Top 10 Documentaries on Human Inspiration that Stir the Soul

31 de octubre de 2023

"Nostalgia is a seductive liar." — George Ball


Nostalgia and sadness often intertwine, weaving a tapestry of human emotion that resonates deeply within us. The documentary medium, with its inherent commitment to authenticity, captures these feelings like no other, bringing forth the raw, unfiltered essence of these emotions, enabling viewers to reflect, empathize, and find solace.

Derived from Greek words meaning "homecoming" and "pain", Nostalgia, is a complex emotion. It's more than just longing for the past; it's an aching reminiscence of moments, frozen in time. Today's fast-paced world often propels us forward, but these documentaries serve as poignant reminders of times gone by, urging viewers to pause and introspect. Adding to this complexity is the undertone of sadness — a universal feeling that everyone, regardless of culture or age, can relate to. Through the doc and docu lens, filmmakers take us on journeys that highlight these emotions in their rawest forms.

The pull of nostalgia is undeniable, and its association with sadness is even more compelling. This blend creates a unique space in the film where viewers can navigate their feelings, reminisce about the past, and confront the sorrows that might be intertwined with those memories. The docudrama and docuseries genres, in particular, have harnessed this potent combination to offer profound insights into the human condition.


Top 10 Documentaries on Nostalgia and Sadness:



Nostalgia for the Light

the silhouette of a man under a star

Set in Chile's Atacama Desert, this documentary intertwines the stories of families searching for the remains of loved ones who disappeared by Pinochet’s regime with astronomers gazing at the stars—a profound reflection on time, memory, and the stories written in both sand and cosmos.


Dad Magnet

a sailor says goodbye from his ship

In this captivating documentary, Kwinten, a 12-year-old with a vibrant outdoor spirit, confronts the pangs of loneliness. With his best friend Obi relocated and his father, the commanding hero of the navy ship F931 Louise-Marie, frequently away at sea, Kwinten grapples with absence. Though the sting of 'missing' is familiar, each parting with his father renews the challenge. Amidst this backdrop of emotional voids, Kwinten discovers unexpected companionship and comfort alongside his dog Jagmur, donkey Carmen, and the neighbor's affable pig, Knorre. 


Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father

two young bearded men, one has a graduation cap

A heartbreaking letter of a filmmaker to his murdered friend’s son, documenting stories of his father. This doc unravels love, pain, and an unbelievable twist that defines tragic nostalgia.


El Father Plays Himself

among bushes a bloody man talks to a man whose back is turned

Jorge, a young film director, returns to Venezuela to make a movie based on his father's life in the Amazon jungle. Jorge gives his father (El Father) the role of playing himself. What begins as an act of love and ambition turns into a process that confronts the father's struggles with addiction and his life without his son. El Father Plays Himself observes how the act of cinema uncovers, unites, heals, and destroys.


Stories We Tell

inside an apartment a girl focuses with her super 8 camera

Sarah Polley’s docudrama delves into her family's secrets, using Super 8 home movie footage, interviews, and narration. It’s a brilliant exploration of memory, identity, and the ever-blurring line between truth and fiction.


Missing Fetine

a woman with tattooed hands points to a pair of photographs of two people

Embarking on a deeply personal quest after relocating to Cyprus, an Australian-born Cypriot delves into the mysterious fate of her great aunt Fetine, a young bride forced into marriage and sent to distant Palestine, vanishing without a trace. As the search intensifies, the narrative uncovers the harrowing stories of hundreds of girls from the Turkish Cypriot community who faced similar destinies in the 1930s.


The Act of Killing

a man and a woman in pink hats sunbathe on the shores of a lake

Former Indonesian death squad leaders reenact their real-life mass killings in various cinematic genres, resulting in a haunting doc about the human capacity for inhumanity and the weight of past sins.


Family In The Bubble Web

two worried women in a room

In this gripping documentary, Ma Min-ji's parents' fortune collapsed with the Asian financial crisis. Overwhelmed by their precarious financial and emotional situation, Ma Min-ji runs away from home in her teens. After several years away from home, the daughter returns home to her parents, who are being forced to vacate their apartment. With a camera always in her hand, Ma Min-ji films this tense family reunion with the idea of reclaiming what was once a functional family.



a girl lying on the grass listening to music

A doc where the director Sandi Tan revisits the making of Singapore's first road movie by her and her friends. The film was stolen by their enigmatic American collaborator, resulting in a journey of retrieval and confronting memories.


Tears Need Rest

the reflection of a blonde woman in a round mirror

In a fleeting short film, evocative black and white vignettes capture the essence of grief: a cherished photograph of a missing sibling, the imposing Nordic forest bathed in summer's glow, and hyper-realistic sketches of hands, birds, and bodies in motion. These poignant moments encapsulate the journey of a young Norwegian girl as she grapples with her sister's loss, reminding us that even the deepest sorrow must find its respite.


Nostalgia and sadness are like two sides of the same coin, each amplifying the other's intensity. As we've seen in these films, these emotions can offer a unique lens through which we can understand the human experience, our collective past, and the memories we cherish. The power of a documentary lies in its ability to make us reflect, feel, and even heal.


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