‘Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief’
Released date: 2015 Length: 1hr 59mins Directed by: Alex Gibney
There are many documentaries that explore Scientology and as someone who finds it both fascinating and horrifying, this is the perfect documentary. While Louis Theroux’s documentary on Scientology-focused more on the comedic and absurd nature of the organisation, this documentary focuses far more on the danger of a mainstream cult. Not only is it one of the most polished documentaries I have ever seen, giving you equal facts and enjoyable visuals, the interviews are clear and emotional. This is definitely not a freak show, it is taken straight-faced and seriously, much as it should be. The star of the documentary I would argue by far is Jason Beghe, he is the most likable and enjoyable interviewee, having been in the church for far too many years, his straight forward and blunt approach to Scientology and reflections are incredibly enjoyable. I would recommend this documentary to someone who already has some ideas about Scientology, ‘Scientology and Me’ by BBC Panorama is a great introduction, although it will get your blood boiling. The length of this documentary, just short of 2 hours, is not going to feel like long enough. Granted I wish that this had simply been part 1 to a 2 part documentary, this is easily a subject that it could and has been documented for hours and hours. If after watching this documentary you wish to have a laugh to cheer yourself up I suggest you check out John Travolta’s box-office bomb ‘Battlefield Earth’, his adaptation of the Scientology founder, L.Ron Hubbard’s science fiction novel. 1 of 500 stories that he wrote. It is so awful it reminds you how ridiculous this religion is and can lighten up the darkness you just witnessed. This documentary is slick, expensive and damming, exactly what you want an expose to be, you will not be disappointed. It shall lead you down a rabbit hole…
‘The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive’
Release date: 2006 Length: 2hrs Directed by: Ross Wilson
This is a documentary following Stephen Fry and his lifelong battle with manic depression (now more commonly known as Bipolar Disorder). This is such an honest and raw portrayal of mental illness that is it refreshing, especially coming from the mouth of a national treasure like Stephen Fry, who we usually associate with wit and humour. Rather than try to create a documentary that is structured and more factual, this is far more natural and by being so, lets us see Fry in his depressive state, even at points refusing to film. It clears up exactly what he was doing when he famously disappeared, his attempted suicides and interviews the late Carrie Fisher and Robbie Williams with their battles. Rather than be a melancholic documentary it is actually more so inspiring, especially for those who know someone who has manic depression or wishes to get a closer insight. While the media aims to now portray bipolar disorder in the TV, you don’t get more real that the people’s accounts first hand. With his usual charismatic charm and splendid vocabulary, this is a brilliant gem of a documentary that makes you feel like you are talking to an old friend.
‘Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father’
Release date: 2008 Length: 1hr 35mins Directed by: Kurt Kuenne
This is the saddest and most heartbreaking documentary I have ever seen, I was already mad and emotional before the huge twist, then it happened and I was devastated. You have to try your hardest to avoid near all information about this documentary before you watch it if you want to get the full effect. The premise is pretty simple but upsetting in itself. A man is making a documentary about the murder of his friend, Andrew, committed by the friend’s ex-girlfriend. While going through the court case of his murder she reveals she is pregnant with her victim’s child. With the court showing leniency towards her, unfortunately, a frequent happening due to court gender bias, she is not given jail time for her crime. Now the friends and grandparents who wish to interact with the child must also come into contact with a killer to do so. This is not a happy documentary, it is equal parts infuriating and saddening, even sickening in some parts. The friends and family who are interviewed to speak about their murdered friend and son are so kind and sweet, their tears truly hurt your heart. The childhood footage and descriptions of Andrew are meant to be documented to show to his son, Zachary, when he is older, how much of a great man his father was, the father he was never able to meet. My suggestion is that when you watch this documentary you have something to do after, such as go out to dinner or have cinema date at the ready. This is not the type of documentary you want to sleep on, although you may cry yourself to sleep. Get the tissues ready, you will need them.
‘Super Size Me’
Release date: 2004 Length: 1hr 40mins Directed by: Morgan Spurlock
This is a pretty notorious documentary and the premise is very simple. Morgan, a relatively healthy man decides to explore the health consequences of eating solely McDonald’s for a month. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The consequences are so detrimental to his health that it is in part shocking whilst also unfortunately what you would expect fast food to do. This is a very funny documentary, but it eventually turns very sour when you begin to see Morgan slowly get sick and gain a huge amount of weight. His mood swings become worse, his skin breaks out, he has no motivation, depression sets in and overall he becomes a shadow of the happy man he was at the 2 minute mark. While this documentary has a very strong message, that being that America consumes a huge amount of food that has no nutrition but is cheap enough for the poor, it also is a look into the industry behind McDonald’s. From the law suits to the push to ‘supersize’your meal( a concept that UK has now removed from their menus), it is a look into consumerism and capitalism at its finest, all wrapped up in one Unhappy Meal.
‘BBC Geisha Girl’
Release date: 2006 Length: 58mins Directed by: Darren Conway
A short documentary following a 15 year old girl called Yukina, who has left school to become a professional Geisha. This is a lovely and charming documentary which documents the determination of someone so young to follow and achieve a dream that many of us would find borderline stiffing. The life of a geisha in Modern Japan requires a lot of rules, long hours, obedience and time. Yukina’s belief in herself and desire to achieve their one single goal is very admirable and many a time during my watching I found myself envious of how completely committed she was to a concept that I barely knew anything about. Her desires are very gracious, she wants to make others happy and learn the art behind being a Geisha to the best of her ability. No matter how many times her homesickness or failings occur, she always pushes through and makes the best of a bad situation. Whether you agree that she made the right choice by leaving home to young or not, she is a fascinating young girl who deserved an entire documentary to herself.
If you have watched any of these documentaries, let me know in the comment section!
Side photo credit: Flickr/ ‘geisha’ by Kate Neven