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Home, but Not Alone: 10 Documentaries to Expand Your Horizons

Fern Siegel

Documentaries are most enlightening when they reveal hidden or unknown worlds. Whether it’s a moment in history or a serious bio, the genre is a reminder of film’s power to educate and entertain. Here are 10 from various streamers that enlarge our vision:

1. RBG (Hulu)

To millions, Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a living legend. The admired Supreme Court Justice has been a trailblazer in women’s rights for decades. Known with affection as the Notorious RBG, her vision, intellect and profound sense of justice has endeared her to Americans of all ages.

2. Vietnam War / Jazz / New York — Ken Burns (Amazon Prime Video)

His name is synonymous with top-notch documentaries. For decades, Ken Burns has opened our eyes to the rhythm and wonder of the U.S. He’s also exposed the dark side of our politics, and the contradictory elements that define us. It’s impossible to choose just one work. These three docs tackle politics, music and the nation’s largest city with insight and depth.

3. Bombshell –- The Hedy Lamarr Story (Netflix)

In her heyday, the Hollywood star was considered the most beautiful woman in the world — she was also a remarkable inventor, credited with the invention of a signal technology that helped produce Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth. Though few people got past her looks, her contributions to science and communications are enduring.

4. Great Greek Myths (Amazon Prime Video)

The 20-episode series is gorgeously animated. It tells the ancient story of the Greek gods — with a twist. The series utilizes illustrations of famous artworks to make its points. It’s not a conventional documentary — but the narrative is hypnotic and the visuals beautifully rendered.

5. Camp Crip (Netflix)

A hit at Sundance this year, the doc, backed by the Obamas’ production company, tells the story of a summer camp and a group of disabled teens that kick-started a generation of activism.

6. 20 Feet From Stardom (Netflix)

The film won the 2014 Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. Here’s why: It’s an up-close look at the back-up singers that never achieved fame, but are critical to supporting star artists. The doc chronicles their considerable passion and talent.

7. Icarus (Netflix)

Sports doping isn’t new, but it is the subject of the riveting Oscar-winning documentary about Russian scientist Grigory Rodchenkov. He created a plan for the doc’s director-cyclist Bryan Fogel to take banned performance-enhancing drugs that would evade detection. Eventually, Rodchenkov became a whistleblower for the U.S. government, revealing the Russians extensive Olympic doping scandal.

8. Monty Python: Almost the Truth — Lawyers Cut (Netflix)

The docu-series covers 40 years of the famed British comedy troupe Monty Python, from its “Flying Circus” TV days to the Broadway musical “Spamelot.” Childhood to pre-Python work, the series interviews John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, with archive footage of Graham Chapman.

9. Three Identical Strangers (Hulu)

A disturbing true story of triplets separated at six months. Incredibly, the boys find each other and slowly unravel the secrets behind their adoptions. The nature vs. nurture argument comes to the fore, as does the unethical behavior of doctors and institutions. But what’s most striking is the relationship among the brothers.

10. Baseball (PBS)

Also a Ken Burns’ documentary, the nine episodes (innings) use photos, paintings and newsreels to examine how the history of the game, including race relations, is woven into the larger ethos of America.

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