5 Catfish (2010)
Listed as number eight on the IMDb compilation of most popular documentaries, “Catfish” has become a cult hit in the world of internet friendships, even spawning a subsequent MTV show. As a budding online relationship begins, filmmaker Yaniv Schulman and his friends document the journey to finding more about the young woman on the other end of the computer. What they discover, however, is far from what they initially expected, leaving viewers to wonder if they can ever truly know who they’re talking to online.
4 Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)
When an aspiring documentary maker has the camera turned on him, the end result can be a compelling look at human nature. “Exit Through the Gift Shop” follows an amateur French film maker who seeks to make a movie about famous graffiti artist Banksy, only Banksy has other plans. Convincing the film maker to instead become a street artist himself, Banksy becomes involved in an endeavor he may go on to regret. Taking control of the camera himself, Banksy also became the eventual director of this film.
3 For the Bible Tells Me So (2007)
Rotten Tomatoes ranks this look at the relationship between church and sexuality as number 64 on their list of Top 100 Documentaries. Directed by Daniel G. Karslake, and centered on the lives of five Christian families in America, “For the Bible Tells Me So” examines how having a gay child can challenge the faith of religious families. Interviews with bishops, rabbis, and theologians offer varied perspectives on the Bible’s view of homosexuality.
2 The Business of Being Born (2008)
Produced by Ricki Lake and filmed by Abby Epstein, “The Business of Being Born” takes a hard look at the American maternity system. The film is based in New York City, where doctors, midwifes, nurses and mothers all share their experiences with childbirth. Natural and assisted childbirths are depicted in a way that leaves viewers questioning how often the natural process of labor should be treated as an emergency.
1 Life in a Day (2011)
Filmed over the course of a single day in 2010, “Life in a Day” is the end result of a National Geographic project that solicited film from all over the world. Director Kevin Macdonald and producer Ridley Scott compiled over 4,500 hours of video received through YouTube submissions, focusing on powerful, personal and humorous moments. Footage from 192 countries was included, with most vignettes lasting no more than 30 seconds—from a boy shaving for the first time, to a father preparing his children for the day. “Life in a Day” is 90 minutes of insight into the lives of others.