It’s been something of a banner year for documentaries so far, with many feature-length releases already being touted as candidates for the best non-fiction releases of the year despite still having five months left to go.
In fact, the pick of the crop has been so strong in 2015 that it was tough to narrow it down to just 5 Essential Documentaries to Watch This Summer… but if you’re studying the craft at documentary filmmaking school or even just love a great story, here are five titles we’d highly recommend you add to your ‘To Watch’ list.
Let’s start with some essential viewing for anyone except those who suffer from vertigo…
Nothing quite captures the spirit of human endeavor than a mountain climbing movie, and as a general rule, it’s the non-fiction that’s more compelling than anything a screenwriter can dream up.
Most climbing documentaries inherently contain all the ingredients for a good watch—conflict, despair, life, death, endurance, and triumph—but this year’s Meru really pushes it all to the next level.
Set on the utterly terrifying Shark’s Fin feature on the mountain of the same name, Meru is a disarmingly moving story of three climbers attempting the near-impossible.
Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck
There have been a number of documentaries over the years covering the life and untimely death of the enigmatic Nirvana frontman, and for a long time, 2006’s About a Son was considered the most definitive… and then came this Summer’s Montage of Heck.
Montage is not only the best piece of material ever made about Kurt (and it is solely about Cobain, not the rest of the band), but it’s probably going to end up being the best documentary of 2015.
Even the most hardcore Kurt Cobain fans will be surprised by the level of intimacy of the footage, as well as the approach taken to the documentary.
For the record, Dave Grohl reportedly lasted ten minutes before he became “too terrified” to continue watching.
Another member of the fabled ’27 Club’ and as equally tormented as the late Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse and her tragically young death has been deserving of a careful documentary treatment since her passing in 2011.
As both a celebration of her art and career success and a study of what ultimately became her undoing, the team behind the 2010 documentary Senna has produced another powerful and tender biopic that borders on masterpiece. Another essential—if heartbreaking—documentary to watch this Summer.
In 2010, documentary filmmaker Crystal Moselle chanced across a peculiar bunch of teenagers walking around First Avenue in Manhattan. Dressed in all black, wearing dark Ray-Bans and with their hair down to their waists, Crystal ended up befriending the group of siblings and chanced upon a bizarre story—the six brothers and one sister had all been forcibly confined to their Lower East Side apartment by their father since birth and homeschooled.
Nearly everything on the outside world was new to them, and in turn, the very candid look into their bizarre world is very new to us as viewers. Well worth watching.
An incendiary documentary that unpacks the claims made by the Church of Scientology (and based on the 2013 book of the same name), Going Clear is probably the most deeply disturbing piece of nonfiction you’ll see this year.
Despite a furious and sustained effort to block the documentary by the Church of Scientology itself, Going Clear went on to become the second-most-watched HBO documentary of the last ten years ( behind a feature on Beyoncé.) In fact, director Alex Gibney voiced appreciation for the Church taking out full-page ads discouraging potential viewers from watching it, thereby increasing its exposure.