2015 Best Documentaries

The following list, selected and compiled by Video Librarian staff, honors the best new documentaries reviewed in the magazine and online during 2015. Unless otherwise noted, titles are available from most distributors.

Cover for "112 Weddings"

112 Weddings

(Zeitgeist, 95 min., DVD: $29.95)

Director Doug Block speaks with couples whose weddings he filmed, who offer frank opinions on married life after the honeymoon. (VL-9/15)

Cover for "1971"


(First Run, 80 min., DVD: $24.95 [$300 w/PPR from Big Mouth Productions,www.bigmouthproductions.com])

Filmmaker Johanna Hamilton’s gripping documentary revisits a March 1971 break-in by activists at an FBI office in Media, PA, who found evidence of large scale illegal domestic spying. (VL-5/15)

Cover for "Banksy Does New York"

Banksy Does New York

(Kino Lorber, 80 min., DVD: $19.95 [$349 w/PPR from www.kinolorberedu.com])

Chris Moukarbel’s documentary captures the social, cultural, and legal ramifications of a project by English graffiti artist and political activist Banksy, who visited New York City in October 2013 and unveiled one secret outdoor piece each day of the month. (VL-11/15)

Cover for "Big Men"

Big Men

(Outcast Films [www.outcast-films.com], 99 min., DVD: $29.99: individuals; $295: institutions)

Filmmaker Rachel Boynton chronicles the political and social upheaval created by the discovery of the “Jubilee” oil field in the African nation of Ghana, which brings Texas-based energy firm Kosmos in to develop the new resource, with promises that benefits will trickle down. (VL-11/15)

Cover for "Born to Fly: Elizabeth Streb vs. Gravity"

Born to Fly: Elizabeth Streb vs. Gravity

(Kino Lorber, 82 min., DVD: $29.95 [$349 w/PPR from www.kinolorberedu.com])

Filmmaker Catherine Gund’s documentary serves up an energetic portrait of NYC-based dancer-choreographer Elizabeth Streb, who has steadily pushed the boundaries of modern dance with her “Pop Action” fusion of dance, gymnastics, and machine-assisted kinetic stunts. (VL-7/15)

Cover for "Bronx Obama"

Bronx Obama

(Passion River, 91 min., DVD: $24.95 [$249 w/PPR from edu.passionriver.com])

A film about a nobody who becomes a faux somebody, director Ryan Murdock’s documentary follows Louis Ortiz, an underachieving single father whose resemblance to Barack Obama brought him notoriety during the 2008 presidential election. (VL-7/15)

Cover for "Citizenfour"


(Anchor Bay, 113 min., R, DVD: $22.98, Blu-ray: $26.99)

This Oscar-winning documentary captures director Laura Poitras and journalist Glenn Greenwald’s remarkable encounters with whistleblower Edward Snowden in a Hong Kong hotel room, where he handed over classified documents that contained evidence of massive legal invasions of privacy by the National Security Agency. (VL-9/15)

Cover for " Dinosaur 13"

Dinosaur 13

(Lionsgate, 100 min., DVD or Blu-ray: $19.98)

Director Todd Douglas Miller’s intriguing documentary chronicles the real-life story of the discovery of the most complete Tyrannosaurus rexfossil—affectionately named “Sue”—followed by the legal controversy surrounding the government’s subsequent seizure of the bones. (VL-5/15)

Cover for "Glen Campbell... I'll Be Me"

Glen Campbell... I'll Be Me

(Virgil, 116 min., DVD: $19.99)

Directed by James Keach, this CNN-aired documentary captures country/pop superstar Glen Campbell and his family following his 2011 diagnosis with Alzheimer’s disease, as the singer embarks on his “Goodbye Tour.” (VL-9/15)

Cover for "The Green Prince"

The Green Prince

(Music Box, 101 min., in English & Hebrew w/English subtitles, DVD: $29.95, Blu-ray: $34.95)

Filmmaker Nadav Schirman’s documentary tells the amazing story of Mosab Hassan Yousef, a mole for Israeli security agency Shin Bet who also happens to be the son of Palestinian Hamas leader Sheikh Hassan Yousef. (VL-1/15)

Cover for "The Hunting Ground"

The Hunting Ground

(Anchor Bay, 102 min., DVD: $22.98, Blu-ray: $26.99 [$395 w/PPR from Ro*co Educational, www.rocoeducational.com])

Director Kirby Dick’s harrowing documentary weaves together cinema vérité footage and first-person testimonies to offer a startling exposé of sexual assault on U.S. college campuses. (VL-9/15)

Cover for "The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz"

The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz

(Kino Lorber, 105 min., DVD: $24.95)

Brian Knappenberger’s documentary on Internet programming prodigy Aaron Swartz (1986-2013) tells the story of the tragic price that Swartz paid for his beliefs after he became obsessed with the issue of copyright vs. the public interest. (VL-3/15)

Cover for "The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst"

The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst

(HBO, 270 min., DVD: 2 discs, $19.98; Blu-ray: 2 discs, $24.98)

Directed by Andrew Jarecki, this true crime documentary miniseries centers on Robert Durst, black sheep of a rich family, who was a suspect in the 1982 disappearance of his wife in New York, tied to a 2000 killing of a friend in California, and tried and acquitted for the 2001 murder of a neighbor in Texas. (VL-11/15)

Cover for "Last Days in Vietnam"

Last Days in Vietnam

(PBS, 120 min., DVD: $24.99, Blu-ray: $29.99 [$54.99 w/PPR fromteacher.shop.pbs.org])

Rory Kennedy’s Oscar-nominated documentary features interviews with Ford administration members and former U.S. servicemen who witnessed the chaotic end of America’s military involvement in Vietnam while trying to save the lives of Vietnamese allies and friends. (VL-7/15)

Cover of "Life Itself"

Life Itself

(Magnolia, 120 min., R, DVD: $26.98, Blu-ray: $29.98)

Director Steve James’s moving ode to celebrated Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Roger Ebert (1942-2013) includes interviews with directors Martin Scorsese, Werner Herzog, and Errol Morris, along with critics A.O. Scott and Richard Corliss. (VL-3/15)

Cover for "Limited Partnership"

Limited Partnership

(The Cinema Guild, 74 min., DVD: $99.95: public libraries; $395: colleges & universities)

The recent Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage lends special poignancy to Thomas G. Miller’s documentary centering on Richard Adams and Tony Sullivan, who in 1975 became one of the world’s first legally married gay couples. (VL-9/15)

Cover for "Meru"


(Music Box, 90 min., R, DVD: $29.95, Blu-ray: $34.95)

Director/climber Jimmy Chin and his wife Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s documentary chronicles a harrowing attempt to scale the titular Himalayan peak, combining observations by the climbers with insightful commentary from Into Thin Air author Jon Krakauer. (VL-11/15)

Cover for "A Murder in the Park"

A Murder in the Park

(MPI, 91 min., DVD: $24.98)

Filmmakers Shawn Rech and Brandon Kimber’s investigative documentary explores a harrowing 1983 murder case in which a convicted killer on death row was exonerated and released thanks to the efforts of Northwestern University journalism students and their professor, David Protess, whose sloppy reinvestigation of the case wound up putting the wrong man behind bars. (VL-11/15)

Cover for "On Her Own"

On Her Own

(Passion River, 80 min., DVD: $59.95 ($250 w/PPR from edu.passionriver.com)

Charting four years in the life of fifth-generation rancher-farmer Nancy Prebilich, director Morgan Schmidt-Feng’s documentary tells a haunting, tragic story about the fate of family farms in America today in the wake of the Great Recession. (VL-9/15)

Cover for "Particle Fever"

Particle Fever

(PBS, 99 min., DVD: $24.99 [$295 w/PPR from Ro*co Educational,www.rocoeducational.com])

Offering a joyous celebration of intellectual achievement, filmmaker Mark Levinson’s documentary takes viewers on a behind-the-scenes tour of the biggest machine ever built: the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva. (VL-1/15)

Cover for "Red Army"

Red Army

(Sony, 85 min., DVD: $30.99, Blu-ray: $34.99)

Sports and politics meet in this director Gabe Polsky’s documentary centering on the titular powerhouse Soviet hockey team of the ‘80s—which won two Olympic gold medals and seven world championships before some members came to America and became U.S. stars. (VL-9/15)

Cover for "Remote Area Medical"

Remote Area Medical

(Cinedigm, 80 min., DVD: $29.95)

Directed by Jeff Reichert and Farihah Zaman, this documentary about U.S. healthcare focuses on a three-day “pop-up” medical clinic organized by the nonprofit titular organization that is held at Bristol, TN’s NASCAR speedway, where caregivers process victims of the coal-mining industry, deal with bad teeth, and treat the rare bobcat bite. (VL-5/15)

Cover for "The Seeds of Time"

The Seeds of Time

(Kino Lorber, 77 min., DVD: $29.95 [$349 w/PPR from www.kinolorberedu.com])

Filmmaker Sandy McLeod looks at the interesting efforts of dedicated individuals, organizations, and enlightened governments to create “seed banks” that preserve plant species around the world. (VL-7/15)

Cover for "Sex (Ed): The Movie"

Sex (Ed): The Movie

(First Run, 76 min., DVD: $24.95)

Director Brenda Goodman presents clips from sex education films to illustrate how Americans have learned about sex in this illuminating and frequently entertaining documentary that argues movies have always been a primary source of (usually bad) information concerning sexual anatomy, behavior, morals, diseases, and attitudes. (VL-3/15)

Cover for "Stop"


(Kino Lorber, 80 min., DVD: $149 [$349 w/PPR from www.kinolorberedu.com])

Director Spencer Wolff’s timely documentary follows a class-action lawsuit challenging the legality of the NYPD’s controversial “stop-and-frisk” policy, which unfairly targeted minorities. (VL-11/15)

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