(Credit: Netflix)

Documentary

The best Netflix documentaries of 2021

It takes a great deal of courage and effort to make a full-length film or series with a continuously changing reality. To debunk the common misconception regarding documentaries meaning to attract only nerds and geeks, Netflix has piled its shelves with brilliant titles that deserve to be watched, from nature documentaries to true crime documentaries. Netflix’s ever-growing collection is enviable and binge-worthy. 

Documentaries are fascinating and compelling, and not only do they help us know about lesser-known topics but also add tangibility to issues that often seem far-fetched.

Documentaries have also proved to be effective learning tools as parents are using them to rouse interest in young minds, whether it be various events that have socio-political, historic or environmental significance. 

“Netflix and Chill” no longer consists of mindless binging on sappy rom-coms; Netflix documentaries are the new date-night favourites.

After a brilliant year with a variety of Original films and Original series gracing Netflix, the streaming service has also provided some great documentaries that will keep viewers hooked for hours. 

Here are the seven best Netflix documentaries released in 2021: 

The best Netflix documentaries of 2021

7. Seaspiracy– Ali Tabrizi   

The 2021 documentary film revolves around the kind of impact fishing has on the environment. From ghost nets and overfishing to plastic pollution, humans have had a negative effect on marine life. The film advocates for marine life and protests fish consumption while touching upon other issues, including the Taiji dolphin hunt, whaling in the Faroe Islands and the prevalence of modern slavery in Thailand within the fishing industry. 

While the documentary is a difficult watch, it is necessary to understand the various negative implications overfishing and more can have on marine life. While Tabrizi’s film fails to critique the problems it uncovers, it brings to light the shocking status of the fishing industry that is now becoming increasingly harmful due to rapid commercialisation. 

6. Pelé– David Tryhorn, Ben Nicholas  

A documentary about the life and career trajectory of the legendary Brazilian footballer Pelé, the film takes a look at the glorious 12-year period in his life. It follows Pelé went from being a superstar protege in 1958 to a national hero with three World Cup titles in 1970 which was a pretty tumultuous period in the history of the country. 

With vintage footage of Pelé showcasing his brilliant football skills to an intimate insight into his personality and personal life, the filmmakers do not compromise on the political commentary, which was a crucial part of Pelé’s journey. Whether you are a football fan or not, Pelé will resonate with you as it tells the extraordinary story of the success of a young man who dared to dream. 

5. Voir – David Fincher

In Fincher’s latest collaboration with Netflix, the docuseries comprises six different video essays that celebrate the cinema from the minds of modern masters, appreciated and closely examined by cinephiles who talk about how the particular film changed their lives and perspectives. These films include Lady vengeance, Jaws, 48 Hrs, Lawrence of Arabia and more. 

Film buffs and video essay fans will be delighted by these short episodes that weave together one’s love for films and film aesthetics. Each episode holds a personal element that is infused beautifully into the informative essay content. Fincher’s tribute to old friends via fresh voices is indeed worth watching. 

4. Penguin Town – Red Rock Films 

Amidst the various problems brought upon by the raging pandemic, a fluffy documentary about an endangered species that is equal parts comforting and educational, Penguin Town is what the world needed. Set in the picturesque Simon’s Town in South Africa, narrator Patton Oswalt recounts the stories of a group of endangered penguins who flock together to mate, raise their families and acquaint themselves with the locals. 

The penguins have names, and their backstories are intriguing and retold with a kind of hilarity that is characteristic of Oswalt. His humorous quips are well appreciated, and the documentary series is a wonderful family watch.  

3. Strip Down, Rise Up – Michele Ohayon 

The documentary sees women from diverse backgrounds, across all ages, letting go of trauma, body insecurities and shame by embracing their inner positivity and gradually healing by pole dancing. The sensual journey into the daring world of pole dancing rooted in female empowerment connects and grounds them.  

The Academy Award-winning filmmaker opened up about how she wanted to portray the bravery of these women as they let go of their inhibitions and embraced themselves completely while fighting the traumatic ghosts of the past and gradually moving towards a better tomorrow. “I chose to bring a small, all-female crew when filming the class because many of their issues were related to sexual assault and the male gaze. I wanted the subjects to feel comfortable. Some of my crew had to leave the room at times because the stories and overwhelming emotions that surfaced hit home so closely,” she told EW

2. House of Secrets: The Burari Deaths – Leena Yadav, Anubhav Chopra   

Based on a fairly recent event in 2018, the docuseries takes a closer look at the bizarre deaths of 11 family members in Delhi, India where the lines between suicide and murder were blurred by cult-like practices. This disturbing plot narrative also examines the backstories of the family members while constantly commenting on declining mental health, family dynamics and ethics of journalism. 

The Burari deaths became a sensational topic in India back in 2018. The way Chopra and Yadav dealt with it is absolutely commendable as a result is spine-chilling. Debunking various conspiracies and half-truths, the docu-series attempts to get at the bottom of the ambiguous puzzle that still remains shrouded in mystery to date. 

1. Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal – Chris Smith 

A reenactment of the 2019 college admissions bribery scandal, the documentary features interviews with the ones associated with the scandal while trying to debunk the truth behind the scam that involved paying a huge sum of money by rich families to get their children into top US universities. The documentary goes beyond the arrest of celebrity Felicity Huffman and is a deep dive into the FBI investigation that helped uncover this scandal.  

Matthew Modine did a brilliant job as the crook, Rick Singer, who was the man at the centre of the entire scandal wherein he convinced his rich clients to cheat their way into an education system that already benefits the privileged. The documentary is a riveting exploration of the shocking scam that surprised people worldwide.