Exploring Africa: Documentaries to connect into Its Cultures and Landscapes

April 24, 2024


Africa, a continent of astounding diversity and vibrant cultures, offers a plethora of stories that are as varied as its ecosystems. From the bustling markets of Nigeria to the serene savannahs of Kenya, each setting provides a backdrop for narratives that are both profound and enlightening. Documentaries, or "docs" as they are often affectionately called, serve as a crucial medium through which the essence of Africa’s identity—its people, traditions, and relationship with the land and nature—is vividly brought to life. These films not only educate but also connect viewers from around the world with the continent’s dynamic spirit.


Documentaries hold the power to transform viewers' understanding by presenting unfiltered glimpses into the lives and struggles of distant communities. In Africa, where oral traditions and storytelling are deeply embedded in the cultural fabric, documentaries do more than just tell stories; they preserve history and amplify voices that are often marginalized. Through the lens of various filmmakers, from local directors to international documentarians, audiences are granted an all-access pass to explore complex social issues, environmental challenges, and the undeniable human spirit that characterizes the continent.


The connection between Africa and its land is profound and has been a recurring theme in many documentaries. These films explore how environmental changes impact traditional ways of life, how communities adapt to shifting landscapes, and how the ties to land are integral to cultural identity. By watching these documentaries, audiences can reflect on the universal themes of connection, resilience, and adaptation, which, though uniquely played out on the African stage, resonate globally. This cinematic journey not only educates but also fosters a deeper appreciation for the intricate tapestry of life that Africa weaves.


Top Ten Must-Watch African Documentaries: 



Our Africa

At the height of the Cold War, the USSR embarked on a vast humanitarian aid mission based on Marxist ideology across newly independent African nations. "Our Africa" delves into over three decades of Soviet influence expansion, captured through the lenses of Soviet filmmakers tasked with documenting socialism’s supposed triumph.


This compelling documentary utilizes extensive archived newsreels to reconstruct the era of "The Great Utopia" and dissect the construction of propaganda films, presenting a unique retrospective on a pivotal chapter in Afro-Soviet relations that faded with the Soviet Union's dissolution, leaving behind a vast repository of unexplored cinematic history.


The Ivory Game

This gripping docudrama dives into the dark world of ivory trafficking, revealing both its brutal impact on African elephant populations and the heroic efforts of those who fight to thwart poachers. Filmed across several countries, this documentary highlights the complex socio-economic factors that sustain poaching and the international response required to stop it. Stream on Netflix to witness this powerful confrontation between extinction and survival.


The Boy from Geita

Director Vic Sarin exposes the severe societal stigmatization faced by albinos in Tanzania in "The Boy From Geita." Centered on the harrowing experiences of Adam, a 12-year-old albino boy who survived a brutal attack aimed at severing his limbs for their supposed mystical properties, this documentary captures his journey from near tragedy to healing.


Adam’s narrative transitions from recounting his fears to his aspirations, as he travels to Vancouver for a life-changing surgery facilitated by Peter Ash, a Canadian albino businessman, who aids Adam in his quest to become a portrait artist, framing a poignant story of resilience and hope against a backdrop of ignorance and superstition.



This offbeat documentary showcases the high-stakes effort to protect the endangered mountain gorillas residing in Congo's Virunga National Park amid civil war and corporate encroachment. This docuseries combines investigative journalism with nature documentaries, offering a poignant look at conservation in the face of conflict.  Available on Netflix and YouTube, this film is a testament to the resilience of nature and the human spirit.



In Mozambique's Chitima village, the O Viveiro orphanage emerges as a beacon of hope for twenty young women bereaved of their parents, offering more than just shelter but a path to empowerment.


This gripping documentary explores their transformative journeys through the institution's comprehensive facilities including a farm, school, and athletics track. Viewers are introduced to Teresa, who finds her voice in writing her life’s story, and Imaculada, who oversees the farm’s livestock, symbolizing the potential within each woman to transcend societal constraints and aspire for a dignified future not just for themselves, but also for their community.


I Am Not Your Negro

Based on James Baldwin's unfinished manuscript, this documentary explores the history of racism in the United States through Baldwin's observant eye, connecting it deeply with African identity and struggles. While not exclusively about Africa, it provides a critical look at how African cultures and histories have shaped global narratives. YouTube hosts this compelling narrative that challenges and enlightens.


A Memory In Three Acts

Inadelso Cossa’s personal and haunting documentary revisits Mozambique’s tumultuous liberation from Portuguese rule in 1975 through the eyes of those who suffered and survived the era.


Premiering at the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), the film navigates through testimonies of torture and resilience, encapsulating the somber atmosphere of a nation struggling to forge its identity and autonomy while confronting the ghosts of its colonial past. This cinematic essay serves as a crucial document for understanding the enduring scars of a country marked by foreign domination



This gripping documentary is a homage to Ousmane Sembene, the "father of African cinema," who used film as a tool to inspire societal change. Through extensive archival footage and personal recollections, "Sembene!" captures the life and legacy of a filmmaker who believed in the power of storytelling to reshape societies. Netflix provides a platform to explore the life of a man who captured African stories through his lens.



Set against the backdrop of rapid urban expansion in Addis Ababa, "Anbessa" captures the life of Asalif, a ten-year-old boy displaced with his mother from their farmland to make way for East Africa’s largest condominium complex.


This lyrical documentary juxtaposes Asalif’s imaginative adventures and magical realism with the harsh realities of displacement and cultural erosion. As the city encroaches on the fringes of his makeshift home, Asalif employs his creativity and cunning to navigate and resist the encroaching forces, presenting a poignant exploration of resilience and the universal struggle to maintain one’s identity in the face of overwhelming change.


My Africa

This original documentary paints a hopeful picture of wildlife conservation through community efforts in Northern Kenya. Narrated by Academy Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong'o, this short film highlights the symbiotic relationship between local communities and the environment. YouTube offers this visually stunning short film that is both intimate and inspiring.



The documentaries listed provide more than just visual experiences; they are gateways to understanding the diverse cultures of Africa and the intrinsic connection between its people and the land. These films, available to watch online through platforms like Netflix, YouTube, and Guidedoc, offer insights that are both profound and pivotal.


As viewers traverse from the savannahs of Kenya to the streets of Johannesburg, they gain not just knowledge but also an emotional connection to the stories unfurled in these African landscapes. Each documentary is a thread in the larger narrative of Africa—a continent rich in history, art, and resilience.



Watch more great documentaries on Guidedoc


Join GuideDoc