitgeist movement, a social organisation that whose aim is to reform society and current politics.

The Light Bulb Conspiracy (2011)

In this documentary, director Cosima Dannoritzer dives into the concept of “planned obsolescence”, or the manufacturing of products with the intention of having them wear out fast, so that they will need to be replaced after a short time. The film-maker gives a series of examples of very well known companies like Apple or General Electric. The film also posits the possible consequences of disproportionate consumerism, such as the huge environmental impact on third-world countries where all the disposed junk is sent, and the waste of natural resources that leads to their unavoidable shortage.

Isle of Flowers (1989)

This documentary, directed by Jorge Furtado, left a mark in the documentary genre, not only for the topic it presents, but also for the way in which it is presented. Although shorter than fifteen minutes, Isle of Flowers portrays the problem of social injustice as no other film does, following the flow of money as the main mediator in social relationships. Apart from becoming a classic in the genre of Latin American documentaries, this film was awarded a Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival.

Food Inc. (2008)

Robert Kenner directed this documentary released in 2008, influenced chiefly by the best-seller “Fast Food Nation”, written by Eric Schlosser, and “Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan. The film is about the current food industry, a system in which only a few multinational companies concentrate the biggest share in the supply of food products worldwide. They have the power to handle contracts with producers and farmers in such a way that lets them stipulate the way fields should be kept and animals fed, thus creating a production environment that remains far from ethical in its business practices. Monsanto, Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods and Perdue Farms are some of the companies mentioned.

Cocaine Cowboys (2006)

This film directed by Bill Corben adopts a comic book aesthetic to tell the story of how cocaine was introduced in Miami during the 80s. The increase of drug trafficking led to an increase in crime, as well as the rise of Colombian drug cartels in North America. Most people interviewed were part of criminal organizations in charge of transporting, introducing and selling this drug in the American city, which experienced an explosive economic growth due to drug trafficking.

Searching for Sugar Man (2012)

Directed by Malik Bendjelloul, “Searching for Sugar Man” depicts the life of a mysterious singer known as Rodríguez, a latin man from Detroit. Although Rodríguez recorded two albums, he never got much attention in the United States and his musical career hit a dead end. However, the story was completely different in South Africa, where the singer was widely known, even though he was completely unaware of it. “Searching for Sugar Man” is the touching story of a working-class man who continued developing his talent in spite of the lack of opportunities in the recording industry.

The Forbidden Education (2012)

This Argentine documentary was released in 2012 with the tagline “an audiovisual project to transform education”. The film focuses on documenting alternative educational experiences both in Latin America and Spain. Some of the trends and schools it addresses are those that follow the Waldorf, Montessori, Cossettini, Libertarian Education and home schooling traditions, among others. “The Forbidden Education” is one of the first films in Spanish to be funded mainly through crowd-funding.

The Invisibles (2010)

Under the patronage of Amnesty International, Marc Silver and Gael García Bernal directed this film which presents the lives of immigrants aiming to enter the United States illegally. The film is composed of five short films portraying different perspectives of the phenomenon, among which there are the stories of three women from Honduras who try to reach their destination and a mother who waits for the call her son promised to make when he arrived, even though it's been ten years since he left. “The Invisibles” successfully shows the real-life experiences of a reality that is all too frequently only interpreted as statistical values and vacuous news reports.

Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)

This is the film début of the famous controversial street-artist Banksy. It tells the story of Thierry Guetta, a graffiti aficionado who used to accompany artists such as Banksy and Shepard Fairey during their nocturnal interventions to film them, although he never had a clear idea as to what he would do with the footage. Finally, Guetta found a way to give shape to his archive and created a commotion in the street-art scene. With its flowing narrative, “Exit Through the Gift Shop” provides an insight into the dynamics of the hidden world of graffiti.

Related: Ten shocking documentaries

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About the Author

Lori Rill has been an educator in Pennsylvania for more than 20 years, which led her to writing a young adult novel, "Violet’s Secret," and a blog on education issues. She graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts and Master’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh. The Texas resident now coordinates education programs for the state’s Historical Commission and gathering new (and old) stories for her next novel.