TOP 10 HEART BREAKING DOCUMENTARIES

  1. Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008, Kurt Kuenne). 

IMDB 8.6/10 – ROTTEN TOMATOES 94% – METACRITIC 82%

This film is the most emotionally compelling film I have ever seen. The amateur filmmaker Kurt Kuenne, tells his best friend, Andrew Bagby’s, story in such a way that you cannot help but burst into tears. The tears will keep on flowing throughout the entire film and by the end, you will be confused by your conflicting emotions. This documentary makes you angry and sad in ways that I never thought I could feel from a film. His best friends grief and anger can be felt through the camera’s lens. We too share Kurt’s emotional journey through this tragic and heart-wrenching story. I would highly recommend this documentary, I sometimes still think about the story and cannot believe that it actually happened. I am truly grateful to Kurt for sharing this story under the emotional turbulence he must have been feeling throughout the stories progression.

2. The Crash Reel (2013, Lucy Walker)

IMDB 8.2/10 – ROTTEN TOMATOES 96% – METACRITIC 79%

On the surface, this film appears to be a typical RedBullMediaHouse film seeking to portray the amazing sport of snowboarding. However, although the snowboard may appear to be the protagonist. Rather, the beating heart of this film revolves around a family who maintain strength and loyalty throughout an extremely unexpected accident. The Pearce family experience a shock when their son Kevin Pearce suffers a brain injury at just 20-years old whilst snowboarding. Director, Lucy Walker, exhibits Kevin’s struggle to overcome his injury whilst also dealing with his constant eagerness to return to the sport that nearly killed him. It is this struggle that the Pearce family suffer as a unit as opposed to just Kevin. Walkers film feels therapeutic for Kevin, the Pearce family and the viewer. However, the struggle for Kevin to face the reality of his current state is truly difficult to watch.

3. Which Way Is The Front Line From Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington (2013, Sebastian Junger)

IMDB 7.8/10 – ROTTEN TOMATOES 100% – METACRITIC 80%

This documentary keeps you on the edge throughout. It documents the life and brilliant work of Tim Hetherington. His family, fellow colleagues and partner speak in testimonies about their experiences of Tim which makes his premature death all the more tragic. It is clear that he was passionate about photography and his photographs present the infinite layers of emotional turmoil buried in the climate of war.

The tragic irony behind Tim’s story is that he and another filmmaker had made a war documentary Restrepo (2010) which documented American soldiers during the war in Iraq. This documentary was directed by Hetherington’s collaborator for Restrepo who is also a war journalist. Thus, the documentary takes on a life of its own, we watch Tim laugh with children, sing with comrades and cry over the deaths of those who photographs. Junger truly exemplifies through the life of Tim the heartache of documenting the war. This documentary is saddening but also a celebration and eulogy of the brilliant journalist and photographer Hetherington was and still is.

4. The Look of Silence (2014,  Joshua Oppenheimer)

IMDB 8.3/10 -ROTTEN TOMATOES 96% – METACRITIC 92%

The Look of Silence follows on from Oppenheimer’s previous film The Act of Killing (2012). This time Oppenheimer seeks to unveil any form of guilt felt from the perpetrators or bystanders of the atrocities that took place during the 1960’s Indonesian genocide. We follow Adi, whose brother was brutally murdered for being a communist in 1965. Adi’s parents along with other families whose loved ones were murdered live in silence and fear. Oppenheimer at times pushes boundaries, he plays up to the cocky murderer’s ego in order to gain any kind of insight into why and how they did such things to other humans. In one scene Adi bravely sits with the family members of a renowned murderer during the 1960’s. The whole scene becomes disorienting as Adi is calmly sat pleading with them to face up to what they had done. It is Adi’s vulnerability and bravery to speak out that makes this documentary difficult to comprehend and digest. Similar to Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah (1985) the perpetrators never reveal their true thoughts on such an evil subject matter.

5. Gleason (2016, Jay.Clay Tweel) 

IMDB 8.3/10 – ROTTEN TOMATOES 96% – METACRITIC 80%

Gleason conveys the true gritty reality of living and dying of ALS. This brave documentary drags us into the scary world of former NFL football player Steve Gleason, his wife and their child. We watch the documentary unravel and the once buff and energetic Gleason deteriorates before our eyes. However, his spirit and motivations to help create awareness for ALS grow and grow and we begin to see a new type of man evolve throughout the course of the film. The most devastating aspect of the film comes from Steve’s testimonial moments when he whispers into the camera about his fears and also shares his most intimate thoughts, all of which are documented for his child. Gleason’s wife plays a huge part in the documentary and we watch the disease also take its toll on her too, this for me was the saddest part of the film and yet also the bravest as the family emotionally strip bare to present the reality of living with ALS.

6.  Shoah (1985, Claude Lanzmann)

IMDB 8.4/10- ROTTEN TOMATOES 4/4- METACRITIC 99%

Shoah is a multi-layered film which ensures we are given every perspective of the tragic Nazi Holocaust. Lanzmann spent 10 years making the documentary and to this day Shoah still remains one of the most powerful and informative pieces of media journalism about the Holocaust. Shoah is a little over 9 hours in length, however, this time frame is split over four parts. Lanzmann gains testimonies from ex-Nazi perpetrators, bystanders such as the Polish farmers and those who were the remaining Jewish survivors. This documentary can be understood as archiving and capturing the true essence and horror that was the Holocaust. Lanzmann’s ability to take each interviewee back to the very moment they are describing is encouraged through his clever staging and recreation of the events from the Holocaust. This type of interview style is found in documentaries whereby the interviewer seeks to prompt the interviewee to relive the past and thus convey their true emotions regarding the atrocities that took place. In one particular scene, Lanzmann encourages a Jewish survivor who was working as a prisoner within Auschwitz to recreate the movement of cutting hair, as he had cut the hair of his friend’s mother, sister and wife before their deaths. This very moment the Jewish male cannot contain his emotions, for the very movements of using the scissors cause him to emotionally breakdown. Therefore Shoah is a documentary that captures moments we as viewers would rather look away from.

7. Night and Fog (1956, Alain Resnais)

IMDB 8.6/10 – ROTTEN TOMATOES 100%

Just like Shoah, Night and Fog explore the atrocities of the Nazi Holocaust. The documentary was directed by French filmmaker Alain Resnais. Resnais shocks and horrifies through his choice of images and footage to convey the bleak reality that took place within the camps. The curation of the images is presented in a way that replicates the likes of Nazi propaganda films, similarly, the ominous voiceover also reads in a monotone pitch, emotionless leaving the reels of torturous footage and horrifying imagery to tell the tragic story on their own. This documentary leaves a haunting trace on an event that was attempted to be kept untraceable by the perpetrators.

8. McConkey  (2013, Scott Gaffney, David Zieff, Murray Wais, Rob Bruce, Steve Winter and Rob Bruce)

IMDB 8.3/10 – ROTTEN TOMATOES 100%-METACRITIC 68%

McConkey tells the story of high school drop out Shane McConkey who through his exceptional talent of skiing learns to curve his enthusiasm into pushing the sport further. We see through home footage recordings and real-time videos the life os McConkey and how he subconsciously affected those he met. With ever-growing fame and sponsorships, McConkey pushes the boundaries of the sport to extremes. Alongside this sport/biography documentary, we learn of McConkey’s other love, his wife and best friend Sherry who clearly also has a love of the sport her husband pursues. The film quickly turns to focus predominantly on the emotional aspects of McConkey’s life and unravels into a story about a premature loss.

9. All This Mayhem (2014, Eddie Martin)

IMDB  8/10 – ROTTEN TOMATOES 100%

All This Mayhem begins as an optimistic and seemingly upbeat film. However, this soon changes and the film quickly becomes dark and sombre including themes such as scandalous behaviour, drugs, prostitution, arrest and murder. The two brothers documented exemplify the cost of fame and the ways in which drugs, in particular, can destruct a person’s life. We learn of the skate scene in Australia and America and come to realise that the two brothers discussed had a great talent for skating, again, like other sport/biopic the cost of sponsorship, recognition and girl attention causes for a tragic story to unravel. This tragic story throws you off track whilst watching the film to the point of disbelief.

10. Newtown (2016, Kim.A.Synder)

IMDB 6.2/10 – ROTTEN TOMATOES 93%-METACRITIC 87%

Newtown documents the mass shooting of 20 elementary school children and 6 teaching staff at Sandy Hook elementary school. As one can only imagine, the film is drenched in sorrow and grief. When watching the conflicting emotions of empathy for the parents and anger towards the shooter coincide. Similarly, the parents of the deceased children present their conflicting emotions. Thus, the film becomes a eulogy for the poor children killed that day but also an advocation for anti-gun laws. Several parents who lost their children are followed on their journey to speak out against the gun laws and attempt to enforce a bill that ensures that all gun purchasers must have a background check. This documentary delves deep to present the everlasting grief the parents will endure but also their power and strength as a unity to change the law for others in America. This documentary is a testament to the parents who bravely attempt to take on the law in memory of their children.

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