Low-stakes documentaries on Hulu or Kanopy
September 12, 2020 11:38 AM   Subscribe

I am looking for documentary recommendations with the lowest of stakes. I basically want the documentaries that Christopher Guest parodies, but in real life. Not a requirement but the streaming services I have available are Kanopy and Hulu.

For reference I recently watched Kedi and the scenes about orphan kittens and the feral dockyard cats were too troubling for me right now. Other documentary subjects that are probably too high stakes - anything true crime, anything with children or animals in peril, climate change, racism, etc.

Documentaries that have worked in the past: The Perfect Bid, about the man who beat the Price is Right; and Chicken People, about a heritage breed chicken competition.
posted by muddgirl to Media & Arts (29 answers total) 54 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Ugh I meant to add, like Christopher Guest mocumentsries I prefer ones about a particular person or event. I am all full up on nature documentaries.
posted by muddgirl at 11:40 AM on September 12, 2020

Somm (trailer here) is a pretty funny look into the world of sommeliers. The personalities they profile are absurd, and the whole thing has a very Christopher Guest-ish vibe. Bonus: after this went around with my friends there was a period where we were doing mock stream-of-consciousness tasting notes of Bud Lights and whatnot.
posted by stinkfoot at 11:54 AM on September 12, 2020 [5 favorites]

Word Wars is about competitive Scrabble and appears to be on several free streaming services.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:56 AM on September 12, 2020

I haven't checked to see where these are streaming, but:

Winnebago Man
The Parking Lot Movie
The Queen of Paradis (I think this may be amazon-only)
posted by jonathanhughes at 12:37 PM on September 12, 2020

Queen of Versailles, rich people behaving badly in the wake of the 2007 financial crisis.
posted by selfmedicating at 1:31 PM on September 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

You can watch Ex Libris on Kanopy—behind the scenes doc about the New York Public Library.

Hulu has Pick of the Litter—Doc about puppies training to become service dogs!
posted by bookmammal at 1:42 PM on September 12, 2020 [5 favorites]

Mad Hot Ballroom is a documentary about children learning to ballroom dance and while it has some serious moments, it is mostly just really fun and charming.
posted by mai at 2:00 PM on September 12, 2020 [3 favorites]

You could watch All or Nothing: Tottenham Hotspurs. Spoiler: it's Nothing.
posted by biffa at 2:07 PM on September 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Ditching School to Whistle is a short documentary on the community of competitive whistling and available on YouTube! Delightful!
posted by CarolynG at 2:13 PM on September 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Enthusiastically cosigning The Parking Lot Movie. My wife and I were really late to a party because we started watching it and couldn't stop.
posted by Ragged Richard at 3:06 PM on September 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

YES to Mad Hot Ballroom! I love that film. I love the kids. And the teachers. I love the whole thing!
posted by bookmammal at 3:43 PM on September 12, 2020

Heavy Metal Parking Lot about fans at a Judas Priest concert. there's a follow up doc as well where they track down the people in the original video.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is deep but also pretty tranquil.

Spellbound about the Scripps National Spelling Bee (full movie on youtube)

I found the series Mega Food on Netflix to be really interesting. Each episode is about the running of a giant food operation (cruise ship, hotel, amusement park etc.)

Helvetica about the font

Herb & Dorothy about an art collecting couple.

I <3 NY, a short about the I <3 NY logo and Milton Glaser who designed the logo.
posted by vespabelle at 4:48 PM on September 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all so much!!! These all look perfect, and most of them I had not heard of (I have seen Pick of the Litter which is the perfect level of tension).
posted by muddgirl at 6:54 PM on September 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

I loved The Final Member, about the curator of the Icelandic Phallological Museum and his efforts to get a human specimen for the museum collection. It’s almost Guest-like in the premise, but the directors don’t go for cheap jokes and it winds up surprisingly poignant.
posted by ActionPopulated at 7:38 PM on September 12, 2020

Hands on a Hardbody! Not at all as porn-y as it sounds! Lives up to its billing as "a remarkable study of competition, camaraderie, faith and determination—the ultimate human drama."
posted by Majorita at 7:48 PM on September 12, 2020 [4 favorites]

The Speed Cubers on Netflix. It’s about some people who compete to solve various sizes of Rubiks Cubes... quickly. Like very quickly. It subverts the “competition people” genre in some lovely ways.
posted by moons in june at 10:18 PM on September 12, 2020

Wordplay: about crossword fans

Obit.: about obituary writers at the New York Times

Dark Horse: about a group of English villagers who pool together to get a racehorse and train it up to be a major racing contender. I don’t know if that’s too high stakes, but I found this super charming because I love an underdog story.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:59 AM on September 13, 2020

Catwalk! About the cat show circuit in Canada. Super cute, lots of pampered kitties, very RL "Best in Show" vibe.
posted by lovecrafty at 9:05 AM on September 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

Bill Cunningham New York is another one I’d throw out there, a lovely portrait of the photographer.
posted by stefnet at 9:21 AM on September 13, 2020 [2 favorites]

I have always loved Cane Toads: An Unnatural History--first funny documentary I ever saw, and it has a definite Christopher-Guest-ensemble-esque feel to it. Not recommended if you can't deal with (non-graphic, distance) shots of toads being run over by cars, use of animal products, or some agida about invasive species. Otherwise, very silly.
posted by gusandrews at 10:04 AM on September 13, 2020

The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young is charming and funny and features one giant weirdo who manages the race. Was available on Amazon Prime the last time I looked (December, when I forced my non-running family to watch it when we couldn’t figure out something else- they really liked it).
posted by charmedimsure at 11:20 AM on September 13, 2020

I haven't watched it yet, but I have been saving The Battle of Versailles for just this sort of need - it's about the French & American fashion designers "walk off" in the 1970s which changed haute couture forever. It's on Kanopy and looks to be all on YouTube, too.
posted by Gin and Broadband at 1:14 AM on September 14, 2020

Queen of Versailles is brilliant and compelling and often hilarious, but it's also quite troubling. I'm thinking in particular of the section with the nanny who has left her own children to come care for children of a rich family. And that's beyond the looming context, which is that the family's resources came basically from tricking people out of their money. (I'm generally a big fan of capitalism, but they are in the time-share industry.)
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:37 AM on September 14, 2020 [1 favorite]

Not on either of your streaming services, unfortunately. American Movie. Great documentary. Some thought it was too on the nose and had to be a mockumentary. It is streaming free on Shudder.

posted by zerobyproxy at 11:22 AM on September 14, 2020

I'm not sure where they are streamed, but there are a couple of great documentaries about the artist Christo who did all the large scale, site specific instillations.
posted by starfish at 2:44 PM on September 14, 2020

I just watched Thunder Soul and that was pretty great, as is The Girls in the Band. Also The Music of Strangers.

I think Monk with a Camera is pretty free of troubling content. Also Tim's Vermeer. Also Breaking the Maya Code.

If you've seen Galaxy Quest, I think you'd enjoy Never Surrender.

Seconding Wordplay.

Oh! Pageant. And Twinsters.
posted by kristi at 7:51 PM on September 14, 2020

American Movie may not be as widely available, but the director's Home Movie is free on YouTube and it's a great watch - 5 very different people on their unusual homes.
posted by Gin and Broadband at 3:09 PM on September 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

Sandwiches That You Will Like is one of my favorite film experiences ever.
There's a pretty low-quality version on YouTube--sorry, I couldn't find it anywhere else--but it's all about SANDWICHES THAT YOU WILL LIKE!
posted by exceptinsects at 12:20 PM on September 16, 2020

I Like Killing Flies about Shopsin's restaurant in Greenwich Village is good for fans of eccentric folks. (first link is to full movie on youtube.)
posted by vespabelle at 12:41 PM on September 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

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