Documentaries! Documentaries Everywhere!

I’ve got to say, I’m really loving the documentaries that have been popping up on Netflix. I’ve already watched The Great Hack and Knock Down the House, which were both brilliantly done.

If you haven’t seen them, The Great Hack follows the exposé on how data is being used to influence elections, and whistleblowers surrounding Cambridge Analytica. I have a longer review of it, here. Knock Down the House follows four young progressive politicians in the United States who ran for Congress in 2018. If you like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or followed her campaign at all, this film focuses on her as well as Amy Vilela, Cori Bush and Paula Jean Swearengin. Even knowing how the campaigns end, it’s still very much worth a watch. I have such respect for these women and how they’ve handled themselves. Very inspiring documentary.

In the same vein is The Social Dilemma. It’s half documentary, half re-enactment, and both sides are enthralling to watch. The interviews with former leaders at Google, Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and more besides, shine a light on just how greatly social media and advertising have come to influence the world around us, even when we don’t realise it.

These interviews are complemented by a fictional modern family obsessed with technology, whose youngest daughter is being bullied online while the son is being drawn into extremism via advertising and propaganda. Skyler Gisondo plays the son and I loved his performance. (Still sad about Santa Clarita Diet ending, boo urns.) Vincent Kartheiser as the three AIs was also brilliant.

In a totally different genre of documentaries, I also recommend Explained and Dark Tourist. Explained is really cool, because it’s basically a bunch of mini documentaries. I think each one’s about 20 minutes, but they pack a lot of information in. You get episodes on topics ranging from monogamy to the gender pay gap to meat consumption. I definitely recommend checking them out! There’s also a three-part one on Covid-19.

Dark Tourist, on the other hand, is an eight episode documentary series hosted by New Zealand journalist David Farrier. I’d never actually heard of dark tourism until I watched this. I like my vacations to be fun and relaxing, but there’s a side of tourism that apparently leans towards scaring the absolute life out of yourself. Fun? Apparently. Decidedly not for me, though.

Farrier goes first to Latin America. He visits Medellín and meets people who once ran with Pablo Escobar and now make YouTube videos and run tours and role playing adventures based around their own experiences. In another episode, Farrier goes to Japan and visits Fukushima, which is still intensely radioactive and is basically a ghost town now. After Fukushima, he goes to a robot hotel, where robots basically run the whole place. (Seriously, the talking robots freaked me out so much! I don’t think I could have turned off the lights in a room full of robots.)

In a later episode, he also goes to the Semipalatinsk Test Site in Kazakhstan which was the scene of nuclear tests throughout the Cold War. At one point he swims in the lake of a crater that formed from nuclear blasts. (The group he’s with also eat the fish from the pond.) I did find the part where he goes to see the space shuttle take off really cool.

Two of the episodes focus on dark tourism in the United States. The haunted house one was particularly unsettling to watch. Signing up to be berated and terrified is not something I understand. Nor did I understand the serial killer tours he goes on. Um, no, thank you.

Despite some of the seriously unsettling/downright alarming things he finds, what I really liked about the whole series was Farrier’s method of letting the locations and visitors guide the documentary. He’s a very laid-back, likeable journalist and doesn’t overwhelm the focus of the documentary, which I prefer.

Has anyone seen any of these? Got any documentaries to recommend?

Documentary/Docudrama Reviews: Official Secrets (2019) & The Great Hack (2019)

Official Secrets is a truly important film that focuses on 2003, just before the invasion of Iraq. It’s a docudrama (real news footage is interspersed with the film) that follows Katharine Gun, played by Keira Knightley. (Seriously, when is Keira Knightley not perfection??) An employee at GCHQ, Katharine Gun learned via email that the USA sought to acquire intelligence on other nations who might oppose the war. Horrified of the outcome and the impending death toll, Gun brings the document to her friend, an antiwar activist, who then leaks it to The Observer.

The film also focuses on her relationship with her husband, an immigrant to the UK, and how he was impacted by her choices. Needless to say, I cried a few times. The real Katharine Gun also apparently really liked the film and it’s been praised for its accuracy. If you’re curious about this one, it should be available on Amazon Prime.

I followed Official Secrets with The Great Hack, which is available on Netflix. If you haven’t heard about the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal, this documentary delves into the extent to which members of FB and CA used peoples’ personal information to directly target them to drive elections. If you’ve seen Snowden (or followed the Edward Snowden case), it’s very similar, just as disturbing, and remains prevalent to this day.

The main players in the documentary are Carole Cadwalladr, David Carroll, Christopher Wylie and Brittany Kaiser. These last two are former employees of CA who eventually come forward to discuss their role in the events that followed, especially the 2016 election in the USA and the Brexit referendum in the UK. As with Official Secrets, none of the information was new to me, but seeing it play out is quite shocking and being reminded of the extent of it is always a punch to the gut.

Both of these films are well worth a watch and focus on extremely important moments in recent history. It’s imperative that we don’t forget the atrocities in our world and how often human rights have been ignored in the face of power, money, greed, politics and war.

I recommend these films to everyone, but perhaps have cartoons on standby to watch afterwards. They’re tough to get through.