We love our documentaries here at Average Joes. And with streaming services taking over our TVs more than ever, we’ve put together some of the best documentaries around on Netflix, BBC iPlayer and YouTube. There are naturally some absolute classics around, but we’ve tried to keep things as recent as possible.
One of the most recent additions to Netflix is Icarus, Bryan Fogel’s incredible tale of the state-sponsored Russian doping scandal. Like many a great documentary, Icarus began life as something very different. A keen cyclist, Fogel couldn’t understand why he was so far behind his rivals in the prestigious Haute Route, the Tour de France for amateurs. Eager to prove how simple it is for cyclists to evade the doping rules, he hired experts to help, including the head of Russia’s anti-doping agency, Grigory Rodchenkov. During his interviews, Rodchenkov lets slip that Russian athletes were systematic and methodically doping, and it was orchestrated by Putin’s state. Rodchenkov fears for his life and flees to the US, all the while Fogel has the inside line. While the Russian revelations have taken the Icarus headlines, the real question should be, ‘how easy is it for the world’s sporting superstars to cheat?’ A pertinent, chilling thought.
HyperNormalisation (BBC iPlayer)
Made by legendary documentarian Adam Curtis, HyperNormalisation is like nothing you’ll ever see. Exploring how the uncertain world we live in has come to pass, Curtis draws parallels from the later years of Soviet Russia, arguing that our system is failing while citing the US’ foreign policy in the Middle East, through to the technical revolution and the rise of Donald Trump. It’s long and unsettling but our world seems to make more sense after HyperNormalisation, and it’s scarier than you can imagine.
With the current political climate stateside and given recent events, the 13th might just be the most important documentary you watch all year. This Netflix original doc explores the US and its history with racial inequality. Titled after the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution which freed slaves and abolished slavery, the documentary shows how African Americans are disproportionately affected by the country’s prison system while demonstrating how money is being made by large corporations from the incarcerations.
Free to Play (YouTube)
One for the gamers out there, Valve Software’s Free to Play tells the story of professional gamers competing at the very first Dota 2 International tournament, at the time the most lucrative eSports tournament ever played. While it’s about gaming, this doc is for everyone – and you certainly don’t need to know a jot about Dota 2. Quite simply, it’s a brilliant watch and it’s also absolutely free on YouTube.
Get Me Roger Stone (Netflix)
While HyperNormalisation is essential viewing if you want to understand the climate surrounding Trump’s unimaginable rise to prominence, Get Me Roger Stone is essential if you want to understand the mechanics of it. Roger Stone is a Republican political strategist and lobbyist who has had his fingerprints on some of American’s most infamous administrations including Nixon’s and now Trump’s. Known to be controversial and not adverse to scandal, the documentary portrays Stone as the man heavily responsible for creating Trump as a political figure in a story that’s stranger than fiction, and is both thrilling and troubling.
State of Surveillance (YouTube)
When NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden leaked details of huge government surveillance programs back in 2013, he ignited a Privacy v Security debate which has raged on ever since. The debate came to a head early last year when Apple refused an FBI court order to unlock the iPhone of an alleged terrorist. Part VICE’s incredible documentary series, State of Surveillance sees VICE founder Shane Smith heading to Moscow to meet Snowden to discuss the topic and to see how much are we really being watched. State of Surveillance is always insightful and, at times, completely frightening.
Casting JonBenet (Netflix)
It may be original and engrossing but it would be hard to suggest Casting JonBenet is enjoyable. Using the unsolved 1996 murder of 6-year-old beauty pageant queen JonBenet Ramsey as its backdrop, Casting JonBenet auditions local amateur actors for parts in a dramatisation of the story. The result is a fascinating and sometimes confusing watch with the actors offering their own interpretations of the mystery and the legacy it’s left in their Colorado community.