Absorbing, family-friendly documentaries?
January 16, 2021 6:21 PM   Subscribe

What are your favorite absorbing and family-friendly documentaries (movies or series) of the last few years?

My wife & daughter (13) -- and her college-age sister -- have enjoyed positive documentaries or based-on-a-true-stories lately, like "On Pointe" and "Safety," as well as shows like "Kids Baking Championship" and perennial favorite "The Amazing Race."

What else is appropriate (as in, not "Cheer"), and delightful and interesting?

Thanks for any ideas!
posted by wenestvedt to Media & Arts (37 answers total) 86 users marked this as a favorite
20 Feet From Stardom, about backup singers.
posted by girlmightlive at 6:27 PM on January 16, 2021 [6 favorites]

Kedi, about the cats of Istanbul and their people
posted by kitten magic at 6:37 PM on January 16, 2021 [12 favorites]

Spellbound - About the 1999 National Spelling Bee.
posted by VirginiaPlain at 6:42 PM on January 16, 2021 [9 favorites]

If you've any interest in soccer, then Pelada is worth a look.

If soul music is of any interest, I liked Soul of America about the late Charles Bradley.
posted by juv3nal at 6:46 PM on January 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

(I also really, really like Sans Soleil, but probably at 13 I would have found it stupid & boring)
posted by juv3nal at 6:47 PM on January 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

Mad Hot Ballroom about kids’ ballroom dancing competition. Similar in tone to Spellbound and just as charming!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:52 PM on January 16, 2021 [4 favorites]

The Eagle Huntress is about a 13 year old Kazakh girl who is the first female in her family to become an eagle hunter. Watching it, you can't believe it is real and that the film makers were so lucky to catch this story on film.

I watched it with a friend and her 6 and 9 year old daughters and it seemed fine for kids
posted by carolr at 6:57 PM on January 16, 2021 [7 favorites]

Oh, and also Dark Horse: it’s a documentary about a Welsh village that pools their money to buy and train a racehorse...who unexpectedly turns out to be a winner. It is super absorbing and thrilling, funny and touching.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:58 PM on January 16, 2021 [2 favorites]

10-14 year-olds at my place proclaimed as "the best" the video "Please Vote For Me" . (SLYT)
posted by gregoreo at 7:24 PM on January 16, 2021 [3 favorites]

Won't You Be My Neighbor is a reminder that kindness has its own power, and can prevail.
posted by baseballpajamas at 7:57 PM on January 16, 2021 [6 favorites]

Faces Places (2017) -- so light and charming. If you have Amazon Prime, one way to see it is with a free trial of the 'channel' that's got it.
posted by Wobbuffet at 8:05 PM on January 16, 2021 [2 favorites]

There are some modest sexual references in Man on Wire (about the acrobat who wire-walked between the Twin Towers in the 70s), but nothing I think seriously inappropriate for a thirteen-year-old, and it's just thrilling and beautiful.
posted by praemunire at 8:07 PM on January 16, 2021 [2 favorites]

I've been on a documentary kick lately. I agree that Man on Wire is great and Won't You Be My Neighbor is just terrific. I haven't seen Spellbound but I did enjoy Word Wars which is about Scrabble (good if you like Scrabble, otherwise maybe not?). Other suggestions:

- Betty White: the First Lady of Television if she likes TV/White
- The Speed Cubers - kind of about Rubiks Cube competitions but there's s lot more going on
- For the Love of Spock - if either of you are Star Trek people, there's some addiction talk but it's not too heavy
- The Creeping Garden - not sure where you'd find this but it's about SLIME MOLDS and actually very good and interesting (I think there's a Nova one which may also be good)
- Crip Camp - learn a lot about disability rights, there's some sex talk, but nothing graphic. There's some disturbing footage from within an institution but it's very brief and it's very clear that situation in particular was sorted out.
- If you liked Galaxy Quest then Never Surrender: A Galaxy Quest Documentary is a must-see. Mainly about fandom and it's nice.
posted by jessamyn at 8:24 PM on January 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

Fly Like A Girl
posted by gudrun at 8:25 PM on January 16, 2021

My Octopus Teacher is amazing
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:26 PM on January 16, 2021 [8 favorites]

My favorite genre!
In no particular order...
Imba Means Sing
Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Blue Planet Series
Won't You Be My Neighbor
March of the Penguins
Human Planet
Man on Wire
Free Solo
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Paris is Burning
posted by crayon at 8:29 PM on January 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

Nthing Man on a Wire.
posted by frumiousb at 8:38 PM on January 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

The Biggest Little Farm. Totally delightful and enchanting. There is some animal death (circle of life type stuff) just as a heads up in case that is a dealbreaker.

Maiden, about the first all-women sailing team to enter the Whitbread Around the World race—super exciting and compelling to root for these women! Also a heads up, there is a brief segment about a death on one of the other competing teams, in case that is something you’d rather avoid.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:58 PM on January 16, 2021 [2 favorites]

The documentary Dealt is wonderful. I linked it here but don't click on the link. Don't read anything about it. Don't watch the trailer, or even read the synopsis before viewing it. Just hit the "play" button and you'll soon know why it's best to be surprised.
posted by mezzanayne at 9:07 PM on January 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

(I loooooove Paris is Burning but I'd say it's 16+. A really good thing to watch with a teenager that's old enough, but there's a fair amount about the harsh realities of NYC sex work and, as noted near the end, one of the subjects was murdered after filming concluded.)
posted by praemunire at 9:19 PM on January 16, 2021 [4 favorites]

If she liked On Pointe, she might also like Dance Dreams: Hot Chocolate Nutcracker (Nexflix) and Getting to the Nutcracker (Amazon Prime).
posted by timestep at 9:21 PM on January 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

We really enjoyed The Booksellers - a range of quirky and knowledgeable people (including a few collectors) talk about their experiences in New York’s rare book world. Humour, drama, and some beautiful libraries.
posted by The Patron Saint of Spices at 9:49 PM on January 16, 2021

I just finished watching The Reason I Jump, and there’s nothing in it that’s inappropriate for kids. It’s about teenagers, though, and has a slow, contemplative vibe, so it may or may not rivet their attention.
posted by matildaben at 11:05 PM on January 16, 2021

Seconding Kedi and Won’t You Be My Neighbor.
posted by porn in the woods at 12:20 AM on January 17, 2021

A 13-year-old may find the slowly unfolding, often wordless plot a bit too quiet, but Honeyland is a gorgeous portrait of an exceptionally strong rural beekeeper in Macedonia doing her best to survive in a difficult world that becomes more so over the course of the film. It captures so much of what it is to be human in its short 85 minutes, and won a ton of accolades. It's truly breathtaking at times. I didn't want it to end.
posted by mediareport at 4:54 AM on January 17, 2021

Also, the 25-min doc Period. End of Sentence. is a neat empowering film about women in India fighting the stigma against menstruation by manufacturing and selling sanitary pads. It's a great quick watch that includes teen women.
posted by mediareport at 5:49 AM on January 17, 2021 [3 favorites]

Pick of the Litter—documentary about puppies being trained to be service dogs!
posted by bookmammal at 6:43 AM on January 17, 2021 [2 favorites]

20 Feet from Stardom is amazing, very kid friendly, and a wonderful history lesson about the music industry as a whole. Highly recommend. Fun for adults and kids. My partner's kids loved it, as did we.
posted by nayantara at 6:49 AM on January 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

Not so recent, but Fast, Cheap and Out of Control is a lot of fun.

I'd also highly recommend the 7 Up series.

Seconding My Octopus Teacher, Mad Hot Ballroom, and Please Vote For Me
posted by Mchelly at 8:44 AM on January 17, 2021

I loved Babies and Boys State.
posted by stillmoving at 12:43 PM on January 17, 2021

Seconding Babies and Won’t You Be My Neighbor.

May I ask if anything bad happens to any of the cats in Kedi? Like, are any of them ill or injured or otherwise clearly not doing OK? I’ve always wanted to watch it but I have less tolerance for animal suffering than a very sensitive 6-year-old.

For context: I am a 46-year-old woman and my husband often reads the parental advisories section of IMDb before we watch a movie to make sure it’s “rated J.”
posted by jesourie at 1:48 PM on January 17, 2021 [2 favorites]

jessourie, I think I'd need to re-watch to be sure so maybe hold off for now. I don't think so and so much is about how wonderful people are looking after them, but they do have harder lives than an indoor pet would. I totally appreciate where you're coming from, I can watch tv shows where people are murdered with no problems but any hint an animal might be harmed is a complete no-go.
posted by kitten magic at 3:50 PM on January 17, 2021

It may be helpful to also mention DoesTheDogDie.com which has entries for a lot of emotionally-difficult things that may happen in movies, among them animal injuries or death. It reports that there's an injured kitten which may be alive or dead, that is brought to a vet and you don't get a resolution on what happened to it.
posted by jessamyn at 4:06 PM on January 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

Alone Across the Arctic was low-key and enjoyable.
posted by bunji at 9:22 PM on January 17, 2021

Wordplay about crossword puzzles. Pretty fascinating to learn about the writers. Primary focus is on the New York Times crossword. One of my favorite bits is regarding the very ingenious way of using the winner of the 1996 Presidential Election (between Bill Clinton and Bob Dole) before the results were in.
posted by NotTheRedBaron at 1:33 AM on January 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

Wild Bear Rescue on Canadian Animal Planet
posted by zdravo at 9:41 AM on January 18, 2021

Came here to recommend The Biggest Little Farm. Someone beat me to it.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 1:12 PM on January 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

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