From festival favorites to hidden gems, these are at the top of our watch list
Movies are right up there with jam and running shoes on the list of things that are available in a paralyzing volume of choices. If you’re decision-fatigued just thinking about it, don’t worry: we’ll tell you exactly where to spend your limited hours of screen time. Start with one of these ten top-notch documentaries. Some are still making the festival rounds, while others are newly available to stream.
“Ovaries so big we don’t need no fuckin’ balls!” Now, tell us you don’t want to watch a film featuring the cycling brigade of women who go by that motto. The Los Angeles–based Ovarian Psycos’ mission is fluid and wide-ranging but could best be described as creating a space for women of color in their communities: fighting violence (sexual and otherwise) and fighting for access and mobility. All of this adds up to a strong message, some striking imagery, and a refreshing shake-up from the usual cycling film fare. The documentary isn’t yet available to stream, but you can still catch a local screening.
The film follows Julius Arile and Robert Matanda, two professional runners from Kenya’s Rift Valley, and their previous lives raiding the countryside as part of a roaming group of warriors. It’s a fascinating look at the high-pressure process of making it as a pro marathoner, with an extra high-stakes twist. Rent or download here.
‘Freedom Under Load’
All the porters featured in this film are well over age 60—and still carrying hundreds of pounds daily to mountain huts in Slovakia’s High Tatras. Expect excellent mountain views, Slovakian banter among old friends, and predictable yet effective meditations on the metaphorical loads we carry. Rent or download here.
You know Phil Keoghan, host of The Amazing Race? Here’s a sentence we never expected to write about him: Koeghan just made a documentary in which he and a team replicate a historic 1928 Tour de France ride, complete with a 1928 bike, riding an average of 150 miles a day. Specifically, they’re honoring the Tour’s first English-speaking team, composed of very ill-prepared riders from Australia and New Zealand. It looks a little cheesy, but the film has enough comic moments, stunt-journalism elements, and historical enthusiasm to make it a fun watch. Not yet available to stream, but you can request a screening here.
‘Koneline: Our Land Beautiful’
This is one of the prettiest environmentally oriented films we’ve ever laid eyes on. On a deeper level, it’s also a great exploration of the people and places threatened by development in northwestern British Columbia. Kind of like a screen version of John McPhee’s Coming into the Country, this film delivers a clear-eyed view of big, messy feuds and empathetic portraits of the many characters just trying to make it in a harsh landscape. Buy here.
‘The Forgotten Coast’
Personal gripe: We don’t talk enough about how cool (and sometimes scary) Florida’s wilderness is. The Forgotten Coast team heads straight into it on a 1,000-mile trip following a threatened wildlife corridor, from the Everglades to the southern border of Alabama. If that doesn’t make you want to watch how the expedition unfolds, then the moody swamp shots, discussion on humanity’s relationship with wildlife, and manatees should do the trick. The documentary premiered on PBS on Earth Day, and you can stream it online here until September 1.
‘Karl Meltzer: Made to Be Broken’
Meltzer broke the Appalachian Trail speed record last September, in less than 46 days, eight hours, and six minutes. Now we get the far easier task of watching it happen in 41 minutes and 38 seconds. It’s pure secondhand suffering, with a few quirky AT hikers thrown in for character. Available (free!) here.
Hawaii is a particularly fraught battleground in the GMO debate, and pro surfer/director Cyrus Sutton dives right into it with three locals: cultural practitioner and educator Malia Chun, biotechnology PhD student Cliff Kapono, and pro surfer/MMA fighter/mayoral candidate Dustin Barca. It’s a compelling personal look at an issue that’s become something of a terrifying catchphrase. Catch a screening throughout the country now.
Rebecca Rusch’s father died when his plane was shot down over Laos during the Vietnam War—she was just three at the time. Today, she’s an ultra-endurance athlete, so naturally Rusch decided to bike the 1,200-mile Ho Chi Minh Trail to see if she could find her father’s crash site. The resulting film is full of lush views and high production value, but it’s also a chance to see a completely unexpected side of the hardcore athlete. Available to stream sometime this year.
‘Letters from Baghdad’
Gertrude Bell has been called the female Lawrence of Arabia, but Letters from Baghdad asserts that the British spy, explorer, and political officer was far more influential in shaping Iraq after World War I. Her adventures have been mostly left out of history (surprise), until this film, which is told mostly through her correspondences and diaries. Featuring surprise narrator of the year Tilda Swinton, who also is the executive producer, the film will start rolling out in the United States starting in June.
‘Samuel in the Clouds’
The Samuel in question is a ski-lift operator from Bolivia—the sole employee of the country’s national ski club. That’s because there’s been no skiing and no snow since 2009. Still, Samuel makes the more than nine-mile journey to and from the club’s mountain refuge on Chacaltaya, hoping the snow might come back. It’s a disheartening premise, sure, but it’s also endearing, hopeful, and beautifully shot. The film is currently screening only in Europe; stay tuned for a worldwide release.