I'm not big on cable television or much of what's in theaters, but one thing that services like Netflix have given issue nerds like me is incredible access to an endless supply of high-quality documentaries. Prior to easy streaming on the Web, you had to rely mostly on public libraries and PBS. The new platforms and improved distribution have also made them more profitable, leading to more quality docs.
Here are a few favorites that I highly recommend for anyone seeking to learn more about some of the most formidable challenges facing our society.
Blue Gold – Water has been a pet issue of mine for years and Blue Gold takes a panoramic look at how a variety of factors are converging to put downward pressure on drinking water supplies. From desertification and increased runoff, to privatization schemes and the messy business of plastic bottles, the film takes a non-political approach to what might be mankind's greatest challenge in the second half of this century. Tapped is another water doc, that covers similar ground and is equally thought provoking.
Hungry for Change – This film engages numerous nutrition experts to provide an impressively accessible breakdown of the many dietary follies that are conspiring to make Americans less healthy and more susceptible to chronic disease. But more than just diagnosing a well-known problem, the movie digs into the challenges of various lifestyles and looks at how the typical American diet sets people up for negative outcomes, while demonstrating corrective solutions. There have been a couple of other very good films in this arena including Forks over Knives and Food Matters.
Happy – This intensely interesting film looks at the emotion of happiness, much in the way we've long studied its antithesis, depression. Psychologists study various cultures, occupations and mindsets in an attempt to discover what things make us truly happy. The results are surprising to say the least and if nothing else, demands that viewers introspectively examine the benefits and drawbacks of their own personal values.
Food Inc. – One of the greatest docs of all-time, this comparative study of the corporate farm and the organic, local food movement will change the way you think about what lands on your plate forever. From the disgusting filth of over-packed chicken coops and steer that look like something from a comic book, to the asinine rules that keep sustainable farming at a massive competitive disadvantage, this film gives viewers much to boil over. Also check out Frankensteer, River of Waste and Farmageddon.
Collapse – Michael Ruppert is the conspiracy theorist's conspiracy theorist and whether you believe all of what he has to say or none of it, his manic, chain-smoking rants about everything from economic collapse to peak oil will make you think. The former LAPD officer has written several books and appeared in plenty of docs, but Collapse puts him in a chair, turns on the camera and lets him riff. If you can imagine a film with that setting being exhilarating, then you're familiar with Ruppert.
30 for 30: Broke – We've all heard enough stories about millionaire pro athletes filing for bankruptcy that it's hardly news, but this tightly-organized compilation of some of the most mind-blowing instances of rags to riches and back again stories will still blow you away. It might not quite fit my “change the way you think about life” title for this column, but it's a cautionary tale that says a lot about our society, what we value and the kind of realities that can create.
Dennis Maley's column appears every Thursday and Sunday in The Bradenton Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to visit his column archive. Click here to go to his bio page. You can also follow Dennis on Facebook.
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