Top 10 depressing documentaries
Does anyone remember when documentaries weren't designed to scare and horrify you by uncovering the brutal underbelly of the world we live in? Of course not: that's because no one ever went to see a feel-good documentary.
Blackfish might be drawing in the crowds at the moment with its heart-warming tale of killer whales who weren't actually killers until years of systematic abuse by water parks drove them insane, but it's merely the latest in a long line of feel-bad documentaries informing you on important issues you'll almost certainly wish you'd never heard of. Exactly how long is this line?
1. Inside Job
Was it really only five years ago when it looked like the global economy was about to collapse and take Western Civilisation down with it? Good thing we fixed all those problems and sent all the people responsible to jail, hey. Oh wait a second, we did the exact opposite: after throwing out all the laws that prevented big banks and bank-like institutions from ripping people off back in the 1990s, the banks promptly started ripping people off and creating a massive housing bubble based on loans everyone knew were no good. When that popped, the banks were given billions in bail-out money to keep their doors open - money they promptly kept for themselves.
CEOs resigned without losing a cent, huge bonuses were paid out, attempts to fix the system were blocked, the rich got richer, the poor stayed poor. You'll be wanting to watch half a dozen versions of Robin Hood back-to-back after this just to get the bad taste out of your mouth.
2. Taxi to the Dark Side
Torture: it used to be something only the bad guys did. But it's been over a decade now since the West decided that hey, maybe seriously messing with prisoners to get information out of them isn't such a bad idea after all. And if that prisoner happened to be an Afghan taxi driver who didn't know anything useful? And if he was messed with so badly he died? And the only way to get anyone to care about it was to make a movie about it? And...
You have to ask rhetorical questions a lot when you're talking about these films, because the kind of things they're about are too crazy - and often, too horrible - to face front on.
3. Food Inc.
There's an old saying that goes something like "everybody loves sausage, but nobody wants to know how it's made". So here's a documentary telling you exactly how sausage - and a whole lot of other foods - are made today.
Big surprise: it turns out nobody likes being told they're being secretly fed a whole lot of dubious chemicals. And that they're having unhealthy eating habits shoved down their throats. Not to mention finding out farmers are being legally prevented from planting seeds they grew because they're the intellectual property of a multinational. It's enough to put you off your hamburger, it really is.
4. An Inconvenient Truth
Oh look, we've broken the world and we're all going to die. Is that inconvenient enough for you? In hindsight the massive effort that went into discrediting this documentary - it's pretty much the reason "global warming" was rebranded as "climate change" - really just underlined the fact that, even if some of the facts around the edges were a bit wobbly, the core message was on the money: it's getting hot in here, good luck finding any of your clothes because what the floods didn't wash away the cyclones flung into the next state.
Al Gore is totally a robot though.
It's the movie where they set tap water on fire! Seriously, with a hook like that the rest of this film could have been footage of a tumbleweed drifting back and forth and it still would have been a hit.
There's something just so fundamentally wrong about being able to set water on fire that whatever the other side's argument may have been in this look at the dangers of "fracking" (pumping water into the ground to release oil and natural gas), no-one's going to be listening.
If doing what you're doing results in water you can set on fire, then guess what: you should stop doing what you're doing.
6. The Thin Blue Line
It's not quite a cliché, but it does seem to happen a lot: a documentary maker sets out to tell the story of a crime, only to discover that the person or people currently in prison for it are innocent. Errol Morris' ground-breaking look at the murder of a Texas police officer in 1976 revealed a world where a drifter could be arrested, tried and found guilty of homicide while someone else was going around bragging that they were the real killer.
The innocent man was eventually freed, in large part thanks to this film, but that's cold comfort; the world it depicts is one where justice barely gets a look-in and the "facts" can be twisted to mean pretty much anything that will put your sorry ass in jail.
7. Fahrenheit 9/11
It's sometimes hard to remember that the whole "hey, let's invade Iraq" thing has turned out to be a massive embarrassment / total nightmare with a six figure body count, but there was a fairly long stretch of time when speaking out against invading Iraq and George W Bush in general was not an easy thing to do. Enter Michael Moore, who's previous documentaries had pointed out the decline in the automotive industry (Roger & Me) and the rise of gun culture (Bowling for Columbine) in a way that was both funny and informative.
Fahrenheit 9/11 starts out exposing the links between George W Bush, his political advisors, and the leaders of Saudi Arabia (who, in basically bribing their extremists to wage war elsewhere, had stronger links to 9/11 than Saddam Hussien), then moves to uncovering just what a total trainwreck the situation was in Iraq. We may have moved on (a little) now, but the anger in this film remains real.
8. Who Killed the Electric Car
It's been a long running rumour that whenever anyone comes up with a viable alternative fuel to oil, the oil companies buy it up and bury it. That couldn't be true, obviously. Sure, the car companies bought up all the tram companies in California and shut them down so they could sell cars and buses, but that was ages ago. That kind of thing couldn't happen today, right?
If car companies came up with electric cars that did basically everything people want from a car, they wouldn't take all the cars back the first chance they got and then destroy them so they could concentrate on making gas-guzzling Hummers and SUVs, would they? Aww, c'mon...
9. Supersize Me
We all think we know that fast food is not always the best food for us. But watching Morgan Spurlock - back when he seemed like an average guy, and not a professional thrill-seeker - physically fall apart and age before our eyes from eating nothing but McDonalds for a month is still a real eye-opener.
McDonalds, perhaps sensing their food wouldn't stand up to any kind of sustained examination, was running scared from day one, going well out of their way to refute everything they could about this film. And yet a decade on McDonalds has largely ditched the "supersize" option and has been generally successful at re-positioning themselves as a more upscale and healthy operation. More salads and coffees, less Mayor McCheese.
10. The Cove
Most of us are kind of okay with fishing, because fish are both tasty and not too smart. Dolphins, on the other hand, are obviously very smart and good-looking to boot, so you'd have to be some kind of monster to kill them. Especially if you were doing it on an industrial scale on a regular basis to create snacks for people even though you knew that, as an apex predator, dolphin meat concentrates the toxins in the food chain to dangerous levels. It's kind of surprising (and less awesome) that they didn't call this Dolphin Death Camp.