Remarkable documentaries expand our horizons, keep our brains active, and give us something to talk about. Still sceptical? Foxtel Now offers a strong selection.
There are plenty of ways to improve your knowledge. You can read a book. Take a class. Listen to a podcast. But if you only have a couple of hours on hand and want something to stimulate your brain, watching a documentary is both an enjoyable and productive way to spend the time.
A well-crafted feature will gauge your interest and challenge your way of thinking. There are plenty of amazing titles out there to get you started, but it can be difficult to pick one if you’re new to the genre. Luckily, Foxtel Now has some of the best. Here are ten thought-provoking docos, both standalones and series, that you can stream right now.
1. Crimes that Shook Australia
Year of release: 2013
Cast: Stan Grant, Matt Doran
If you’re a true crime fan, this series is unmissable. Each episode focuses on a particular crime and dives deep into what happened. Expect dramatic reenactments and archive footage, as well as interviews with witnesses or people close to the investigation – all in order to shine a light on some of the most horrific unlawful acts the country has ever seen.
In season three, for instance, the audience was exclusively shown the footage filmed by the police as they entered the infamous Snowtown bank vault. Besides, viewers can find out more about the events leading up to the crime itself, as well as learn what happened afterward. Crimes that Shook Australia is a dark and riveting series – the stuff of horror movies, only real.
2. Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath
This eye-opening documentary shines a spotlight on Scientology, the controversial church that Remini herself used to be a member of. The King of Queens star visits former Scientology members and interviews them about their experiences, all in order to discredit the church and reveal some of its practices.
At the same time, Remini is encouraging more disciples to flee, which makes the series incredibly compelling. The fact that the actress herself was a member gives the show more credibility and her strong screen presence is a plus. She appears to be a passionate and sincere crusader, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself totally immersed in the show.
3. LAWLESS: The Real Bushrangers
This fascinating doco series explores Australia's most iconic crimes from colonial times. It's full of stories about violent murders and mayhem – from the birth of the Ned Kelly legend to the violent death of Ben Hall. However, these events are often surrounded in mystery, which the series aims to tackle head-on.
A panel of experts complete with living descendants and led by journalist Mike Munro sets out to investigate the legends of these rebels using modern day science, in order to separate fact from fiction. Expect new evidence to come to light and some inconvenient truths to be revealed, as the team hopes to solve some of the most enduring mysteries in bushranging history. You’ve been warned.
4. Undercover High
There have been plenty of shows in recent years that have tried to investigate what high school is really like nowadays. Undercover High takes things to the next level. In an unprecedented social experiment, a group of young-looking adults in their early 20s are sent undercover for a semester inside one of America’s most distressed high schools, to figure out what issues teens are currently facing – including drugs, cyberbullying, teen pregnancy, and violence.
The undercover students work with teachers, administrators and the documentary crew, but their main purpose is to spend time as normal members of the student body. Besides learning more about high school problems, the series is also a fascinating look at how difficult and awkward it can be for adults to infiltrate a brand new high school community.
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5. Aussie Gold Hunters
This captivating series follows several hardcore crews of gold prospectors as they battle all manner of challenges while pursuing their dreams in the Australian Outback. Aussie Gold Hunters takes you deep into the remarkable world of gold mining in Western Australia, where the crews are putting everything on the line to change their fortune. The competition is fierce, with teams using their instinct and endurance to find gold in order to survive financially.
Besides the excitement of the competition, the series provides plenty of insights into the prospecting practice. Plus, it’s an emotional rollercoaster, as anything can (and probably will) go wrong at any minute. Add in the impressive landscapes and you’ve got yourself a hit.
6. The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst
Released in 2015, The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst remains one of HBO’s most acclaimed and groundbreaking docu-series. It’s basically a complex profile of Robert Durst, a wealthy New York real-estate heir who has been accused of three murders over three decades, but never convicted. Durst was arrested on first-degree murder charges the day before the series finale aired, which only made The Jinx even more popular.
Beautifully paced, the series is fascinating and slick. It’s more elegant than most true crime series out there, without failing to disturb and intrigue every step of the way. Stranger than fiction, The Jinx will mesmerize and horrify you in equal parts.
Buy The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst from iTunes from iTunes StoreView details
7. Beware the Slenderman
A true-life horror story for parents everywhere, Beware the Slenderman tackles the Slenderman stabbing, when two girls attempted to murder one of their friends to please a fictional monster. The documentary touches on the impact and origin of the Slenderman phenomenon, but is mainly focused on the crime and the court case that followed.
This isn’t an easy doco to sit through. The crew had access to the girls’ families, which makes Slenderman even more heartbreaking. Yet, it’s worth the watch, as it tries to make sense of the horrible crime. Children are extremely impressionable – and when they’re going through hardship they can take refuge in the darkest of places, both online and off. Hopefully, features like Beware the Slenderman will remind everyone that we should be paying more attention.
Buy Beware the Slenderman from iTunes from iTunes StoreView details
8. Arthur Miller: Writer
A documentary about the beloved American playwright of the same name, Arthur Miller: Writer is told from the unique perspective of his daughter Rebecca Miller, an award-winning filmmaker. It’s a loving portrait of a talented and complicated man that doesn’t shy away from exposing both his strengths and weaknesses.
The documentary includes in-depth interviews, personal photographs, and home movie-style footage. Miller interviewed her father and followed him with cameras for decades. She doesn’t ask particularly tough questions, but neither does she avoid the messier moments of his life. What results is a tender and fascinating look at a public intellectual's inner life.
9. Ghosts of Abu Ghraib
Ghosts of Abu Ghraib explores the events of the 2004 Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse scandal, one of the most distressing scandals of the war in Iraq. It’s a truly outstanding feature, as filmmaker Rory Kennedy investigates the context in which torture occurred from both a psychological and political standpoint.
The documentary includes interviews with witnesses and people directly implicated in the events. It doesn’t try to shock. Instead, it works hard to explain how such horrifying things can happen and what can lead someone to commit atrocious acts. Ghosts of Abu Ghraib is haunting and disturbing. It will stay with you long after the end credits roll.
10. Mommy Dead and Dearest
A traumatic and revealing story, Mommy Dead and Dearest is about the murder of Dee Dee Blancharde. Her daughter Gypsy, who suffered years of psychological and physical abuse, was accused of the crime. This was a sensational case that was almost surreal, since the daughter was basically held hostage by her mother from a young age, a casualty of a rare disorder called Munchausen by Proxy.
Filmmaker Erin Lee Carr became fascinated by the crime and the documentary, not recommended for the faint of heart, sheds new light on this devastating story. Mommy Dead and Dearest features home videos, interrogation-room clips, medical records, and in-person interviews with Gypsy to paint a comprehensive and bleak picture.
Buy Mommy Dead and Dearest from iTunes from iTunes StoreView details
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