Summer Doc Roundup

I’m a longtime documentary lover. I used to gorge on them, attending the early years of the now well established Hot Docs documentary festival in Toronto and volunteering on its pre-selection jury. In my film production days, I worked on making documentaries too; one of my most memorable experiences was travelling to Prince Edward Island to film a biography of Anne of Green Gables author Lucy Maud Montgomery.

Over the last decade my doc-watching has waned, in favour of absorbing dramatic series like The Sopranos and Dexter, or more recently, Breaking Bad, House of Cards and Orange is the New Black. Simply put, I’ve let documentaries slide.

Subscribing to Netflix has brought new documentary inspiration, despite its rather limited collection. (My guess is that the lack of doc selection is related to the smaller selection of titles in Canada overall, but I don’t know for sure.)

Here are a week’s worth of docs you might like to check out:

  1. Tig – comedian Tig Notaro shares her compelling journey, making us laugh even while she takes us through a series of personal tragedies.
  2. Pink Ribbons, Inc. – thought-provoking look at the breast-cancer fundraising industry, and all the contradictions and complexity that lie within. A National Film Board of Canada classic.
  3. Erasing Hate – follows a former white supremacist as he goes through a long process to remove the hate-filled tattoos that cover his body. Touching, despite the “voice of God”-style narration that I’m not a fan of.
  4. An Honest Liar – layered biography of James “The Amazing” Randi, who I never realized was born and grew up in Canada. Moving and nuanced portrayal of a man who’s devoted his life to debunking “paranormal and pseudoscientific claims.”
  5. The English Surgeon – a British neurosurgeon helps a colleague in Ukraine handle difficult cases, many of whose brain tumours could have been cured had they been diagnosed and treated sooner. Made me appreciate working in a field where the decisions are never life-or-death.
  6. Miss Representation – compelling analysis of women’s portrayal in pop culture and media, and how it affects, reflects, and shapes political and societal reality.

Do you have a favourite documentary, whether classic or recent?