My nonfiction nerding knows no bounds, so I’m glad there are no limits to this week’s Nonfiction November prompt, which is focused on nontraditional nonfiction. The only thing is…I may be skipping the reading part. Along with podcasts and many other forms of nonfiction, I can’t get enough when it comes to documentaries. Earlier this year, I paired some of my favorite docs (like The Weather Underground and After Tiller) with some of my favorite nonfiction titles, but I’m going to use this chance to gush about a few more.
Dear Zachary (Netflix)
I’m putting this one first because it’s best to get the tough stuff out of the way. I’ve seen this movie multiple times and it never fails to leave me in a pile of sobbing mess. There’s a reason it’s the second highest rated documentary on Netflix (right behind Man on Wire, which is also great).
In 2001, 28-year-old Dr. Andrew Bagby is found dead in a park in Pennsylvania. He had been shot by his ex-girlfriend, who then fled to Canada, where she was able to walk free on bail, pregnant with Andrew’s child. Andrew’s enraged parents campaign to gain custody of the child and convict their son’s killer. Filmmaker Kurt Kuenne pairs this story with home movies and interviews with those who knew Andrew, hoping to give his best friend’s son an opportunity to discover who his dad was.
You’ll need something fun after watching Dear Zachary, and King of Kong is it. Even if you don’t like or don’t care about video games, this is a fantastic documentary. Steve Wiebe is the world’s best underdog and phew, that Billy Mitchell is some kind of evil cartoon character in human clothing.
Named “Video Game Player of the Century” in 1999, Billy Mitchell sets a record score in Donkey Kong that many felt would never be broken. In 2003 Steve Wiebe, who has recently lost his job, learns about the record, sets out to beat it and does. So both men embark on a cross-country battle for inclusion in the 2007 Guinness Book of World Records as the supreme king of the electronic game.
Ugh, this movie will just make you FEEL GOOD, you guys. You will want to hug people and tell them it will be okay. Maybe you will cry (I cried).
Searching for Sugar Man tells the incredible true story of Rodriguez, the greatest ’70s rock icon who never was. Discovered in a Detroit bar in the late ’60s by two celebrated producers struck by his soulful melodies and prophetic lyrics, they recorded an album which they believed would secure his reputation as the greatest recording artist of his generation. In fact, the album bombed and the singer disappeared into obscurity amid rumors of a gruesome on-stage suicide. But a bootleg recording found its way into apartheid South Africa and, over the next two decades, he became a phenomenon. The film follows the story of two South African fans who set out to find out what really happened to their hero.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Netflix)
Werner Herzog has made like 1,300 movies and nearly all of them are brilliant, but this is the one that makes me googly-eyed. I can totally understand people who aren’t super into history getting a little sleepy by halfway through, but just seeing the cave drawings for a few minutes is totally worth the price of admission (which is free, by the way, if you have Netflix).
Cave of Forgotten Dreams follows an exclusive expedition into the nearly inaccessible Chauvet Cave in France, home to the most ancient visual art known to have been created by man. It’s an unforgettable cinematic experience that provides a unique glimpse of the pristine artwork dating back to human hands over 30,000 years ago – almost twice as old as any previous discovery.