Faith on Film: Documentaries Exploring Religion and Tradition that you won't believe

10 de maig de 2024


In a world where the hustle and bustle of city life dominate the headlines, documentaries that delve into religion and tradition offer a poignant glimpse into the soul of societies. These films do not merely capture rituals and ceremonies; they weave the rich, complex fabric of human faith and cultural heritage. From remote villages to sprawling cities, they uncover the diverse ways in which devotion and tradition shape lives and communities around the globe.


Religious and traditional documentaries serve as vital tools for understanding and appreciating the varied expressions of faith across different cultures. They often combine elements of docudrama, ethnography, and immersive storytelling to offer viewers a comprehensive look at practices that may be foreign or unfamiliar. Platforms like Netflix, YouTube, and GuideDoc have made these insightful films more accessible, allowing audiences worldwide to explore the spiritual and cultural dynamics that might otherwise remain unseen.


These films do more than a document—they question and converse with the very essence of human belief. They challenge viewers to consider the role of faith in their own lives and the lives of others, fostering a deeper understanding of global traditions and religious practices. This genre of filmmaking encourages a reflective exploration of how traditions are preserved, how they evolve, and how they can both unite and divide us.


Ten Must-Watch Documentaries on Religion and Tradition: 



Into Great Silence

This deeply contemplative film transports viewers into the serene world of the Grande Chartreuse monastery in the French Alps. Without interviews or scores, the documentary offers a meditative look at the lives of Carthusian monks, focusing on their quiet routine and devotion. It’s a rare window into a world of profound silence and spiritual richness.


With Mum At The Monastery

In a last-ditch effort to mend fences, a mother and daughter head to a Thai monastery, immersing themselves in 26 days of strict meditation and silence. Nestled in tranquility and separated from the world's noise, they confront their painful past. The monastery's serene environs and the rigorous discipline of mindfulness offer them a rare chance to untangle years of strife and find the healing and reconciliation they desperately seek.


Jesus Camp

This captivating documentary takes an unflinching look at an evangelical Christian summer camp, where children are taught to become part of the "army of God." It’s a provocative examination of religious education and indoctrination, highlighting the potent mix of faith and politics influencing the next generation.


The Rising Valley

This visually poetic exploration of the Vale do Amanhecer, is a unique spiritual sanctuary in Brasília where mysticism and faith melt into a vibrant tapestry reflective of Brazil's diverse cultures. The documentary delves into the lives of the valley's devotees, who hail from various corners of the world, each drawn by the quest for renewal.


Through their eyes, we experience the complex interplay of ancient rituals and personal transformations that define this extraordinary community.


Around The World in 80 Faiths

This enlightening BBC documentary series sees Anglican vicar Peter Owen-Jones embark on an extraordinary journey to explore and experience eighty of the world's most fascinating and diverse religious practices across six continents.


With a respectful and inquisitive approach, Owen-Jones delves into the rituals and beliefs of various faiths, from mainstream religions to lesser-known spiritual practices, providing viewers with a deeper understanding of the complex world of spirituality and the ways different cultures seek to understand and interact with the divine.


This series not only broadens the viewers' perspectives on faith and spirituality but also highlights the universal quest for meaning and connection in the human experience.


Everyday Mysticism

At over 90 years old, Vello Salo is not only a priest but a true citizen of the world, whose spiritual and geographic journeys offer a profound narrative of faith and resilience. This documentary celebrates his rich life, from fleeing Estonia in 1944 to his roles in Germany, the Middle East, and beyond, and finally returning to serve in Estonia's Pirita convent.


It paints a moving portrait of aging gracefully within the priesthood while pondering life's deepest questions as Salo prepares to face his final chapter with dignity and unwavering faith.


Holly Hell

This compelling documentary offers an inside look at the Buddhafield, a mysterious spiritual community that flourished in West Hollywood during the 1980s. Directed by Will Allen, a former member who served as the group's videographer for over two decades, the film combines contemporary interviews with a vast array of footage shot during his years in the cult.


The documentary exposes the charismatic leader at the center of the cult, known only as Michel, whose manipulative and abusive behaviors gradually come to light, revealing the dark underbelly of a community that, on the surface, promoted love and enlightenment.


Closer To God

Plunge into the spiritual life of Gogha Sain and the master singer Ustad Saami, two figures bound by their dedication to higher callings in a documentary that explores the confluence of devotion and heritage.


While Ustad Saami preserves and passes down the ancient music traditions of a once united land, Gogha Sain devotes his life to divine service and humanity. Together, they embody the philosophy that true understanding of oneself illuminates the path to respecting others.



This thought-provoking Brazilian documentary directed by Luiz Bolognesi, portrays the life of Perpera, an indigenous Paiter Surui shaman who has been marginalized in his community in the Amazon. As modernity encroaches in the form of evangelical missionaries and new technologies, Perpera's people increasingly turn away from their traditional beliefs.


The film poignantly captures Perpera's struggles to maintain his identity and spiritual heritage in a rapidly changing world, offering a sobering look at the impact of external influences on indigenous cultures and the personal and cultural conflicts that arise when ancient and modern worlds collide



Every few years, Ram Nath transitions from a humble farmer to a master of ancient rituals in the Himalayan valley of Kullu, where he plays a pivotal role in a purification ceremony aimed at absolving communal sins.


"Chidra" follows his transformative journey into this mysterious rite, where he becomes the linchpin in a spiritual cleansing process, wielding rituals that navigate the delicate balance of human actions and cosmic laws. This documentary provides a rare glimpse into the potent interplay of men, gods, and destiny at the edge of the Hindu cultural world.



The documentaries featured in this list are more than educational resources; they are invitations to witness and reflect on the spiritual and traditional dimensions of societies around the world. They challenge us to look beyond our own experiences and understand the profound ways in which faith shapes human lives. As these films show, whether through the lens of a camera or the screen of a streaming service, religion and tradition remain vital forces in shaping human culture and consciousness.



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