Documentaries, perhaps contrary to popular belief, make up some of the most amazing films out there. In recent years, the genre has become more popular than ever. Even regular television shows have adopted the documentary format to create “mockumentaries,” allowing characters to break the fourth wall through talking directly to a ‘cameraman’. Indeed, the undeniably popular reality TV industry reflects a desire to probe the true private lives of individuals. But documentaries are not only good for their entertainment value. Often, they’re inspiring, scary, educational and informative. In 2006 for example, former Vice President Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth won an Academy Award and clocked in at the 9th highest grossing documentary film to date in the United States. That Johnny Knoxville’s documentary franchise Jackass is perhaps equally well-known only shows the extreme versatility and reliable variety of documentary filmmaking.
Documentaries can serve several different purposes. In the past decade documentary movies have played an exceedingly, undeniably important role not only in providing viewing pleasure, but also in finding compelling ways to address some of our world’s most pressing issues, bringing them to the fore. Gracefully treading the line between humor and seriousness, Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me detailed a war of attrition between Morgan and McDonalds; he vowed to eat exclusively from the franchise for a month straight, and charted his deteriorating health while doing so. A few years later, Food Inc took a shocking look into America’s corporate controlled food industry. Michael Moore’s Bowling For Columbine discussed the Columbine shootings and gun control in America, an issue that has, if anything, become more and more disturbing and relevant in recent years.
Though admittedly they contain less global import, many lighter pop culture documentaries have also gained renown and have become some of the most successful and memorable documentary films. Pop culture documentaries allow for the genre’s format and style to reach younger (and, let’s face it, some slightly older) viewers. For instance, the documentary / live concert film “This is Us” featuring British boy band One Direction grossed over $28 million in theaters! Similarly, Justin Bieber’s documentary which followed his concert tour in 2011 grossed a staggering $99,036,827, and is the highest grossing music concert movie since 1984.
The following documentaries, however, are not quite as well known as some of the most popular films mentioned above – but they’re much more fascinating than many. These five films offer a tiny taste of some of the strange and wonderful documentary films out there, which depict some of the more bizarre facets of human nature, appealing to our inherent propensity for voyeurism while proving that fact is often stranger than fiction.
5. I Think We’re Alone Now (2008)
“I Think We’re Alone Now” is an unforgettable if untraditional documentary about the extremes of celebrity obsession. It focuses on two individuals who say they are passionately in love with the 80’s pop singer Tiffany Darwish (she of the classic cheesy hit, “I Think We’re Alone Now”). One is 50-year-old Jeff Turner from Santa Cruz, California, who has attended Tiffany concerts since 1988. He has Asperger’s syndrome and confesses to never having had a girlfriend. The other fanatic is Kelly McCornik, a 35- year-old intersex person from Denver, Colorado, who claims to have been friends with Tiffany as a teenager. Both Kelly and Jeff have been labeled stalkers by the media and other Tiffany fans. This film takes its audience inside the complex lives of these two people; it is an exploration of obsession, loneliness, and, ultimately, love – even if it may be unrequited.
4. Talhotblonde (2009)
This documentary tells of an Internet love triangle that escalated out of control, resulting in murder. Convicted murderer Thomas Montgomery, a 47-year-old married man, pleaded guilty to the murder of his 22-year-old coworker Brian Barrett. The violence stemmed from both mens’ obsession with an 18 year old female Jessie – AKA ‘talhotblonde’, her screen name. Neither men knew Jessie in person; their entire ‘romance’ stemmed only from Internet chatrooms and communications online. With plenty of interesting plot twists, this documentary provides a disturbing look at the ease with which people can construct internet personas, many of which can be dangerously misleading.
3. Girl Model (2011)
Girl Model follows two women involved in the modeling industry; specifically, the industry that connects models from Siberia to Tokyo to find work. Ashley is a deeply ambivalent model scout whose job is to find fresh faces with potential for the Japanese market. Nadya is a the young 13-year-old girl from Siberia who has been scouted and selected to join the Japanese market, and is dropped into the center of Tokyo to begin her career. Though Ashley and Nadya rarely interact after the initial scouting, their stories complement one another. Nadya is optimistic about the prospect of success, by which she hopes to help her family through financial difficulties. Ashley, however, has a more jaded outlook on the industry; she wonders about its often deceiving and potentially destructive influence on these young girls. This is an unforgiving and philosophical look at the underlying ills of the modelling industry.
2. The American Scream (2012)
This kooky documentary film surveys “home haunters” in the suburban town of Fairhaven, Massachusetts, which claims some of the most ambitious and creepy haunted houses in the world. The “haunters” have devoted their lives to the art of constructing haunted houses with extremely elaborate outdoor displays. These people spend all year round working on their projects, despite the often serious financial undertakings. The film follows three specific families in these spooky endeavors, all of whom provide interesting stories and insights into their lifestyle. This seems like an unlikely topic of interest, but viewers will be surprised and maybe even inspired by the passion of these individuals.
1. The Imposter (2012)
The Imposter is a documentary film about the 1997 case of Frenchman Frederic Bourdin, who impersonated Nicholas Barclay – a boy who disappeared from his hometown of San Antonio, Texas in 1994 at the age of 13. The film centers on Boudin, who claims that he is 16-year-old Nicholas who had been missing for 3 years. Many people – including officials in Spain and the US – believed Bourdin despite the fact that he was seven years older than Barclay, spoke with a French accent, and had brown eyes and dark hair in contrast to Barclay’s blonde hair and blue eyes. The documentary includes interviews with Bourdin himself as well as with members of Barclay’s family, television news footage, and reenacted dramatic scenes. If that doesn’t sound crazy enough for you, just wait for the twists! This one is a fascinating take on the power of hope, denial and one man’s unflinching ability to exploit another’s vulnerability.