Shedding light on the cultures of the world.
Exploring different cultures can be a tricky and complex task, especially when trying to open them up to an outside world that may have previously never heard of them or considers their practices wildly different to those of their own but whether focussing on specific aspects of a culture or trying to encompass its many defining tropes, these documentaries show a world beyond our own and dive headfirst into unique cultures of the world.
Here we look at some of the best around that do just that.
Rather than focussing on one particular culture, this documentary reels through 25 different countries with gorgeous visuals of how people around the world live but it foregoes any sort of traditional narrative and just shows a day in the life of global citizens. What makes it such a beautiful film is that it forces no questions to be asked and does not offer conclusions. If any are to be drawn, they must come from the viewer alone.
Just showing the world for what it is, a beautiful awe-inspiring place filled with wonder and beauty, is one of the films greatest strengths and it deserved to be watched at least once in a lifetime.
2. Born Into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids
An Oscar-winning film about the lives of Children who live on the streets of India’s Calcutta whilst their mothers work in prostitution. Initially part of a photography project where the director gave some of these children cameras to document their lives, it ballooned into a film project that would tell of the hardships and heartbreaks of life on the streets but also revel in the little joys that there are to be had.
Fascinating and with touching and poignant moments as they try to use their photography to lift them out of their situation, it is a story of another world right here within our own.
3. 5 Broken Cameras
A story of the struggles in Israel and Palestine that takes the view away from the sensationalizing media view and puts it into the hands of a local cameraman living through the conflict, who sees peaceful protests in his village along with the destruction brought about by the fighting. Told in 5 different chapters as each of his cameras breaks or is destroyed, it is an ongoing story of survival.
The first-hand perspective of the film makes it that much more powerful as it deals with the elevation in conflict and evolution of the people who have to deal with its fallout.
4. Favela Rising
Showing how the poor of Brazil live a life in amongst the violence and crime of one of Brazil’s poorest favelas, this documentary shows the trauma and tragedy wrought upon people through the eyes of a former drug trafficker who had many family members murdered. Now, trying to move children away from the drug trade he uses music as a way of creating a social revolution.
Showing both horror and hope, it tells of how education and activity can keep these troubled children away from crime and further their lives and education through classes and community spirit.
5. God Grew Tired of Us
As 3 young boys flee the civil war in Sudan, they travel across Africa looking for safety and refuge. Eventually, once reaching adulthood, they look for asylum in America and have to contend with their new lives in a land they’ve never seen before with many new adjustments they have to make as they try to fathom this weird new culture and equate it to their own.
Telling of the journeys and what has brought them to the other side of the world, this starts of tragically but reaches a heart-warming crescendo in a touching and poignant manner.
Following the journey of a young boy in Bhutan, it shows him journeying to visit his sister as the country starts to become introduced to electricity and television just before he heads to the monastery to become a monk. Detailing village life in Himalayan communities and the profound impact of how new technologies affect this lifestyle, the documentary reveals a country in transition.
Stirring and emotionally charged, it asks if the developed nations of the world really have a better way of life and uses Bhutan, a country that measures its people’s happiness over their wealth, to see argue if this is the case or not.
7. A Kalahari Family
A five-part, six-hour epic, this series of documentaries tells of a people who have lived and hunted in the Kalahari desert for generations and follows a specific family for 50 years showing how they have moved with the developing world and how traditional lifestyles have changed and disappeared, smashing stereotypes and raising many more questions.
Although a long watch, it is one of the most in-depth documentary series around and spares no detail about life in the African desert.
8. Love Hotel
Although a technologically advanced country, Japan has many of its cultural values revolving around social conservativeness and so, in a country where public affection is often considered distasteful, the Love Hotel exists to allow people to live out their sexual and romantic desires. Although initially sounding sordid, the film takes in a wide array of characters and shows what brings them to the hotel.
Love, lust, romance and loneliness are all encompassed in the film and it is a telling portrait of a restrained culture in which some wish to break free.
9. Nanook of The North
A silent film that follows an Inuit family, this early documentary was one of the first films to detail the lives of an isolated culture so clearly and is a watershed moment for both film-making and documentaries as it allowed access to an unseen world that had been unparalleled before hand and it set the tone for docu-dramas to come.
Perhaps made even more fascinating for its historical context as well as social content, this film is worth a watch for that alone.
10. Vernon, Florida
Although Florida may not instantly seem like the most culturally of abstract locales, this documentary shows life in small town America, detailing its eccentricities, ups and downs and how people live together in one of the most honest and appraising portrayals of modern life in an economically developed country as small town living still has a place in a forward thinking country.
Charming, chilling, awkward and delightful in equal measure, the film shows the gamut of human life in just one tiny town.
11. Village At The End of The World
In a tiny village in Greenland, only 59 people live as their community continues to decrease as young people leave to discover the outside world. With only one teenager there, the struggle between expanding his horizons and loyalty to his community arises in this fascinating look at how small communities work and live together.
Enlightening and emotional throughout it shows how isolation can both bring people together and force them to look for greater things.
In a Uganda ravaged by war, children who have lost their parents to the horrors of battle find solace in the music and dancing of their traditions and culture and when their school gets a chance to compete in a national music and dance competition they set out to become the very best and achieve their dreams of being known throughout the country.
Both heartrending and joyful in parts, the film shows that to be labeled a child of war is not the be all and end all of these children’s lives as they hope and dream for better things and find happiness in the simple joys of sound and movement.