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10 Incredible Documentaries on Netflix Instant

Continuing our series on the hidden treasures of Netflix streaming (aka the cineplex of the unemployed), today we’re bringing you ten fantastic documentaries to watch while you finish off the Halloween candy.  

I tried to cover a nice mix of tastes, but I tend to be drawn to documentaries that make me bawl, so I apologize in advance if this list is a little heavy for your tastes.  There aren’t a lot of light-hearted documentaries, in my defense. I saved my two favorites on the list until the end, but every documentary on this list is worth your time.  Save some popcorn for me!

10. China’s Lost Girls (2005)

Accompanied by her team from her travel show, “National Geographic’s Ultimate Explorer,” reporter Lisa Ling (“The View”) flies off to China with American parents set to adopt baby girls, the casualties of the country’s long-standing one-child policy. In hewing to this strict rule, families wind up aborting, abandoning or hiding their daughters, many of whom end up in the United States, brought by couples longing for children.

9.  This Film is Not Yet Rated (2006)

Kirby Dick’s provocative documentary investigates the secretive and inconsistent process by which the Motion Picture Association of America rates films, revealing the organization’s underhanded efforts to control culture. Dick questions whether certain studios get preferential treatment and exposes the discrepancies in how the MPAA views sex and violence. Interviewees include John Waters, Darren Aronofsky, Maria Bello, Atom Egoyan and more.

8. The Amish: A People of Preservation (2003)

This PBS documentary follows life in Amish country, where folks give up convenience and technological advancements in exchange for simple living, out of loyalty to their longstanding beliefs. With insight from Mennonite historian John Ruth and Dr. John A. Hostetler (author of Amish Society), learn how the Amish continue to thrive, and even grow in numbers, amidst the ever-changing world around them.

7. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)

When Steve Wiebe got laid off, he turned to the classic arcade game Donkey Kong for solace; soon, he decided to challenge Billy Mitchell’s long-standing record score. So began the bitter rivalry that lies at the heart of this curiously compelling documentary. Providing a history of competitive video gaming and a look at some of the key players, The King of Kong is at its best when revealing just how far Mitchell will go to retain his crown.

6. Objectified (2009)

Discover how manufactured objects that surround us such as cars, phones and chairs influence our daily lives with this revealing documentary, which features top industrial designers discussing their creative processes and professional objectives. Director Gary Hustwit (Helvetica) explores not only how objects get made, but also why they make us feel the way they do and how they can make our world better.

5. Champion (2005)

It probably wouldn’t surprise you to learn that Danny Trejo (a tattooed character actor featured in such films as Desperado, Con Air and From Dusk Till Dawn) has a checkered past. But this gripping documentary (featuring Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Steve Buscemi and Antonio Banderas) reveals a lot of things you wouldn’t expect, including Trejo’s troubled childhood, his brush with armed robbery and his ultimate triumph in turning his life around.

4. American Zombie (2007)

Part mockumentary, part unabashed gore-fest, American Zombie follows filmmakers Grace Lee and John Solomon — both playing themselves — as they infiltrate a Los Angeles zombie community in an effort to document the undead subculture. Finding that the reanimated aren’t much different from the rest of us — save for some patches of rotting flesh — the moviemakers offer a comical look at their marginalized subjects.

3. In the Realms of the Unreal (2004)

Featuring the voices of Dakota Fanning and Larry Pine and the work of talented animators, this documentary tells the story of Henry Darger, a reclusive janitor by day with few — if any — friends, but by night a literary artist with a unique vision. Darger’s resulting 15,000-page epic is a wonderland of imagination as it details the exploits of seven angelic sisters who lead a rebellion against men who enslave children.

2. My Flesh and Blood (2003)

Winner of both the Audience and Directing Awards at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival, this inspiring documentary tracks a year in the life of Susan Tom, a single parent from suburban Fairfield, Calif., who has adopted 11 children with special needs. Directed by Jonathan Karsh, the film obliterates stereotypes about people with disabilities, sharing joyful moments and everyday challenges without shying away from the family’s heartbreaking losses.

1. Dear Zachary: A Letter to A Son About his Father (2008)

Filmmaker Kurt Kuenne’s poignant tribute to his murdered childhood friend, Andrew Bagby, tells the story of a child custody battle between the baby’s grieving grandparents and Shirley Turner, Bagby’s pregnant ex-girlfriend and suspected killer. Initially, Kuenne made this documentary as a memorial for Andrew’s loved ones, but it morphs into an emotional legal odyssey when Turner goes free on bail and is allowed to raise her son.

Did I forget something awesome?  Add your favorite documentaries in the comments!

By [E] Selena MacIntosh*

Selena MacIntosh is the owner and editor of Persephone Magazine. She also fixes it when it breaks. She is fueled by Diet Coke, coffee with a lot of cream in it, and cat hair.

6 replies on “10 Incredible Documentaries on Netflix Instant”

Dear Zachary is amazing. It really sucked me in and I was surprised I hadn’t heard of it before.

Echoing the love for Very Young Girls. Inspiring, but heartbreaking.

I recommend Capturing the Friedmans (a father and son accused of child molestation – the story has so many layers).

Witch Hunt is another great doc about innocent parents being accused of molestation.

Is Spellbound on Instant, I love that one. Oooh or there’s this one about LARPing that’s awesome.

I want to do one about tv shows that are on Instant. Here is my list: Veronica Mars. I’m obsessed.

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