For some, history is just another boring subject they were taught in high school, and for others, it has riveting stories of warriors and foes with lessons for the future. Documentaries have played a pivotal role in depicting the rise and fall of empires, important events that changed the world, and several make-or-break moments in time. Here are the twelve best history documentaries for all the history buffs out there.
1. They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)
This 2018 documentary is about World War I, starring the people who experienced it firsthand. The compelling film will make you feel all emotions, leaving you with melancholy and dread. It really goes to show how the war was pointless and caused undue suffering, having no losers or winners. They Shall Not Grow Old highlights the stories of the soldiers through their lens.
2. The Act of Killing (2012)
Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, The Act of Killing is a heart-wrenching tale about the Indonesian mass killings that took place in 1965–66, which took the lives of one million people, destroying homes and families. But, what’s eerie about the documentary is that the director allowed the protagonist and his associates a chance to reenact their crimes in any way they wanted. It went as far as showcasing musicals about it that will haunt you forever.
3. 9/11 (2002)
There are several documentaries about the attacks that happened on 9/11, but one that stands out the most has been posted on YouTube by the Naudet Brothers. While they were initially supposed to film firefighters in New York, they caught the bombing happening on live camera, which led them to make it in the first place.
4. Crip Camp (2020)
This heartfelt film will leave you sobbing when you watch it completely. Talking about a camp for people with disabilities, Crip Camp showcases how a little community was developed to help people with needs feel safe and at home. A lot of these people grew up to become activists, advocating for rights for those with special needs, which became pivotal for the entire movement.
5. Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010)
Made back in 2010, Cave of Forgotten Dreams was featured in the Toronto International Film Festival. The story talks about age-old paintings dating as far back as a whopping 32,000 years. It highlights vital scientists and historians who analyze these art pieces, explaining their background and meaning, making it an exciting watch.
6. The Civil War (1990)
One of the most significant events in American history is exceptionally portrayed in the Civil War documentary, highlighting various letters and diaries from that time. From what happened to how it left a lasting impact on the ordinary man to the aftermath, this film covers it briefly, making it a moving narrative for viewers to enjoy.
7. The Architecture of Doom (1989)
A fantastic and mind-bending addition to the list of some of the most prestigious history films is The Architecture of Doom, which talks about Adolf Hitler’s ideology of Socialism. Hitler firmly believed in creating a superior race, and this documentary analyzes and disassembles all its components to present a new perspective on his actions.
8. Man with a Movie Camera (1929)
A tale of optimism and hope, Man with a Movie Camera encapsulates the beauty of life in the Soviet Union. What makes this so unique is that the entire film is silent, and it is through the sheer power of storytelling that the audience can experience what is happening. This notable documentary uses various editing techniques, making it stand out among others.
9. Paris Is Burning (1990)
Following the ball culture amongst the transgender and queer African-Americans and Latinos communities in New York City, Paris Is Burning shows dance, stunning costumes, and lip-syncs that were common among the communities. It follows the story of a black drag queen whose closet was discovered with a corpse by the police. It’s a fascinating story that you should add to your bucket list.
10. There’s Something Wrong with Aunt Diane (2011)
For anyone interested in mental health and media, There’s Something Wrong with Aunt Diane is a must-watch. It follows the story of a woman named Diane Schuler, who experienced an accident, which led to her passing away and taking seven other lives with her. What makes it unique is that it talks about how the media tried to make it out to be an accident under the influence; however, it might have been a mental breakdown that unfolded.
11. The Dust Bowl (2012)
To mark an environmental catastrophe in the 30s, Ken Burns made this documentary to show the extent of damage caused and what continued ignorance will lead to in the future. Millions of acres of farmland were wrecked, and thousands were forced to leave their homes as we destroyed native prairie grasses with poor farming practices. It opens your eyes to making active changes in the way you operate.
12. The War on Terror (2021)
On the popular streaming website Netflix, The War On Terror is a bit controversial as it tackles the US invasions following the attacks on September 11. Though the topic is sensitive, and many critics have been quick to advocate for the other side, this film talks about the overthrowing of the Taliban Regime in Afghanistan from an American point of view. It got people talking about the issues, making it a phenomenal masterpiece.
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