2016 Best Documentaries

The following list, selected and compiled by Video Librarian staff, honors the best new documentaries reviewed in the magazine and online during 2016. Unless otherwise noted, titles are available from most distributors.

Cover for "Autism in Love"

Autism in Love

(Good Docs [www.gooddocs.net], 75 min., DVD: $99: public libraries; $349: colleges & universities, DRA)

Filmmaker Matt Fuller’s heartbreaking documentary profiles three individuals on the autism spectrum as they deal with romantic relationships. (VL-5/16)

Cover for "Best of Enemies"

Best of Enemies

(Magnolia, 88 min., R, DVD: $26.98, Blu-ray: $29.98)

Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon’s engrossing documentary centers on the heated TV face-offs during the 1968 presidential election between intellectuals William F. Buckley, Jr. and Gore Vidal. (VL-1/16)

Cover for "A Brave Heart"

A Brave Heart

(Cinedigm, 78 min., PG-13, DVD: $14.99 [$295 w/PPR from Ro*co Educational,www.rocoeducational.com, DRA])

Born with a mysterious health condition, Lizzie Velasquez responds to hateful Internet comments with an anti-bullying YouTube channel in this compelling documentary from filmmaker Sara Hirsh Bordo. (VL-1/16)

Cover for "Breaking a Monster"

Breaking a Monster

(RLJ, 94 min., DVD: $29.99)

A rock band comprised of 13-year-old black kids from Brooklyn who shred like Metallica are caught in the gears of star-making machinery in director Luke Meyer’s empathetic documentary. (VL-11/16)

Cover for "Call Me Lucky"

Call Me Lucky

(MPI, 105 min., DVD: $24.98, Blu-ray: $29.98)

Gonzo standup comic turned filmmaker Bobcat Goldthwait pays tribute to celebrated comic Barry Crimmins, now an angry old man of the mic who stuns viewers with a startling revelation from his past. (VL-1/16)

Cover for "Cartel Land"

Cartel Land

(Paramount, 100 min., R, DVD: $29.99 [$300 w/PPR from Film Platform,www.filmplatform.net, DRA])

Filmmaker Matthew Heineman’s compelling Oscar-nominated documentary centers on recent battles between drug cartels and two vigilante groups along the Arizona/Mexico border. (VL-5/16)

Cover for "Colliding Dreams"

Colliding Dreams

(Kino Lorber, 135 min., in English, Hebrew & Arabic w/English subtitles, DVD: $29.95 [$349 w/PPR from www.kinolorberedu.com, DRA])

Filmmakers Joseph Dorman and Oren Rudavsky’s insightful documentary tells the story of Zionism, from the pogroms that led Jews to leave Eastern Europe for a new life in Palestine up to the present day. (VL-9/16)

Cover for "Dark Horse"

Dark Horse

(Sony, 86 min., PG, DVD: $30.99)

Director Louise Osmond’s uplifting, rags-to-riches equine documentary follows the story of middle-aged South Wales barmaid Janet Vokes, who gets an over-the-rainbow notion to breed a steeplechase racehorse. (VL-9/16)

Cover for "(Dis)Honesty: The Truth About Lies"

(Dis)Honesty: The Truth About Lies

(BOND/360, 90 min., DVD: $24.99 [$350 w/PPR from Ro*co Educational, www.rocoeducational.com, DRA])

Filmmaker Yael Melamede’s fascinating documentary addresses public cheating and dishonesty, presenting the stories of several individuals caught lying, along with interesting research regarding human deceit and rationalization. (VL-1/16)

Cover for "Dream/Killer"


(Kino Lorber, 109 min., DVD: $29.95)

Andrew Jenks’s documentary recounts the case of a young Missouri man convicted (on the basis of eyewitness testimony) of the 2001 murder of a newspaper reporter and then sentenced to 40 years in prison. (VL-9/16)

Cover for "How to Change the World"

How to Change the World

(Kino Lorber, 109 min. DVD: $29.95 [$349 w/PPR fromwww.kinolorberedu.com, DRA])

Filmmaker Jerry Rothwell’s documentary charts the environmental group Greenpeace’s transformation from a ragtag collection of Vancouver, B.C., activists into an international powerhouse. (VL-3/16)

Cover for "How to Dance in Ohio"

How to Dance in Ohio

(Kino Lorber, 89 min., DVD: $29.95 [$349 w/PPR from www.kinolorberedu.com, DRA])

Alexandra Shiva’s documentary focuses on a Columbus, OH, clinic run by Dr. Emilio Amigo, who arranges for a group of higher-functioning teens on the autism spectrum to hone their uncertain social skills in a school formal dance. (VL-9/16)

Cover for "Jamel Shabazz: Street Photographer"

Jamel Shabazz: Street Photographer

(Oscilloscope, 82 min., DVD: $34.99)

Filmmaker Charlie Ahearn’s documentary centers on the famed titular chronicler of Harlem life over 30 years, a shutterbug who captured the rise of hip-hop culture. (VL-1/16)

Cover for "Jesus Town, USA"

Jesus Town, USA

(Passion River, 79 min., DVD: $59.95 [$250 w/PPR from edu.passionriver.com])

Directed by Billie Mintz and Julian T. Pinder, this documentary follows the upheaval after a retiring actor playing Jesus in a small Oklahoma town outdoor Passion Play pageant (which has been staged for the past 88 years) is replaced with a chubby man-child who leans towards Buddhism. (VL-1/16)

Cover for "The Last Man on the Moon"

The Last Man on the Moon

(FilmRise, 97 min., DVD: $19.95, Blu-ray: $29.95 [DVD or Blu-ray: $75: public libraries & high schools; $350: colleges & universities from Tugg, eduhome.tugg.com, DRA)

Mark Craig’s documentary profile of NASA astronaut Gene Cernan—commander of the final Apollo 17 mission to the Moon in 1972—also offers an historical overview of the U.S. space program. (VL-9/16)

Cover for "Lo and Behold"

Lo and Behold

(Magnolia, 98 min., PG-13, DVD: $26.98)

Part history, part technical primer, part cautionary tale, part speculative rumination, and all director Werner Herzog, this episodic documentary beginning with the October 1969 birth of the Internet looks at some of the ramifications of living in an interconnected world. (VL-11/16)

Cover for "No Más Bebés (No More Babies)"

No Más Bebés (No More Babies)

(Good Docs [www.gooddocs.net], 79 min., DVD: $99: public libraries; $349: colleges & universities, DRA)

Renee Tajima-Peña’s PBS-aired documentary centers on a shameful racist chapter in California history during the 1960s and early ‘70s, when the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center tricked and bullied Mexican immigrant women into signing documents authorizing tubal ligation surgery. (VL Online-5/16)

Cover for "Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You"

Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You

(PBS, 90 min., DVD: $24.99, Blu-ray: $29.99 [$54.99 w/PPR from www.teacher.shop.pbs.org])

Filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s career/life retrospective celebrates nonagenarian, taboo-breaking American TV writer-producer Norman Lear. (VL Online-11/16)

Cover for "Radical Grace"

Radical Grace

(Cinema Guild [www.cinemaguild.com], 86 min., DVD: $99.95: public libraries; $350: colleges & universities, DRA)

The Vatican’s negative attitude toward liberal women voices serves as backdrop for filmmaker Rebecca Parrish’s documentary portrait of three American nuns who were involved in social justice ministries through the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. (VL Online-10/16)

Cover for "Requiem for the American Dream"

Requiem for the American Dream

(FilmRise, 73 min., DVD: $31.99, Blu-ray: $37.99 [$249 w/PPR from Zeitgeist Films, www.zeitgeistfilms.com, DRA])

Filmmaker Peter Hutchison, Kelly Nyks, and Jared P. Scott’s documentary centers on MIT linguistics professor Noam Chomsky, who offers a compelling analysis of income inequality in the United States. (VL-11/16)

Cover for "States of Grace"

States of Grace

(New Day Films [www.newday.com], 74 min., DVD: $95, Blu-ray $120: public libraries; DVD: $350, Blu-ray: $375: colleges & universities, DRA)

Filmmakers Mark Lipman and Helen S. Cohen’s documentary tells the moving story of San Francisco physician and AIDS/humanitarian activist Dr. Grace Dammann’s reliance on her longtime domestic partner after a devastating car crash. (VL-3/16)

Cover for "Top Spin"

Top Spin

(First Run, 81 min., DVD: $24.95 [$95 w/PPR: public libraries, $325 w/PPR: colleges & universities from New Day Films, www.newday.com, DRA])

Directors Sara Newens and Mina T. Son’s documentary focuses on three kids who balance school, friends, and schedules that include up to six hours a day practicing table tennis, as they prepare for various pre-qualifying competitions for making the U.S. Olympics team in 2012. (VL-3/16)

Cover for "Uyghurs: Prisoners of the Absurd"

Uyghurs: Prisoners of the Absurd

(National Film Board of Canada [www.nfb.ca], 99 min., DVD: $225)

Filmmaker Patricio Henríquez’s documentary recounts the stupefying story of a group of Uyghur Muslims, who after being persecuted for involvement in the separatist movement in the Chinese region of Xinjiang fled to Afghanistan, only to be captured post-9/11 and kept at Guantanamo Bay for years. (VL-3/16)

Cover for "Weiner"


(MPI, 96 min., R, DVD: $24.98)

Disgraced former New York congressman Anthony Weiner is profiled in this documentary by his ex-chief-of-staff Josh Kriegman and co-director Elyse Steinberg, who had unprecedented access during the politician’s 2013 failed mayoral bid that was marred by a second wave of damaging sexting revelations. (VL-9/16)

Cover for "Welcome to Leith"

Welcome to Leith

(First Run, 86 min., DVD: $24.95)

Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker’s timely documentary follows the tense back-and-forth strategies between concerned locals of a North Dakota small town and an unwanted white supremacist who buys up property to create a community center for his movement. (VL-5/16)

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