The below 37 documentaries have shaped my thinking and changed my behavior over the last several years. I revisit them often.
They were all featured in 5-Bullet Friday, my free weekly newsletter, which I send out each Friday to ~1.5–2M subscribers. Each edition describes the coolest things I’ve found or explored that week in five short bullet points. This often includes books, gadgets, tricks from experts, articles, and weird stuff from all over the world.
I hope you enjoy the following gems as much as I have…
March 4, 2022
The River Runner (Netflix, Amazon, more options). This jumped to the top of my to-watch list, thanks to Brad Ludden of First Descents, a world-class waterman in his own right and associate producer on this film. Here’s the trailer. Kudos to director Rush Sturges (@rushsturges), writers Thayer Walker (@inkdwell), Corinna Halloran (@corinnahalloran), and the whole team. This Outside feature by Thayer and Scott Lindgren, the documentary’s protagonist, became a model for the film: “After a Hard Diagnosis, One Athlete Learns to Soften Up.”
January 7, 2022
Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Amazon, Apple TV). Description: “Werner Herzog’s award-winning 2011 doc is a thrilling study of 32,000-year-old cave paintings recently discovered in Southern France.” It has 96% on Rotten Tomatoes, and you can watch the trailer here.
December 17, 2021
The Alpinist (Amazon, Netflix, Apple TV, YouTube, Google Play). If you want an incredible infusion of wonder and adrenaline, this doc delivers. It’s stunning. Description: “Marc-André Leclerc climbs alone, far from the limelight. On remote alpine faces, the free-spirited 23-year-old Canadian makes some of the boldest solo ascents in history. Yet, he draws scant attention. With no cameras, no rope, and no margin for error, Leclerc’s approach is the essence of solo adventure. Nomadic and publicity shy, he doesn’t own a phone or car and is reluctant to let a film crew in on his pure vision of climbing…” Even if you don’t watch the full doc, be sure to watch the short trailer here. Special thanks to Peter Mortimer (@SenderFilms) and Nick Rosen (@finsterbone) for including audio from The Tim Ferriss Show in this beautiful film.
November 26, 2021
Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain (Amazon, YouTube, Apple TV) from Academy Award-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville. I watched this on a flight and deeply appreciated the nuanced portrayal. The archival and outtake footage alone make it well worth watching. The official description: “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain is an intimate, behind-the-scenes look at how an anonymous chef who lived his life unabashedly became a world-renowned cultural icon.” Find the trailer here. There are certainly lessons to be learned from the light and the dark, and this film raises important questions for me. For example: How can you safely learn from—or emulate—certain characteristics of tortured outliers without also inadvertently absorbing beliefs and behaviors that contributed to their deep inner pain? Tony’s story is inspiring, incredible, and tragic, and this film does an admirable job of capturing all three.
November 5, 2021
Struggle: The Life and Lost Art of Szukalski. This doc is amazing and bizarre on multiple levels. Here’s the description: “Artists in LA discover the work of forgotten Polish sculptor Stanisław Szukalski, a mad genius whose true story unfolds chapter by astounding chapter.” The documentary was produced by Leonardo DiCaprio (@LeoDiCaprio) and his father George DiCaprio. You can find the trailer here. Thanks to Snapping Turtle for the recommendation.
October 8, 2021
Let Things Rot from the Fungi Foundation. This is gorgeously shot, and it’s worth a five-minute break for the visuals alone. From the description: “The Fungi Foundation is proud to present ‘Let Things Rot,’ a new documentary short directed by Mateo Barrenengoa in collaboration with mycologist and foundation founder Giuliana Furci (@giulifungi). Filmed in Chile’s Araucanía Region, the short delves into fungi’s crucial role as a decomposer, inviting the viewer to reconsider rotting through a new, poetic perspective.”
September 10, 2021
Searching for Sugar Man (Amazon, iTunes/Apple TV, Google Play, YouTube). I’ve had dozens of friends recommend this over the years, and I finally watched it last night. It’s SPECTACULAR. It was exactly the feel-good pick-me-up that I needed. The film’s accolades include 95% on Rotten Tomatoes, a BAFTA Award for Best Documentary, and an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, just to mention a few. Here’s the official description: “Searching for Sugar Man tells the incredible true story of Rodriguez, the greatest ’70s rock icon who never was. After being discovered in a Detroit bar, Rodriguez’s sound struck two renowned producers, and they signed a recording deal. But when the album bombed, the singer disappeared into obscurity. A bootleg recording found its way into apartheid South Africa, and over the next two decades, he became a phenomenon. The film follows the story of two South African fans who set out to find out what really happened to their hero.” Watch the trailer here.Continue reading “My Favorite 37 Documentaries — Features and Short Films That Cover High Performance, Overcoming Failure, Creative Process, Psychedelics, Trauma, and Much More”