With COVID still looming large and uncertainty still plaguing us in the wake of new variants, it was another good year to hibernate inside and learn something new while being entertained at the same time.
From the 20th anniversary of 9/11, to the inspiring true story of Tina Turner, to the chilling real-life crimes of Dr Christopher Duntsch (aka Dr Death) here are just a few of the fantastic documentaries that kept us intrigued in 2021.
NYC Epicenters 9/11→2021½
Spike Lee’s NYC Epicenters 9/11→2021½ explores the way in which New York handled both the 9/11 attacks and the COVID-19 pandemic and the surprising intersections between the two catastrophes.
Through interviews conducted with over 200 people, Lee’s film explores the stories of the residents of New York City who have learned to deal with loss and rebirth in the two decades since the Twin Towers fell.
In an interview with The New York Times, Lee said, “People just bare their souls. It was very, very emotional. For me, I can’t comprehend what they’re going through. But to see — it’s hard to ask questions where you know people are going to break down. That’s not easy; it’s not fun. But I got to ask those questions.”
Where to watch it: FOXTEL Docos
Tina examines the life of legendary singer Tina Turner, as she reflects on the horrific abuse she suffered at the hands of her ex-husband, Ike Turner.
In the critically acclaimed documentary, Turner reveals how the trauma she endured still affects her today while also examining what it means to be a survivor and the singer’s struggle to escape a past that was never fully behind her.
Ike Turner was not only the iconic singer’s husband, but he was also her musical partner, meaning that her career has always been intrinsically linked to him, despite the fact she bravely left him and started a solo career before their divorce was finalised in 1978.
Where to watch it: BINGE or Foxtel On Demand
In January 1969, The Beatles came together to write and record their twelfth and final studio album Let It Be, with one very lucky camera crew given access to film the band’s process.
The material — which amasses to 60 hours of film footage, plus over 120 hours of audiotape — was, many years later, entrusted to Lord of the Rings filmmaker Peter Jackson who has expertly crafted it all into a three-part, six-hour-long documentary called Get Back.
Where to watch it: Disney+
Puff: Wonders of the Reef
Narrated by Rose Byrne, this visually stunning and totally heartwarming film takes us on an incredible journey for a little fish that starts out smaller than a human fingernail.
For the first time, scientists, cinematographers and documentary filmmakers have combined their skills to transport us into Puff’s (a baby pufferfish) tiny world — a world where the drama unfolds on scales too fast, too slow, or too small for the human eye to perceive.
Where to watch it: Netflix
Dr Death: The Undoctored Story
Dr Death: The Undoctored Story is the first docuseries about Dr Chris Duntsch — who was sentenced to life imprisonment after maiming, harming, or killing 33 patients who came in for complex but routine spinal surgeries in the Dallas, Texas area in the early 2010s.
The four-part docuseries offers audiences the chance to hear and see the whole story, told by the real people who survived it. The series features conversations with those closest to Duntsch and his criminal case including Jerry Summers, Duntsch’s best friend who he paralysed following two surgeries.
Other interviewees include Wendy Young, the ex-girlfriend of Duntsch and mother to his two sons; Dr Joy Gathe-Ghermay, the anesthesiologist during Jerry Summer’s horrific surgery; Dr Mark Hoyle, a Texas surgeon who physically tried to stop Duntsch during a surgery; Tex Muse and Pamela Trusty, two of Duntsch’s victims; and lawyers from the trial.
Where to watch it: Stan
In LFG, the issue of inequality when it comes to female athletes’ salaries is explored from the perspective of the United States women’s national soccer team as they embarked on their very public and controversial fight for equal pay.
Players such as Megan Rapinoe, Jessica McDonald, Becky Sauerbrunn and others lend their voices to LFG, as it takes an intimate look inside the historic gender-discrimination, class-action lawsuit filed by America’s most successful soccer team against their employer, the U.S. Soccer Federation to prove their worth — and ultimately that of the millions of women around the world who are also paid less than their male peers.
Where to watch it: Paramount+
In Incarceration Nation, writer and director and Guugu Yimithirr man Dean Gibson explores the firsthand devastation by those affected by the alarmingly high and discriminatory rates by which First Nation people are imprisoned in Australia. Gibson meets those who are trying to make a difference and discusses this systemic problem with some of our nation’s brightest minds.
Gibson’s objective is to uncover how this pervasive problem has reached crisis point and has been recognised internationally as a human rights issue, yet constantly seems to slip through the cracks of the national agenda.
Where to watch it: SBS On Demand
Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage
The success of the first Woodstock inspired festival organisers to throw a modern iteration of the music festival in 1999 that was supposed to “echo unity and counterculture idealism of the original 1969 concert”, but instead devolved into riots, looting, and sexual assaults.
According to reports, police responded to four alleged instances of rape that occurred during the concert — which took place from July 22–25, 1999 — including two alleged gang-rapes. Three people died.
This documentary explores what went wrong and examines if it could have been prevented.
Where to watch it: BINGE
The Year Earth Changed
The silver linings of the devastating pandemic were evident in improved air quality, a decrease in toxic gas emissions, lowered levels of smog and pollution and an abundance of new animal life. In fact, in a happy development, even previously endangered species were able to increase their numbers as we stayed inside to stop the spread of the deadly disease.
Directed by Tom Beard and narrated by Attenborough, The Year Earth Changed investigates different locations across the globe to shed some light on just how well nature can thrive when left uninterrupted.
Where to watch it: Apple TV+
Obama: In Pursuit of a More Perfect Union
The life of former US President Barack Obama is detailed in this HBO documentary which pieces together conversations with colleagues, friends and critics as well as snippets from his own speeches and interviews to chronicle Obama’s personal and professional story, as well as the ongoing issues of inequality in America.
Directed by Emmy winner Peter Kunhardt, the series starts with Obama’s childhood and takes us through his perspective as the son of a white mother from Kansas and an African father, his spiritual formation by a generation of Black leaders, and his hopes for a more inclusive country.
Where to watch it: Foxtel DOCOS
Top Secret UFO Projects: Declassified
As the name suggests, this one explores the world of aliens while pondering if they do, in fact, exist among us but have been kept secret by the US government.
According to Netflix, Top Secret UFO Projects: Declassified is an “original factual television series featuring the most recent information and proof exposing the most top-secret government projects that handled contacts with and cover-ups of, extraterrestrial presence on Earth.”
Where to watch it: Netflix
Catch and Kill: The Podcast Tapes
Based on Ronan Farrow’s book and podcast of the same name, Catch and Kill: The Podcast Tapes follows the investigation of Harvey Weinstein and explores the systems that protect powerful men accused of terrible crimes, expanding on the podcast and the book, with never-before-seen footage and new insights into this culture-shaking story.
With fresh perspectives and detail — not just on the harrowing effort to expose one powerful predator, but on the systems that help cover up terrible crimes to this day — there are revelations in this series that may surprise even those familiar with the reporting.
Where to watch it: BINGE