5 Revealing And Thought-Provoking Documentaries

One of the best ways to understand the world and the multitude of lives it contains is by watching films. Documentaries, in particular, provide invaluable windows into the beliefs, customs, and experiences of others we may never meet in real life. If you're looking for cinema that will enlighten and inspire you about subjects ranging from jazz to Native American culture, try checking out one of the revealing documentary works included here. This video was made with Ezvid Wikimaker.

5 Illuminating Documentary Films

Title Director
The Feeling of Being Watched Assia Boundaoui
Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes Sophie Huber
Milford Graves Full Mantis Jake Meginsky
Chavela Catherine Gund and Daresha Kyi
Forget Winnetou! Red Haircrow

The Feeling of Being Watched Trailer

Fun Activities for Music Lovers

A Clip from Chavela

In Depth

It's often said that seeing is believing, so it's no surprise that the camera is such a powerful tool for bringing unsuspected truths to the public view. Documentaries offer a window into the past and present, letting us see through the eyes of others as though they were our own. Presented here, in no particular order, are five moving non-fiction films that aim to show new perspectives, and change the way viewers think.

Opening our list at #1 is The Feeling of Being Watched. This film follows journalist Assia Boundaoui as she uncovers a long history of government surveillance in the Muslim-American community where she grew up. Investigating the widespread certainty among the Islamic inhabitants of Bridgeview, Illinois that they are under scrutiny from national security agencies, she discovers that her hometown has been the target of a decades-long probe by the FBI.

The Feeling of Being Watched explores the effects of long-term surveillance on the people of Bridgeview, eroding trust between neighbors and instilling feelings of isolation. Boundaoui has gone on to initiate a campaign to compel the government to release their documents from the operation, under the Freedom of Information Act. The film has received critical acclaim, and sparked a conversation about the treatment of minority populations by the national security apparatus.

The Feeling of Being Watched explores the effects of long-term surveillance on the people of Bridgeview, eroding trust between neighbors and instilling feelings of isolation.

At #2 is Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes. This film explores the history and vision of the renowned jazz music label, Blue Note Records. Through rare footage of recording sessions and musician commentary, it takes viewers inside the boundary-crossing collaborations, intense passion, and musical talent that gave rise to the label's enduring legacy.

One of the most significant jazz labels in history, Blue Note has been home to renowned musicians such as Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and Norah Jones, to name a few. In 1939, the label was founded in New York by German Jewish refugees Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff. The establishment of the jazz label represented the pursuit for musical freedom, as well as the revolutionary and transformative power of music.

Coming in at #3 is Milford Graves Full Mantis. This feature-length documentary is the portrait of renowned percussionist, Milford Graves, exploring his creativity, musical curiosity, and talent. Performing internationally since 1964 as both a solo artist and with other musical legends such as Albert Ayler, Giuseppi Logan and Sonny Sharrock, Graves was a pioneer in avant-garde jazz and remains one of the most influential jazz musicians in history.

Performing internationally since 1964 as both a solo artist and with other musical legends such as Albert Ayler, Giuseppi Logan and Sonny Sharrock, Graves was a pioneer in avant-garde jazz and remains one of the most influential jazz musicians in history.

The film brings viewers through Graves' home as well as the area where he grew up, in the housing projects of South Jamaica, Queens. He tells stories of his struggle, survival, and self-discovery, and details some of the music projects that have been important to him. Moving between the present and the past, the documentary reveals intimate glimpses of his life as well as many of his notable performances from around the world.

At #4 is Chavela. This documentary takes viewers through the iconoclastic life of influential artist, Chavela Vargas, featuring never-before-seen footage from twenty years before her death in 2012. Through stories of her songs, as well as experiences from those who knew her, the film presents a woman who catapulted her unique and unusual life into the spotlight.

Born in Costa Rica in 1919, Chavela ran away to Mexico City as a teenager and started singing in the streets. By the 1950s, she had become well-known in the Mexican bohemian club scene. She shocked many by challenging mainstream sexuality and morals, dressing like a man, singing love songs from male perspectives, and refusing to change pronouns.

She shocked many by challenging mainstream sexuality and morals, dressing like a man, singing love songs from male perspectives, and refusing to change pronouns.

Finally, at #5 is Forget Winnetou! This documentary delves into Native American stereotypes and their connection with racism, colonialism, and societal issues. These include the role of white supremacist ideology and Eurocentrism in the misrepresentation of Natives and their cultures. The film highlights effects of racism in connection to contemporary issues, as well as correcting common stereotypes by revealing accurate knowledge about Natives from the people themselves.

The film focuses on conversations with Natives living in Germany including scholars, artists, and everyday people. Interviewees discuss how stereotypes have affected them and reveal how attitudes of Germans towards Natives and other minorities have involved stereotyping, cultural appropriation, and racism. The film also explores the concept of unlearning harmful practices, and highlights the importance of indigenous American pride. It presents a people taking control of their heritage as a means of healing after centuries of oppression.