Video Librarian 2017 Best Documentaries

The following list, selected and compiled by Video Librarian staff, honors the best new documentaries reviewed in the magazine and online during 2017. Unless otherwise noted, titles are available from most distributors.

All of Me

(Strand, 90 min., in Spanish w/English subtitles, DVD: $24.99)

Filmmaker Arturo González Villaseñor’s documentary focuses on the work of the Patronas, a group of Mexican women who every day (starting in 1995) make food that they toss to migrants as “The Beast” northbound train rushes by. (VL-5/17)

Among the Believers

(First Run, 84 min., in English & Urdu w/English subtitles, DVD: $24.95 [$295 w/PPR from firstrunfeatures.com])

Fanatical Pakistani cleric and Taliban supporter Abdul Aziz Ghazi’s recruitment of young students to the jihadist cause is examined in this documentary from directors Hemal Trivedi andMohammed Ali Naqvi. (VL-1/17)

The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography

(Virgil, 76 min., R, DVD: $19.99)

Director Errol Morris’s charming documentary focuses on Elsa Dorfman’s prolific work using the extremely rare Polaroid 20×24 camera. (VL-11/17)

Bending the Arc

(Tugg [edu.tugg.com], 102 min., DVD or Blu-ray: $95: public libraries & high schools; $395: colleges & universities, DRA)

Filmmakers Kief Davidson and Pedro Kos’s documentary celebrates the work of Paul Farmer, Jim Yong Kim, and Ophelia Dahl, who in 1987 founded Partners in Health, a non-profit organization that brings healthcare to the poorest citizens in undeveloped countries. (VL-11/17)

Command and Control

(PBS, 120 min., DVD: $24.99 [$54.99 w/PPR from teacher.shop.pbs.org])

Aired on PBS’s American Experience series, director Robert Kenner’s cautionary tale of freak accidents, near misses, human fallibility, and extraordinary heroism exposes the terrifying truth about the management of America’s nuclear arsenal. (VL-3/17)

Dogtown Redemption

(TurningTime [dogtownredemption.com], 94 min. DVD: $85: public libraries; $295: colleges & universities)

In their sobering documentary, co-directors Amir Soltani and Chihiro Wimbush profile a community that has developed around a recycling center in West Oakland where the homeless exchange plastic bottles and aluminum cans for cash. (VL-1/17)

Frame by Frame

(Collective Eye [collectiveeye.org], 85 min. DVD: $50 ($125 w/PPR): public libraries; $295 w/PPR: colleges & universities, DRA)

Filmmakers Alexandria Bombach and Mo Scarpelli’s documentary looks at a free press that is struggling to take root in occupied Afghanistan, profiling four local photojournalists who face skepticism, hostility, and threatened violence while trying to document events. (VL-3/17)

Gimme Danger

(Sony, 109 min., DVD: $30.99)

The rise and fall of the legendary Ann Arbor punk rock band The Stooges, fronted by Iggy Pop, is chronicled in filmmaker Jim Jarmusch’s music documentary. (VL-5/17)

Growing Up Coy

(Outcast Films [outcast-films.com], 82 min., DVD: $29.99: individuals; $325: institutions, DRA)

Director Eric Juhola’s film documents efforts by the parents of 6-year-old transgendered Coy Mathis to ensure in their conservative Colorado town that Coy’s school treats her like any other girl. (VL-5/17)

Hot Type: 150 Years of The Nation

(First Run, 93 min., DVD: $24.95 [$295 w/PPR from firstrunfeatures.com])

Director Barbara Kopple’s documentary offers an in-depth look at the U.S.’s oldest continuously published weekly magazine, The Nation. (VL-1/17)

I Am Not Your Negro

(Magnolia, 94 min., PG-13, DVD: $26.99, Blu-ray: $29.99)

Director Raoul Peck’s documentary serves up an engrossing and timely biography of the great African-American writer James Baldwin. (VL-5/17)

Jackson

(Girl Friday Films [jacksonthefilm.com/educational-use], 93 min., DVD: $95: public libraries; $395: colleges & universities)

Barbara Ehrenreich co-executive produced filmmaker Maisie Crow’s Showtime-aired documentary about abortion rights in the Deep South, focusing on the struggles of Mississippi’s last abortion clinic. (VL-9/17)

O.J.: Made in America

(Team Marketing, 5 discs, 463 min., Blu-ray/DVD Combo: $39.98)

Director Ezra Edelman’s five-part Oscar-nominated documentary looks at the sports career and notorious murder trial of football star Orenthal James Simpson, who was accused of killing his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman in 1994. (VL-3/17)

Obit.

(Kino Lorber, 96 min., DVD: $29.95, Blu-ray: $34.95 [$349 w/PPR from kinolorberedu.com], DRA)

Director Vanesssa Gould’s documentary goes behind-the-scenes with obituary writers at the New York Times, serving up an enlightening portrait of how the staffers in one of the “Gray Lady’s” key departments approach their work. (VL-9/17)

Off the Rails

(Passion River, 89 min., DVD: $24.95 [$350 w/PPR from edu.passionriver.com])

Filmmaker Adam Irving’s documentary profiles Darius McCollum, an NYC native with Asperger’s syndrome whose love of public transportation has compelled him to illegally commandeer subway trains and buses for most of his life. (VL-1/17)

Political Animals

(Gravitas Ventures, 86 min., DVD: $16.99, Blu-ray: $19.99 [$125 w/PPR: public libraries; $350 w/PPR: colleges & universities from The Video Project, videoproject.com], DRA)

Director Jonah Markowitz’s powerful documentary centers on four lesbian members of the California assembly who united to take early stands on LGBT discrimination. (VL-5/17)

Salero

(Cinema Guild [cinemaguild.com], 76 min. DVD: $99.95: public libraries; $350: colleges & universities)

Filmmaker Mike Plunkett’s haunting documentary focuses on Moises Chambi Yucra’s solitary work on Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni, an enormous salt flat that was once routinely harvested by generations of workers (saleros) but is now being mined for lithium by big business. (VL-11/17)

Sherpa

(Lionsgate, 96 min., DVD: $19.98)

Filmmaker Jennifer Peedom’s human rights documentary looks at an ill-fated 2014 expedition up Mount Everest, capturing the stories of the arguably exploited titular Nepalese guides. (VL-1/17)

Solitary: Inside Red Onion State Prison

(Good Docs [gooddocs.net], 82 min. DVD: $129: public libraries; $349: colleges & universities, DRA)

Kristi Jacobson’s HBO-aired documentary takes viewers inside segregation units at Red Onion State Prison, a supermax facility located in rural Virginia. (VL Online-9/17)

Stray Dog

(Icarus, 102 min., DVD: $24.98 [$390 w/PPR from Bullfrog Films, bullfrogfilms.com])

Debra Granik’s PBS-aired Independent Lens documentary profiles Vietnam vet Ron “Stray Dog” Hall, who manages an RV park in Branson, MO, and takes a trip by motorcycle to Washington, D.C. (VL Online-3/17)

Thank You for Playing

(Kino, 80 min., DVD: $29.95 [$300 w/PPR from Film Platform, filmplatform.net], DRA)

Filmmakers Malike Zouhali-Worrall and David Osit’s heartbreaking documentary centers on video game designer Ryan Green’s creation of That Dragon, Cancer, a 3D game depicting in metaphorical terms Green’s young son Joel’s struggle with terminal cancer. (VL-3/17)

Tower

(Kino Lorber, 69 min., DVD: $29.95, Blu-ray: $34.95 [$349 w/PPR from kinolorberedu.com], DRA)

In an age when school shootings are depressingly frequent, Keith Maitland’s powerful animated documentary looks at the first major incident, when a sniper on the observation deck of a University of Texas building took aim at pedestrians below, killing 14 and wounding another 31, on August 1, 1966. (VL-5/17)

The Vietnam War

(PBS, DVD: 10 discs, $99.99; Blu-ray: 10 discs, $129.99 [$299.99 w/PPR fromteacher.shop.pbs.org])

Ten years in the making, co-directors Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s landmark documentary series on the titular conflict features eyewitness testimony, archival footage, historic TV broadcasts, and original music by composer Trent Reznor and Yo-Yo Ma. (VL-9/17)

Visitor’s Day

(New Day Films [newday.com], 75 min., DVD: $100: public libraries; $150: community colleges; $350: colleges & universities)

Filmmaker Nicole Opper’s haunting documentary follows several boys at a Mexican youth residential treatment center as they proceed through a comprehensive work/training program while being helped to deal with emotional fallout from being neglected by family members. (VL Online-7/17)

Zero Days

(Magnolia, 114 min., DVD: $26.98)

Filmmaker Alex Gibney’s Showtime-aired documentary looks at the covert world of computer hacking, focusing on the creation of the “Stuxnet” virus, which was apparently written with the goal of destroying or delaying Iran’s nuclear program. (VL-3/17)