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Top 21 documentaries and docudramas of 2021 that are sure to show you a mirror to society

The year 2021 has produced several great and interesting documentaries that range from subjects like music bands and sports to some historic events like the 9/11 attacks and the Tham Luang cave rescue of 2018.

Akhila Damodaran
Dec 27, 2021
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Documentaries of 2021

It can be said that the year 2021 has been the year of documentaries. Many filmmakers have offered great and interesting documentaries with varied subjects of interest. The subjects covered in documentaries include sports, climate change, scandals, and inspiring lives of prominent people. The year also marked the 20th anniversary of the unforgettable 9/11 attacks which changed the course of action for the US and hence, other countries around the globe as well. And filmmakers have taken this opportunity to offer tribute to those who lost their lives by sharing perspectives and personal stories of people during the attack. 

These documentaries make for a great watch as they offer new information, insights and educate one about what is happening around the world. They present a mirror to society by telling real-life incidents in a fun and entertaining way with gripping tales, stunning visuals, and informative interviews. 

Here are some of the best documentaries that 2021 has produced for your watch.

1
Pray Away
7OTTplay Rating
This documentary is based on 'conversion therapy' in the 1970s by five evangelicals who form Exodus International, a group and claim that they can make gay people straight through prayer and therapy. The documentary is directed by Kristine Stolakis. The film had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in June this year and received favourably positive reviews. It is appreciated for showing the damage and trauma of the so-called conversion therapy.
2
The Rescue
8.1OTTplay Rating
Directed and produced by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, this documentary film is about the 2018 mission to save a junior association football team from an underwater cave in Thailand. The mission was called Tham Luang cave rescue where 12 football team players, aged between 11 and 16, and their 25-year-old assistant coach were found trapped after they entered the cave and couldn't find the way out after heavy rainfall flooded the cave system. The film was premiered at the 48th Telluride Film Festival in September before its theatrical release in the US. It went on to bag awards for the best documentary film at several film festivals like Toronto International Film Festival and Middleburg Film Festival, and Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards.
3
Summer of Soul (...or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)
7.9OTTplay Rating
Directed by Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, this film is about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival. The Festival was held at Mount Morris Park, now called Marcus Garvey Park, in Harlem. The fest went on for six weeks and hosted performers such as Stevie Wonder, Mahalia Jackson, Nina Simone, The 5th Dimension, The Staple Singers, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Blinky Williams, Sly, and the Family Stone and the Chambers Brothers. Despite being attended by a large group of people and celebrated by big artists, the festival was seen as obscure in pop culture. The documentary film investigates that matter. A well-acclaimed film, it is praised for the footage restoration of the fest. It had its world premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival before a limited theatrical release in the US.
4
Bring Your Own Brigade
7.2OTTplay Rating
The documentary by Lucy Walker brings out the horror of the Camp Fire of 2018, the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in the history of California. The film takes you through the aftermath of the disaster and the debates over what could have prevented the fire. It also looks into the history of such uncontrolled fires and causes, including climate change and corporations. The film got a positive response for showcasing the terror and harrowing experiences of people during the time.
5
The Velvet Underground
7.2OTTplay Rating
The documentary film chronicles the life of the rock band The Velvet Underground. Directed by Todd Haynes, the film follows the journey of the influential band from the early 1960s and how it rose to fame in the music, art and film sectors. The band members include Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison, John Cale, and Maureen Tucker. The band was not a commercial success at that time but is credited for its contribution to the development of new wave and punk music with its underground, experimental, and alternative music. The film received a great response for showing the cultural milieu of the band and its musical and cinematic influences.
6
The Sparks Brothers
7.8OTTplay Rating
This is another interesting documentary based on a rock band. The film is helmed by Edgar Wright and tries to find how can a rock band be successful, influential, yet underrated and criminally overlooked -- all at the same time. The musical odyssey looks at five decades of brothers Ron and Russell Mael and celebrates the legacy of Sparks through interviews by celebrity fans like Flea, Jane Wiedlin, Beck, Jack Antonoff, Jason Schwartzman and Neil Gaiman.
7
Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror
7.9OTTplay Rating
The docu-series chronicles the terror and chaos surrounding the 9/11 attacks. Season 1 of the series has 5 episodes and shows Al Qaeda's roots in the 1980s and the response by the US to these attacks. The series also offers perspectives and personal stories of how the event changed the course of action and policy for the superpower. The film was made and released to mark the 20th anniversary of the catastrophic event. The documentary is created by James LaPorta.
8
WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn
6.8OTTplay Rating
Directed by Jed Rothstein, the documentary tells the story of the rise and fall of one of the biggest corporate and venture capitalists, WeWork and its leader Adam Neumann, who was ultimately forced out of the real estate company. The film is recognised for 'its real-life stranger-than-fiction story'. The film had its world premiere at South by Southwest in March before it was released on Hulu.
9
The Lady and the Dale
6.8OTTplay Rating
The documentary mini-series tells the story of Elizabeth Carmichael, who created a car called The Dale, a fuel-efficient three-wheeler and launched a company called Twentieth Century Motor Car Corporation. As she got popular for her invention, she became a subject for scrutiny for media that started digging into her past and the car's technology. The four-episode feature includes interviews with her children Candi Michael and Michael Michael; her brother-in-law Charles Richard Barrett; her grandchild Jeri Buchard; journalists Dick Carlson, Pete Noyes and Mark Lisheron; and former employees of Twentieth Century Motor Car Corporation. The series is directed by Nick Cammilleri and Zackary Drucker.
10
Last Chance U: Basketball
8.7OTTplay Rating
The latest instalment of the Last Chance U focuses on the sport of basketball. It focuses on the college community basketball team and the struggles and challenges they face to win the first-ever state title. The documentary follows the East Los Angeles College Huskies (ELAC) and its head coach John Mosley. The series has been renewed for another season, which will be directed by Ryan Duffy and Tony Vainuku. According to The Wrap, the streaming giant Netflix that it will feature interviews with Manti Te’o and the catfisher behind the hoax.
11
1232 KMs
8OTTplay Rating
The documentary follows the story of migrant workers who were forced to walk miles back home after a few weeks of the nationwide lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On the verge of starvation, seven migrant workers join a million others on their march towards their respective villages. The film is directed by Vinod Kapri and was well praised by critics for showcasing the far-reaching and unforgettable impact of the pandemic.
12
Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal
6.9OTTplay Rating
This docudrama acts as an eye-opener. It talks about the college admissions bribery scandal of 2019. Directed by Chris Smith, it involves reenactments and interviews with real people who were involved in the scam. The film stars Matthew Modine as Rick Singer who was appreciated for his performance and bringing out the intense physicality of Singer. Though the film ran into controversy after the makers were sued by Wilson and his family for allegedly misrepresenting them in the movie, it went on to become one of the top 10 most-watched films on Netflix.
13
Seaspiracy
8.4OTTplay Rating
The documentary film shows the consequences of fishing on the environment. The film is directed and led by the British filmmaker Ali Tabrizi. It also advocates the impact on marine life due to humans' fish consumption and sought to end it. It even rejects the idea of sustainable fishing. The film is widely appreciated for shedding light on the subject but it also got into a controversy after a few interviewees alleged that they are misrepresented in the movie. The film is produced by Kip Anderson. It covers whaling in the Faroe Islands, the Taiji dolphin drive hunt, and modern slavery within the fishing industry, in particular to Thailand.
14
Misha and the Wolves
6.5OTTplay Rating
The documentary explores the fraudulent 1997 Holocaust memoir of Misha Defonseca. Written and directed by Sam Hobkinson, the film was premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival early this year. It explores the story through the publisher who starts questioning the facts after Defonseca's memoir, titled Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years, became a global success. The film has an interesting line-up of interviewees that include Misha's friends, family, neighbours, holocaust survivor Evelyne Haendel and other experts.
15
Schumacher
7.6OTTplay Rating
The German sports documentary film is based on Formula One racing driver Michael Schumacher. Co-directed by Hanns-Bruno Kammertöns, Vanessa Nöcker, and Michael Wech, the biopic film was released in September to celebrate the racer's 30 years in Formula One. The film takes the viewers through Schumacher's F1 career and Scuderia Ferrari's return to dominance in 2000–2004. The film also sheds some life on his personal life and struggles with interviews of his family throughout the narrative. Though it received mixed reviews, the film is appreciated for focussing on important details of his life.
16
Untold: Deal with the Devil
7.3OTTplay Rating
The biographical documentary film is the second instalment biographical documentary film. Directed by Laura Brownson, the film follows the former professional boxer Christy Martin who competed from 1989 to 2012 despite what could have been career-ending injuries. She was honoured with the WBC female super welterweight title in 2009. The film talks about one of the most influential female boxers who is heard saying in the trailer, "I was on top of the world, but my private life was the opposite." The film takes you through her personal journey, fighting her demons, abuse and threat to life.
17
Playing with Sharks: The Valerie Taylor Story
7.7OTTplay Rating
The documentary film is based on scuba diver and researcher Valerie Taylor who is known for her contribution towards marine life, breaking the myth surrounding our fear of sharks and creating awareness about everything we know today of the marine animal. The film, directed and written by Sally Aitken, includes archival footage of the underwater expedition of Taylor and interviews with the living legend herself. As per the official synopsis of Disney+, Playing with Sharks follows this daring ocean explorer’s trajectory from champion spearfisher to passionate shark protector.
18
Flee
8OTTplay Rating
An animated documentary film, it follows the story of Amin Nawabi, who shares his hidden past about fleeing his country of Afghanistan for the first time. The international co-production is directed by Jonas Poher Rasmussen. The film was selected as the Danish entry for the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film and it was also shortlisted for Best Documentary Feature. The film had its world premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival where it won praises for its animation, story, thematic content, and subject matter.
19
The First Wave
7OTTplay Rating
The National Geographic movie is made by the Academy Award-nominated and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Matthew Heineman. The film takes you through the struggles and challenges faced by medical practitioners at a hospital in New York during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic from March to June 2020. The film was well received and appreciated by critics and the audience alike. It also won several accolades including an award for the Best Documentary Feature at the Philadelphia Film Festival.


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