8 Free Thought-Provoking Documentaries To Watch On YouTube [Stuff to Watch]

Tim Brookes 09-09-2013

You’ve no doubt watched a movie or two on YouTube by now. Whether it was uploaded by the original studio or a miscreant sharing someone else’s hard work; the streaming video behemoth is full of them. While many of the freely released feature films are just awful (no, really), there are a surprising amount of quality documentaries to sift through.

Many documentary filmmakers and the studios behind them are simply happy to have their films shown, and what better audience to mass-consume them than the Internet. If there’s nothing on TV, and you don’t fancy shelling out for a rental, why not immerse yourself in a documentary or two?

I’ve tested these from my location in Australia, as well as through a US proxy. Remember if you want to access region-locked video, we’ve got all the workarounds: from using a VPN DNS Is Just A Proxy - Use A VPN To Access Region Blocked Video For copyright reasons, certain media companies only allow their content to be viewed in certain geographic areas. In plain English, what this means is that they are meanies who suck. And what does the Internet... Read More  to using DNS tunneling 2 Effective Ways to Access Region-Blocked Videos Without a VPN Internet users outside of the United States are blocked from accessing the wealth of streaming video and music content available to Americans. Even Americans are deprived of international services like BBC iPlayer. Faced with this,... Read More , there are even guides for doing the same on your iOS How to Access Region Locked Video on Your iPad or iPhone [iOS] People are willing to go to great lengths to access video content, and great lengths are indeed required when content often doesn't become available for a big part of the world until months after its... Read More or Android devices How to Access Region-Blocked Media on Android Here are several methods to access region-blocked content on Android, including services like Manga Rock and Webtoon. Read More .

Life In A Day (2011)

Directed by Kevin Macdonald (director Last King of Scotland, Touching The Void) with Ridley Scott as executive producer, Life In A Day is an incredibly ambitious project to record what it was like to be alive on the 24th of July 2010. With the idea of preserving a slice of our history in dazzling detail for future generations, the film is only going to become more intriguing as time goes by.

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t warrant a watch now, and the way the film is spliced together jumping from one scene to the next is captivating to say the least. The film blends truly sad, poignant moments with joy and elation in equal measure and while it’s not your average documentary, it’s certainly real-life.

King Corn (2007)

An excellent documentary exposing what is truly happening to America’s food supply, starting at the very top with the nation’s biggest crop: corn. The documentary follows two best friends on their journey to growing an acre of corn, and the decisions, discoveries and moral implications uncovered along the way.

If you’re American and you eat food, this is mandatory watching. For the rest of us it’s an often equally revealing look at our culture of mass-production and profits over safety as a species, rather than that of one nation.

At The Edge Of The World (2008)

Whaling is arguably the most controversial practice that the Japanese government is involved in, and it’s no wonder there are more than a handful of groups including Greenpeace, IFAW and WSPA (among others) that are trying to protect these majestic, intelligent creatures.

At The Edge Of The World follows the Sea Shepherd Antarctic Campaign who regularly engage in cat-and-mouse sabotage with the Japanese whaling fleet. Regardless of whether you agree with their tactics or not, this is an action packed hour and a half of documentary filmmaking.

Soldier Child (1998)

In 1998, long before the Kony 2012 campaign that sparked so much controversy over its transparency, Soldier Child was produced by director Neil Abramson, with narration from Danny Glover of Hollywood fame. The documentary follows the practice of Joseph Kony’s abduction of Ugandan children which has been taking place since 1990 (and continues to this day).

The reality of this evil cannot be denied, though a good part of the film focuses on the much-needed efforts to rehabilitate and protect the vulnerable.

The Day The Wave Came (2005)

An Australian documentary chronicling the devastating 2004 earthquake and tsunami which hit just off the west coast of Sumatra and Indonesia in 2004. Most shockingly, the film describes the efforts of one retired meteorologist who tried to warn the authorities to raise the alarm only to be ignored.

The film contains some shocking footage of the forces of nature, as well as emotional interviews of locals and tourists.

Atomic Wounds (2006)

Dr Hida is 89 years old and a survivor of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima at the end of the Second World War in 1945. Despite his age, he still helps treat those who live to tell the tale of that fateful day, and he himself recounts the moments in vivid and graphic detail.

The film goes into great deal about the studies performed by the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission after the bomb was dropped, who did not treat survivors but instead simply studied their deterioration. Much of this is provided in a first-hand account by Dr Hida himself, who provides a grim look at the horrors of nuclear warfare.

Freedom Fries: And Other Stupidity We’ll Have To Explain To Our Grandchildren (2006)

A lighthearted look at the link between American patriotism and consumerism, and specifically the anti-French sentiments that swept across the US when France voted against the invasion of Iraq. It goes without saying that such mentality doesn’t apply to all Americans, nor does it apply solely to America either.

That said there’s far less “Bush-bashing” here and a lot more insight into the US culture of consumerism and how it ties into patriotism, and the flaws in the foundations of such thought.

Sprawling From Grace (2010)

What consequences do modern, sprawling suburban areas have on the quality of life? According to some, the suburbs represent much everything of the American dream (inside America, at least) and a small quiet slice of  “tranquility-without-rurality” everywhere else. According to some experts, this is having a highly detrimental effect on society and the lives of those living in the ‘burbs.

What is dubbed “irresponsible horizontal growth” is driving the demand for finite resources, and this film shines some light on the cause, effect, and viable alternatives to maintain a lifestyle that so many crave.

Do you have any favourite documentaries you’ve seen recently? Share them below, especially any we can watch on the Internet for free!

Image credit: Atomic Bombing of Japan (Wikimedia)

Related topics: Documentary, Stuff to Watch, YouTube.

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  1. GP
    October 28, 2016 at 9:02 pm

    Fat, sick and nearly dead. Also, Bigger, Stronger, Faster and We are Legion - Anonymous. All awesome.

  2. Lazo Goluža
    March 6, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    Capturing the Friedmans, Searching For Sugarman, Witch hunt, Blackfish. Check it out

  3. Emma
    January 26, 2014 at 7:08 pm

    Great suggestions! Thanks so much. I just watched the tsunami doco, which was very well made and so sad.

  4. Dani
    December 7, 2013 at 12:38 am

    Zeitgeist addendum! Must see

  5. allison
    October 12, 2013 at 9:57 pm

    Ghosts of Rwanda. u better check that out

  6. Yves
    September 10, 2013 at 11:46 am

    Garbage Warrior is a good one too if living off the grid and unusual architecture interests you.

  7. Fakher
    September 10, 2013 at 2:43 am

    you missed one of the best " HOME"