Above all things, the internet is as close as humans get to creating the infinite. It is glorious. It is hideous. And it is the perfect mirror for our own imperfect minds: vast, largely unknown, its usage restricted by habits, sometimes by physical defects – and increasingly by a clampdown on civil liberty…
…Yes. The internet is also the Internet, with a capital I, like the Universe. It’s home to our realities, our escapes, our research…. our one massive, worldwide, freaky, delicate, porn-wealthy… library. In keeping with the recent movements by M.I.T., the University of California, TEDTalks; who’re all altruistically making courses available for free online (Computational linguistics as a hobby, anyone? Pure maths? C’maaaan!), here are some the best free documentaries I’ve seen online. Enjoy them before some big oligarch takes them down. So: student? Home sick? Unemployed? Bored? Here y’are: through the powers of YouTube, Vimeo, and a tasteful eye = The Best Free Documentaries On The Internet. And maybe you’ll find loads more that aren’t even on this list.
10. Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead (Indie, Reboot Media online *& now available on Netflix as of Jan 2013) Been unhealthy lately? Need a huge kick up the backside? Let Joe Cross’ less-mainstream-than-Morgan-Spurlock style take you on a hugely informative journey of a very personal and sometimes, political body transformation. This film reveals a lot more than the motivation behind losing weight…
9. Underworld: Mexican Drug War (National Geographic)* Cartels! Nat Geo TV! Tijuana! Overdramatic! American voiceover! Constant background music! Silly editing! But if you can put up with all this, the doc isn’t too bad at all – I’ve definitely seen worse guff about fucking traffic lights on ITV4. From a filmmaker’s point of view, the Underworld series is absolutely fantastic at least in terms of the access to the subject matter. You really do get to see the ‘Underworld’ as promised. This would make for a quality UK Dispatches remake mekhinks.
*[ youtube = no longer available ] So try the BBC’s version/remake… here:
If this is your kind of thing, you might want ot check out the 2007 ‘Gangland’ series from the History Channel too.
8. The Archers of Bhutan Discovery Channel in its styling, History Channel in its narration: this is actually a rather good, although small, insight into the Bhutan’s way of maintaining its archery heritage in a remarkably less violent culture than in years previous.
Interestingly, the best archer of the country is female – a world away from the country’s traditions and future Olympic hope for the nation.
7. The Cannibal Warlords of Liberia (VICE, online) Catchy title. Incredibly informative, ridiculously fantastic camera-work, non-exploitative honest journalism. Further proof that VICE really deserves to have its (non-pervy) documentaries in mainstream TV broadcast. I used to bang on about this televisual injustice until I went blue in the face, and then I went blue in the face, and everyone thought, oh Jane’s just one of those blue-faced VICE-obsessives.
A less-than-expected VICE guide to Liberia. And strangely recommended by Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead on YouTube.
6. David Icke: Was He Right? (five, UK) An interest in David Icke is an early 2000s rite of passage, particularly for Muse fans… (This documentary is a TV-rip from Channel 5 in the UK so excuse the quality.) Here, the film attempts to take a look into the man behind the eerily-congruent world of David Icke, the former BBC sports journalist who is one of the world’s most famous and now an Oxford Debating Society-approved conspiracy theorist and writer.
Turns out David’s a really lovely and smart human being, actually.
7. The Undefeated (Cinema) Classic black and white UK film uncovered from the BAFTA archives of 1949. Truly heartwarming film about people who became disabled after the two World Wars.
6. 7-Up series (BBC, ITV) It would’ve been so lame to have 7-Up as number 7 on the list. Anyway: another TV-rip! I hope no-one with the power to withdraw these clips finds out that they’re on YouTube. The 7-Up series was revolutionary in its day, and a real TV psychology event – kind of like Big Brother, only with a point to it. 🙂 7-Up was broadcast on BBC and ITV; and followed British children in 1964, when they were -yep- 7 years old, then again as they grew up. The whole documentary took 49 years (talk about a long-running series!) to produce just 8 episodes. But boy, 8 episodes of unforgettable, tearjerking, genuinely evocative programming.
5. The Nature Of Things (CBC) Canadians might cringe at me for this, but it is awesome and when the powers-that-be keep showering the team behind this series with tonnes of awards…you watch and figure hey, rightly so. Dr David Suzuki is the Sir David Attenborough of science documentary. This particular #tnot episode on CBC is called ‘Changing Your Mind’ and looks at neuroplasticity – a new concept in neuroscience which examines the way the experience can actually change the physical shape and formation of our brain. It even gives you tips on how to be less crazy. Awesome. And mind-blowing…
Basically: chill out. You’re human. And if you’re lucky enough to be reading this, you *can* change your mind/life.
4. Lions: Spy In The Den (BBC) FINALLY! A BBC wildlife documentary no-one’s taken down yet. So watch this quick; don’t tell anyone! Ssshhh! Lions and lionesses close-up. AND LION CUBS…. AWWWWWWWWW
45 minutes of extreme meowwwwwwwRAWR.
3. China From The Inside (PBS) Weirdly, a Granada production for PBS. ‘nough said. Brilliant, brilliant documentary. I really wish PBS and UK broadcasters traded with each other more often, I might learn something y’see. Below is part 1 from a 4-part series that looks at modern China in relation to society, power, women, the ecosystem and its idea of freedom.
Called ‘The Power and the People’. NB: Check out Wu Qing from Beijing’s People’s Congress in the film. Everything she says is just pure wisdom.
2. The Secret Life of The Manic Depressive (BBC) Stephen Fry. Psychology. BBC documentary. A personal story. Those reasons alone are enough to want to watch. And yet The Secret Life ends up being so much more personal than we all expected. This documentary takes a searing look at Fry’s experience of the mental health illness, revealing a shocking fragility which lies beneath the surface of an incredibly intelligent and seemingly calm man. Fry’s journey into meds, support groups, personal accounts of manic episodes and celeb-friends who suffer from mental illness is one that’s worth watching the whole way through. This is just really, really beautiful: a story well-told, and a documentary that’s gorgeously filmed. Guaranteed to make 99% of people cry, even after repeats.
A documentary which serves to reduce the stigma behind mental health illness. Brave, touching – long-awaited. This is the stuff of BAFTAs. Cheers Beeb.
1. The Century Of Self, by Adam Curtis (BBC) Probably my all-time favourite documentary filmmaker, and TCOF is my all-time favourite documentary series. The mind boggles as to why they won’t pop his work onto LoveFilm and Netflix; although some would argue it’s an acquired taste. Curtis is a fan of montage, non-diegetic sound and bold fonts; reminiscent of Situationism and Dada-esque juxtaposition. I could deffo fap more over his stuff but I won’t. The Century of Self takes a very deep and interesting look at the Freud family, the history of consumerism and the commodification of, well everything we understand as desirable today. If you want to know why we can’t resist brands; why Freud is so popular and how cigarettes became popular in the firstplace (amongst a myriad of questions concerning sociology post 1920), you need to watch this. Check his work out for free on Vimeo before the feds clamp-down on it!
Best documentary ever. Don’t forget to click on the links at the side for the other 3 hours! Part 2: 10 Documentaries That Distributors *Should* Make Free For The Good Of Humanity/’That’ll Nearly Learn Ya!’