No genre of film can portray the eccentricities and impact of geekdom and nerdom as well as the documentary. Sure, the best geek movies in history give us a glimpse into what the average geek on the street enjoys, but when it comes to what the world of geeks and nerds mean to society as a whole, nothing beats a good documentary.
These documentaries have been selected not just for their appeal to geeks and nerds, but also for anyone who wants to peer into the worlds of geekdom or nerdom in order to understand them a little better. The topics of conversation, the points up for debate. The obsessions and compulsions. The dedication to a craft. The impact on the world.
NB: The documentaries we have compiled for this list are all available to stream on the U.S. version of Netflix.
Side by Side (2012)
If you have a passion for movies, this side-by-side exploration of both digital and film technologies (produced by Keanu Reeves) is full of hidden gems. The documentary takes a fascinating look at the rapid evolution and production of historical film/video tech. Jordan Mintzer of The Hollywood Reporter describes it as, “an engrossing and detailed crash course on the digital revolution”.
The film offers a huge amount of knowledge and trivia through eye-opening interviews with pioneers who were able to use this technology to its full potential, taking film in all sorts of unexpected directions.
This surprisingly compelling documentary takes you deep inside the passionate world of fully-grown men who have become die-hard fans of My Little Pony. Originally aimed at young girls, this unexpected market for the ponies were drawn into an animated show of the characters, and things took off from there.
Now, regular conferences (such as BronyCon), meetups, shows, and gigs are all hosted to cater to this growing movement. Professional artists, game-programmers, writers, and musicians are all adding to the mix, creating a vibrant economy around this unexpected faction.
Atari: Game Over (2014)
In 1982, what was dubbed the “Worst Video Game Ever” was released by Atari. This was a time that was incredibly exciting for the industry, and Atari was the frontrunner. How did the company get things so wrong?
After the E.T. debacle, Atari was left with millions of game cartridges to dispose of, so naturally decided to bury these in the middle of a desert in New Mexico. Somehow, this film manages to turn the digging up of these cartridges into an exciting, heartwarming story of the people behind the company, and the gamers who made it so successful.
Indie Game: The Movie (2012)
The world of independent game development can be ruthless, obsessive, and passionate. Follow the intriguing — and often sad — stories of some of the leading personalities in this field as they struggle to get their games ready for release.
These titles will be displayed for all to see and judge. But the developers’ identity, soul, demons, and dreams are poured into these games. How will the gamers react?
Print the Legend (2014)
3D printing could well drive the next industrial revolution. Currently though, it’s an industry that’s largely in the hands of a relatively few companies and geeks. Even so, it only takes one or two revolutionary products to be printed using this technology to see an entire social revolution take shape. These are the teams hoping to be the ones to do just that.
Video Games: The Movie (2014)
Video Games: The Movie allows you to peer into the history of the video game, from its very humble beginnings, to a multi-billion dollar industry and cultural phenomenon.
Thrown into the feature-length mix is an education about the production, marketing, and consumption of games around the globe, making this a must-watch for anyone who has, or had, a personal connection with video games.
One reviewer on Rotten Tomatoes dubbed this mini-series “one of the most staggeringly comprehensive cinematic histories ever told”. Throughout Mark Cousins’ 15 episode series, his depth of knowledge of the film industry is blaringly clear.
We’re taken on a journey that shows what’s behind this glamor- and cash-fuelled industry. The passion, ideas, understanding of human nature, and a love for the technology that drives film.
In Cousins’ own words, The Story of Film: An Odyssey is a “global road movie, to find the innovators — the people in film — that give life to this sublime, ineffable art form: cinema”.
Trek Nation (2011)
As said in the documentary itself, “Star Trek is more than just a show. It’s a philosophy”. When it was first released in the 1960s, the show offered a glimpse into the future. The hope that things would be better in the decades to come.
Its allure of the eventual maturity of humanity hasn’t faded. And this is why there’s still a large, impressively dedicated fanbase that remains emotionally attached to the production.
Produced by the son of Star Trek‘s creator Gene Roddenberry, this documentary analyzes how the show has affected people, and how its ideas remain relevant to this day.
I Dream of Wires (2014)
This is the story of two musicians who invented the modular synthesizer — the “sound machine” that hugely disrupted the music industry in the 1960s — and how its more “primitive” sounds are making a comeback. For proof, just look at the resurgence in vinyl in recent years.
The huge box of switches and levers could produce sounds that no one had ever heard before. Its versatility was even said to be greater than that of the guitar. In essence, its analog sounds are something that still can’t be matched to this day. And that’s exactly why the modular synthesizer’s time is now.
For anyone interested in the world of online privacy and civil liberties, Terms and Conditions May Apply is an intriguing place to start. Granted, the movie has its own motives to push, so be sure to watch with a critical eye. However, its main accusations are things we simply must be aware of.
It’s suggested in the film that the Terms and Conditions that we agree to with various large tech companies take away our right to privacy. The data collected is not only sold to the highest bidder, but also given to the government, and this is something we need to not just be aware of, but also up in arms about.
Our privacy is being eroded, and this is an urgent call-to-action, a critical look into how this is taking shape, and what we should expect from the future.
Netflix (US) / Rotten Tomatoes
Surviving Progress (2011)
In a world where consistent progress is seen as the Holy Grail, Surviving Progress offers a much needed questioning of that notion. We’re taken on a frightening tour of how progress, in many historical cases, has led to the destruction of civilizations or the erosion of societies. We’re prompted to question whether these advances are, in actuality, good for us, our families, communities, and future generations.
Although this is largely a look at over-consumption and wealth inequality, there are massive parallels in the world of technology (especially when it comes to things such as biological and genetic engineering). Is our consistent need for faster, more intelligent machines something that will prove to be to our overall detriment?
Add Your Favorite Documentaries to the List!
This small selection of documentaries, all of which are available to watch on Netflix in the U.S., are the best we could find. They offer both an understanding and a critical eye on technology, advancement, geekdom, and nerdom. However, there are bound to be many others out there that we’ve missed off the list.
So, with that in mind, which other documentaries for geeks and/or nerds would you add to this list? Which of those recommended above have you already seen? What geeky subjects would you like to see documentary-makers tackle in the future?
Whatever your thoughts on this subject, feel free to let us know in the comments section below!