It's doubtful that documentary filmmaking will ever go bust, if only because our culture continues to demand that everything we do is recorded and shared with the world. Capturing the previously unseen slices of humanity means we grapple with different issues, be it social, political, economic, historic, criminal, celebratory, and so forth. In 2017, some of the best documentaries that have premiered have fallen into these categories — and so many others — and have once again sought to fundamentally change how we, the audience, view the world around us.
Perhaps because they are influenced by the nature of the times that we live in or as a reaction to them, some of the best documentaries to have come out this year are related to health care, war, the freedom of the press and of speech, and America's treatment of its black citizens. It's tough to watch each of these documentaries if only because it's likely that you will find a way to relate to one, if not multiple, stories being told here. The issues are applicable to our daily lives, they are unflinching in their honesty, and they are all deeply human stories — as is often the case with the best documentaries being made today.
1. Nobody Speak
Tackling free speech, the current relationship between media and public trust, Nobody Speak starts with Terry Bollea's (aka wrestler Hulk Hogan) defamation lawsuit against Gawker before spinning out to uncover how the rights of a free press are currently under attack.
2. Casting Jon Benet
Using dramatic reenactments and talking head interviews with residents of Denver who witnessed the JonBenet Ramsey murder investigation unfold from the sidelines, Casting JonBenet is perhaps even more haunting by the sheer fact that its made clear the legacy of this crime still casts a long shadow in the lives of the people tied to it.
3. Whose Streets?
Following the murder of teenager Mike Brown and the movement his murder sparked on the streets of L.A., Whose Streets? is as timely as it is gripping and necessary.
4. An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power
Al Gore returns with another Inconvenient Truth installment. Climate change is still on the table, but Gore is catching us up with the progress (and recession) we've made as a country and as a global community since the first film came out.
5. Gaga: Five Foot Two
Lady Gaga has been on one heck of a personal journey over the last few years, with highs and lows that include performing at the Super Bowl, releasing a new album, breaking off an engagement, and being diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Five Foot Two tracks those years and those events, along with plenty of other, giving us a more intense insider look at one of pop music's foremost artists.
6. The Death And Life Of Marsha P. Johnson
LGBTQ icon, activist, and trans woman Marsha P. Johnson gets a fittingly thorough tribute in the documentary on her life, The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson.
7. I Am Heath Ledger
The life of the brilliant and Oscar-winning actor Heath Ledger is remembered in I Am Heath Ledger. Interviews with friends, family, and co-stars seeks to highlight Ledger's artistic brilliance and unique approach to life in this unforgettable and intimate portrait.
8. What The Health
Taking aim squarely at the ways in which Americans produce their meat, dairy, and other animal byproducts, What The Health is the next doc in a recent trend of docs that focuses on examining just how faulty our nation's approach to nutrition and health really is.
9. Get Me Roger Stone
Roger Stone is the puppet master behind some of the most infamous political campaigns of the 20th and 21st century. With fingerprints on the political careers of men like Richard Nixon and President Donald Trump, Stone's influence has shaped modern political discourse and turned him into an infamous figure.
10. Time: The Kalief Browder Story
Things go from bad to worse for New York City resident Kalief Browder, who is wrongfully arrested and interrogated in connection with a robbery. This Jay-Z-produced documentary uncovers Browder's story and how a case of mistaken identity irrevocably changed the life of one innocent black man to tragic results.
11. The Keepers
This harrowing documentary series, which is available to stream on Netflix, uses the 1969 murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik as the entry point into the dark history of sexual abuse at a Baltimore-area Catholic school. The series and the stories emanating from it will haunt you as much as they will open your eyes.
12. Strong Island
A heartbreaking story is told in Strong Island as documentarian Yance Ford interviews family, friends, and others in connection to the killing of her brother and the legal proceedings that let his killer walk free.
13. City Of Ghosts
This eye-opening documentary focuses on the citizens of the city of Raqqa in the present day who are not only trying to survive in their crumbling, war-torn city, but bring it back from the brink of destruction. This doc follows a group of young journalists who are actively chasing down the answers on how to rehabilitate their dying city and defeat that powers at large who are attempting to silence them.
These docs are essential viewing.