1. Amanda Knox

This is truly one of the eeriest stories I’ve ever heard. Amanda Knox is an American citizen who was convicted of murdering her British roommate in their Italian apartment. Although this decision was later overturned, and Knox was released from prison, many still believe that she is a cold-blooded killer. After watching this documentary, disturbing feelings lingered, leaving Amanda on my mind for weeks. What makes this documentary so unique is the fact that Knox herself is there to recount her story. Her presence is meant to convey, if not strengthen her innocence. But oddly enough, it made me question her credibility. The inscrutable attitude that Knox maintained throughout the film seemed almost unhuman and is definitely something worth observing. Her narrative sent chills down my spine.

2. Under the Sun

This documentary offers a closer look into a country that seldom accepts outside observation. For decades, life in North Korea has been understood only in the most abstract of conditions. This mysterious, highly politicized way of life is meant to sustain the country’s self-sufficiency and the immense loyalty of its citizens. The film follows the path of a young girl who was chosen by her country to join North Korea’s Children’s Union. Under the Sun gives us a glimpse into the personal lives of those who make up North Korea, which is a glimpse we have never been able to see before.

3. 11/8/16

Described as being hard to watch, this film goes back in time and chronicles the lives of sixteen Americans on Election Day, 2016. These citizens vote, go to work and go about their days, all seeming to already know how the night will end. Of course, we know what these people did not yet realize: it wouldn’t end how they assumed. 11/8/16 offers the anxiety-inducing minute-by-minute run down of what would become a living hell for some and an unexpected victory for others.

4. 13th

13th explores the broken relationship between mass incarceration, race, and justice in the United States. Director Ava DuVernay proposes that although the 13th Amendment ended the official practice of slavery, African Americans have in fact remained enslaved due to the perpetuation of racist laws, practices, and attitudes. In a more contemporary context, this film focuses greatly on the proposed war on drugs and on the mass-incarceration of African American citizens. With institutional racism as the focus, DuVernay does an impeccable job of conveying that incredibly un-American ideals seem to govern America.

5. Cuba and the Cameraman

For 42 years, Cameraman Jon Alpert followed Fidel Castro and three Cuban families who directly faced the consequences of Cuban policies. Through all of Cuba’s tumultuous times, Alpert was given exclusive access to the island and was thus able to put together an important story. Not only did Alpert form a strong bond with the dictator himself, but he also bonded with these families. He bore witness to the rollercoaster ride that continues to characterize the lives of Cuban citizens. I watched this documentary right before I had the pleasure of visiting Cuba on a family vacation; not only did the film enhance my visit by growing my understanding of Cuban history, but it also helped me to come to the conclusion that Cuba is one of the most expressive, vibrant and joyous countries to exist.

I picked these five documentaries because they truly left an impression on me. They are all incredibly filmed and do an amazing job of conveying the realities that exist within our crazy world.  Also, while I am a sucker for comic relief, I think that my time is so much better spent feeding my brain with important information. Sure, reading is a great way to do this too, but there’s nothing quite like watching a movie. So, try watching some of these awesome movies! I promise it is just as relaxing as binge-watching your favorite mindless TV show.

COVER PHOTO: Nicole Kaufman

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