Mirrors of Ourselves: Documentaries to reflect our humanity

April 12, 2024


In the age of streaming, where content is king, documentaries have emerged as powerful mirrors reflecting the complexities of humanity. These documentaries, docuseries, and docudramas do more than just tell stories; they challenge us to look deeper, question our beliefs, and consider the world from perspectives other than our own. Netflix, YouTube, and Guidedoc have become the modern-day campfires around which we gather, seeking stories that illuminate the human condition in all its shades.


Humanity's journey through the ages has been a tapestry of resilience, innovation, and the constant quest for meaning. Across different eras and cultures, individuals and communities have faced challenges that tested their strength, adaptability, and spirit. Yet, amidst these trials, humanity has also experienced moments of profound connection, joy, and discovery. Life's rich complexity is mirrored in our diverse experiences, from the struggles that shape our character to the achievements that inspire generations.


The essence of what it means to be human is found not just in the grand events of history, but in the everyday acts of kindness, courage, and love. As we navigate the uncertainties of our time, the stories of humanity's past and present remind us of our shared resilience and the enduring hope that binds us together in the beautiful, ongoing narrative of human life.


In watching these documentaries, we are prompted to reflect on our place in the world. They serve as a reminder of our shared humanity, the challenges we face collectively, and the individual contributions we can make toward a better future. These stories often linger long after the screen is dark, urging us to ponder our responses to the issues presented and how we might act on the insights gained.


Essential Viewings: Documentaries to Reflect on Humanity:




Life Itself

This offbeat documentary chronicles the life of renowned film critic Roger Ebert, offering an unflinching look at his battles with cancer and the transformative power of love, art, and resilience. "Life Itself" is a testament to the strength of the human spirit and the profound impact one individual can have on the world.


They Shall Not Grow Old

Peter Jackson’s groundbreaking docu revitalizes the stories of World War I soldiers through previously unseen footage, meticulously colorized and restored. This film bridges a century, allowing viewers to hear and see the war through the eyes of those who lived it, in a poignant reminder of humanity’s capacity for destruction and resilience.


The Balcony Movie

Crafted from a unique vantage point beneath the director's Warsaw apartment, "The Balcony Movie" captures the essence of human resilience and connection through a series of candid conversations with passersby. As each shares their journey through life's ups and downs, a vivid mosaic of human emotion and experience emerges, offering a profound glimpse into the soul of contemporary society.


This documentary weaves together these personal narratives into a collective exploration of the enduring spirit, shared struggles, and moments of joy that define our existence, illuminating the rich complexity of the human condition.


The Man Nobody Knew

Dive into the kaleidoscopic life of Enriquelo, a documentary subject who defies easy categorization. As a flea market boss, devout Catholic, vibrant street performer, and an openly queer individual, he stands at the intersection of contrasting identities. While local lore might reduce him to a town eccentric, this film delves deeper, presenting an intimate portrait of his daily life, spiritual convictions, and creative expressions.


Through his story, "Enriquelo" emerges not just as a documentary but as an ode to the art of being oneself in a world that often demands conformity, celebrating the beauty of self-discovery and the courage to live out loud.



Set against the backdrop of Uruguay's largest penitentiary project, this narrative delves into the life of Miguel, a man ensnared in the complexities of leading a double life with two families. As he grapples with the internal turmoil of revealing his secret, the documentary closely tracks his journey across Uruguay and Brazil, painting a poignant metaphor of an internal prison forged by guilt.


Through intimate cinematography, we explore the depths of Miguel's struggle, juxtaposing the physical construction of a penitentiary with the invisible walls built by his own decisions, offering a compelling study of freedom, confinement, and the quest for redemption.


A Place To Live

In Los Angeles, the film unfolds the intimate journeys of seven LGBTQ seniors competing for a home in Triangle Square, the city's pioneering affordable housing complex for their community. Amidst a backdrop of scarcity, a lottery system decides their futures, spotlighting the harsh realities faced by these often marginalized individuals.


This documentary vividly captures their challenges and dreams, highlighting their vulnerability and the triumph represented by Triangle Square—a symbol of hope, acceptance, and a significant stride toward equality for LGBTQ seniors seeking a safe and welcoming space to call home.


The Man Who Saw Too Much

This gripping documentary offers an in-depth exploration of Enrique Metinides's life and work, a child prodigy whose fascination with death's imagery led him to become an iconic figure in the world of tabloid photography in Mexico City. From a young age, Metinides ventured into the city's underbelly, capturing the aftermath of tragedy and crime, and earning a unique position in the media landscape.


This documentary goes beyond biography, probing into the collective fascination with tragedy and the macabre, inviting viewers to reflect on their attraction to the grim aspects of human existence. Through Metinides's compelling photographs, the film navigates the complex interplay between morbidity, art, and the human condition, set against the vibrant and tumultuous backdrop of one of the world's most populous cities.


The Beginning of Life

This thought-provoking documentary delves into the crucial early years of human development. The film brings together the insights of families from diverse cultural backgrounds, scientists, and early childhood experts to explore how the environment and interactions in the first years of life can shape a person's future.


Through a series of touching interviews and beautiful cinematography across various countries, Renner showcases the importance of love, play, and education in the foundational years, arguing that a supportive start in life can lead to a healthier, more fulfilling future. The documentary emphasizes the idea that society as a whole benefits when children have the best possible start in life, making a compelling case for investing in the earliest days of human development.


The Kindness Diaries

This heartwarming documentary series is hosted by Leon Logothetis, a former stockbroker who leaves his old life behind to travel the world relying solely on the kindness of strangers for food, shelter, and fuel. Each episode features Logothetis traveling to different parts of the globe on his yellow motorbike, encountering people from various walks of life, and learning about their stories and struggles.


The unique twist of the series lies in Logothetis's promise not to accept money, but only acts of kindness, while also seeking opportunities to assist those who help him in significant ways, often in life-changing manners. The series highlights the inherent goodness in people, the power of kindness to transform lives, and the idea that generosity and compassion can bridge the divides of cultures, languages, and backgrounds. "The Kindness Diaries" offers viewers a profound look at human connection and the potential for a positive impact in the world through simple acts of kindness.


Notes on Blindness

This profound and immersive documentary explores the life-changing experience of John Hull, a writer and theologian who lost his sight just before the birth of his first son in 1983. Faced with the daunting challenge of navigating life without vision, Hull began documenting his journey and reflections through audiocassette diaries.


These recordings provide a unique and deeply personal insight into the world of blindness, capturing Hull's philosophical and emotional responses to his condition. Oliver Sacks, renowned neurologist and author, praised Hull's work as a "masterpiece" for its extraordinary depth and beauty.



In delving into these documentaries, we're offered a chance not just to see the world through others' eyes but to reflect on our perspectives and prejudices. They remind us of the power of storytelling, not only to document the world but to change it by changing us. In this era of endless content, taking the time to watch, reflect, and engage with these narratives is perhaps the most human act of all. These documentaries are more than just movies or shows; they are invitations to embark on a journey of understanding, empathy, and action.



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