Tell me about your favorite travel documentaries!
August 9, 2018 4:32 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking to learn more about any and all countries and their people, through documentaries. In both TV and longform formats (i.e. movies) I'd prefer non-fiction to fiction. Stuff like Bizarre Foods is interesting to me, but I want more depth and length. And less, "ewww weird foreign food"! I've watch Parts Unknown and No Reservations and have liked those too.

Things that push my comfort zone and expose me to new ideas are good. I'm American. There've been other questions like this but they're old. It would be cool if there was focus on specific cultures and daily life.

Bonus question: favorite books about countries (not travel guides) in this vein.
posted by starlybri to Society & Culture (18 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Departures is a great low-key travel show. All three seasons are on Netflix. Not every episode is amazing, but they do sometimes live with locals and you get to see everyday life in different countries.
posted by GuyZero at 4:41 PM on August 9, 2018

Anything by Simon Reeve. Start with his early lower budget stuff -- "Places That Don't Exist", "Meet the Stans", etc. -- and go from there.
posted by holgate at 4:45 PM on August 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

You are probably going to love Begin Japanology!
posted by heatherlogan at 4:46 PM on August 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Lately I have been enjoying travel videos by Deutsche Welle (in English) on YouTube. One that I found interesting was a five-episode series about a bus route from Rio to Lima. It’s called Transoceanica.
posted by jkent at 4:48 PM on August 9, 2018

Happy People by Werner Herzog
posted by brookeb at 4:48 PM on August 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Ring of Fire. Five films long.
posted by vrakatar at 5:07 PM on August 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you can find it, and don't mind that it's from 1969, Phantom India by Louis Malle is phenomenal.
posted by kmkrebs at 5:19 PM on August 9, 2018

Any of the Deutsche Welle trips on Youtube: From Rio to Lima by bus (over four hours!), Traveling Iran by train, By train across Sri Lanka.
posted by mdonley at 8:30 PM on August 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

Ostensibly about the making of a film that was never made but Tigrero: A Film That Was Never Made is fun and has travelogue bits. Perhaps Keep the River on Your Right? Taiga might be a tough one.
posted by Ashwagandha at 9:14 PM on August 9, 2018

A doco film on ancient / modern Australian culture and contestation: We don't need a map
The Southern Cross is the most famous constellation in the southern hemisphere.

Ever since colonisation it’s been claimed, appropriated and hotly-contested for ownership by a radical range of Australian groups. But for Aboriginal people the meaning of this heavenly body is deeply spiritual. And just about completely unknown. For a start, the Southern Cross isn’t even a cross - it’s a totem that’s deeply woven into the spiritual and practical lives of Aboriginal people.

One of Australia’s leading film-makers, Warwick Thornton, tackles this fiery subject head-on in this bold, poetic essay-film. We Don’t Need a Map asks questions about where the Southern Cross sits in the Australian psyche.

Imbued with Warwick’s cavalier spirit, this is a fun and thought-provoking ride through Australia’s cultural and political landscape.
posted by Thella at 11:26 PM on August 9, 2018

If you can access this NZ series it sounds right up your alley.
‘Intrepid Journeys’. (Having trouble inserting the link...)
posted by The Patron Saint of Spices at 12:13 AM on August 10, 2018

You might enjoy Mondo Enduro.

Wikipedia dixit: "Mondo Enduro was a round-the-world adventure motorcycle expedition in 1995-1996. Team members Austin Vince, Gerald Vince, Chas Penty, Bill Penty, Clive Greenhough, Nick Stubley and Mark Friend set off to go round the world by the longest route possible in the shortest time on Suzuki DR350 Dual Sport bikes.

Their route took them from London, through Central Asia, Kazakhstan and Siberia; then from Alaska to Chile and finally from Cape Town through Africa and the Middle East back to London.

The expedition was filmed and was subsequently made into a 2-part TV series. Shown on Discovery Travel and Adventure Channel over 40 times, this has since reached cult status amongst biking and adventure travel fans."
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:12 AM on August 10, 2018

Michael Palin's Around the World in 80 Days, in which he attempts to re-create that feat without the benefit of air travel. There's one particular episode which is just a boat journey from India to southeast Asia, and it's a really great piece of TV, getting to know this crew of a crowded boat.

He also has Pole to Pole, in which he travels from the North Pole to the South along the 30-degrees-East line of longitude. The final leap from South Africa to Antarctica can't be done, though, so they did it from South America instead, but he does get to the South Pole. To date the series, he's departing Russia via the Black Sea when then '89 coup occurs.

I think youtube has those two covered.

There's also Long Way Round, another travel doco in which Ewan MacGregor, his good friend and fellow actor Charlie Borman, and a fairly crazy cameraman ride motorcycles around the world. Drink every time Ewan MacGregor gets gasoline in his eyes.

Along the lines of Parts Unknown, Travel Man: 48 Hours In... is my current jam. Deadpan comedian Richard Ayoade invites a guest (a comic actor or comedian, usually) to join him in a major vacation destination city, where they take in some local foods, a tour of the local sights generally using some kind of odd conveyance, enjoy some outdoor recreation, and visit some quirky shops, all at a breakneck pace. It's all paced fast for a kind of maximum consumption of experience while you're there, because of the narrow time window. Pretty fun, IMO.
posted by Sunburnt at 1:50 AM on August 10, 2018 [5 favorites]

Oh, and favorite book along those lines: Raw Spirit: In Search of the Perfect Dram by the late, great, Scottish SF (and non-SF) writer Iain [M.] Banks. As a Scots writer, he has been hired, over the years, to do a lot of travel writing about Malt, aka Scotch Whisky, and so the book is ostensibly a collection of his writing about visiting distilleries and tasting malt, and his search for anyone making their own malt, as things were done before all the distilleries were forced into a licensing scheme.

But it's also about a third autobiography as accounts of his life are intertwined with locations in Scotland, and a third travelogue of that nation (for example, he visits the cabin in which George Orwell wrote Animal Farm, which is on Jura, where one also finds Islay Malts such as, well, Jura, and Laphroaig, and such. . He catalogs his selection of "Great Wee Roads," which are roads in Scotland which are an extreme pleasure to drive along, either due to scenery or the quality of the road's curves and straightaways.

I've been a scotch drinker and felt like it'd be neat to visit there, but this book took my ambition from "neat" to "when can we go?"
posted by Sunburnt at 1:59 AM on August 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

I really enjoyed The Story of India, with Michael Wood. It was beautifully filmed, and he covered every region in India in 7 parts.
posted by dbmcd at 7:40 AM on August 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Ugly Delicious on Netflix.
posted by miles1972 at 10:59 AM on August 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

There's also a follow-up to Long Way Round, Long Way Down, where they go from Scotland to Cape Town.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 5:55 PM on August 10, 2018

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