During this past year and change, where everything has maybe felt too real, documentaries were, admittedly, not the first genre of movies or TV we’d turn to for a nice comfort watch. That said, anytime we did choose a new non-fiction film or docuseries, we were reminded why the medium is so vital. From enlightening (or even mind-bending) stories of communities we never knew about to political shockers to films that broke our expectations of the form, documentaries have provided a connection to the real world that feels especially precious in this isolating time. We’re collecting the best of these new movies and TV shows-check back as we’ll be adding new titles throughout the year.
Release date: February 26 Director: R.J. Cutler (Belushi) The World’s a Little Blurry is not the hagiography one expects as a film made with the full participation of the pop star that inspired it. It’s instead a deep portrait of a truly unusual current icon encountering a truly unusual type of fame. R.J. Cutler buoys the narrative with concert footage and clips of the songwriting process that showcase Eilish’s natural talent, but the most astounding moments are the ones when he captures her as a teenager caught in a maelstrom. She throws a Louis Vuitton sweatsuit in the backyard washing machine of her childhood home where she still lives with her tight-knit family; her dad gives her a kind-hearted, almost spiritual lecture about responsibility before she takes her car out for the first time by herself after getting her license. Even as she’s reaching new peaks, she’s dealing with typical teenage stuff, including a shitty boyfriend who refuses to come see her following her major Coachella performance. A touch of fear hangs over The World’s a Little Blurry, the notion that it could all go wrong very quickly, but it’s also a look at someone who almost has no choice but to be a star. – Esther Zuckerman Where to watch: Apple TV+ (Watch the trailer.)
Release date: January 8 Director: Bryan Fogel (Icarus)
The disturbing murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi remains a developing story, with headlines still trickling out since the news broke in 2018. The Dissident is an absolutely damning film about the event, retracing Khashoggi’s steps back to long before he became a journalist, at first more of a Twitter provocateur and activist, through to his premeditated assassination inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey, where he went to pick up paperwork for his wedding, and the investigation and outcry afterwards. Those who haven’t been following this closely will be shocked and appalled at the body of evidence that’s laid out, and those who have will be incensed that something more has yet to be done. – Leanne Butkovic Where to watch:Rent on Amazon Prime (Watch the trailer.)
Release date: TBA Director: Jonas Poher Rasmussen (What He Did) Flee, which has already been picked up by distributor Neon, is truly unique. This largely animated documentary, executive produced by Riz Ahmed and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, is a memoir come to life that is as much about the story it’s telling as it is about what the act telling that story means to the subject. Director Jonas Poher Rasmussen allows Amin Nawabi to narrate his experiences at his own pace. At present, Nawabi is an Afghan refugee living in Copenhagen with his boyfriend and working with an academic, but Flee uses drawing and archival footage to describe the arduous process of escaping the Mujahideen. The documentary appears to be as revelatory for Nawabi as it is for the audience watching it. Flee is not just about what Nawabi endured, but about the psychological tolls of a childhood constantly on the run. – EZ Where to watch: TBA (Watch the trailer.)
Release date: February 5 Director: Samantha Stark
This installment in The New York Times Presents: series has forced a cultural reckoning about the nature of how we, as a society, treat famous women and the influence of the nasty gossip-driven tabloid culture of the ’00s. (Even Justin Timberlake has apologized for his behavior in light of the documentary.) Told through the lens of the #FreeBritney movement, Framing Britney Spears turns back the clock to parse Spears’ rise to fame as the biggest pop star on the planet, analyzing the disgustingly sexist tone with which celebrity media talked about her and the intensity with which the paparazzi-there’s no other word for it-stalked her every move, circling back to her ongoing dispute regarding her father’s chokehold conservatorship. Both infuriating and sad, this pop-culture doc forces a perspective shift on antiquated attitudes toward women and pleads for all of us to do better. Chris Crocker was right all along: Leave Britney alone. – LB Where to watch: Hulu (Watch the trailer.)
Release date: February 5 Director: Rodney Ascher (Room 237)
Rodney Ascher is well-practiced when it comes to making documentaries about the rabbit holes pop culture can send people down, and A Glitch in the Matrix is another haunting trip from the director of Room 237. Ascher’s latest film centers on those living among us who believe that our own world is just a simulation. Using the work of Philip K. Dick, scientific studies, and, of course, The Matrix as guideposts, Ascher doesn’t seek to prove or debunk simulation theory, but to investigate why people gravitate towards it and what those implications could mean. What results is a haunting trip. – EZ Where to watch: Rent on virtual cinema or Amazon Prime (Watch the trailer.)
Release date: April 16 Director: Victor Kossakovsky (Aquarela)
Effective without a single human face, words, or music-just farm animals and their noises, occasionally plodding boots or the grinding of tractor wheels turning through mud-experimental documentary director Victor Kossakovsky’s Gunda hangs around a pig’s-eye-view of life on a Norwegian farm, also occupied by a herd of paired-up cows and a roaming one-legged chicken. This black-and-white film, executive produced by notable vegan Joaquin Phoenix, doesn’t need words to get across its unflinching life-cycle portrait of a mother sow, Gunda herself, raising a new litter of piglets in a pastoral pen. You’ll learn things about animal behavior and their own sentience; the end will inevitably leave you in tears. – LB Where to watch: TBA (Watch the trailer.)
Release date: January 15 Director: Sam Pollard (Black Art: In the Absence of Light)
Deftly explaining how and why J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI came to spy on Martin Luther King Jr., regarding the civil rights leader as a threat to national security, MLK/FBI is less an examination of what is in the bureau’s files on King-those are still sealed until 2027-and more an investigation into the culture of the institution that targeted him. Sam Pollard gives audiences a succinct history of the FBI’s place in American society, using the propaganda that fueled its venerated status, to illuminate its place in the public’s conscience. Narrated by historians and associates of King’s, MLK/FBI details Hoover’s obsession with King and how it was fueled by the racism ingrained in the country. Similarly, it shows how King was reluctant to give his confidantes’ worries any credence until the paranoia became impossible to ignore. It’s a clear and vital look into how law enforcement actively tried to curb progress. – EZ Where to watch: Rent on virtual cinema or Amazon Prime (Watch the trailer.)
Release date: March 3 Director: Jared Hess and Tyler Measom
Over the course of three twist-filled episodes, Murder Among the Mormons, Netflix’s true-crime docuseries about a series of deadly bombings in Utah in 1985, reveals itself to be a canny study of belief, entangling Mormons in a con-man’s web of lies. On what a prosecutor interviewed in the series describes as a “beautiful day,” two pipe bombs exploded at different locations in Salt Lake City, killing two; a third bomb blew up in a car the next day, injuring the rare document dealer Mark Hofmann, who the police eventually learned planted the first two bombs in an effort to get out of an elaborate scheme involving a set of potentially valuable papers to the church. Though Hofmann’s story is disturbing, there’s a warmth and curiosity to the series that helps it stand out from more traditionally grisly true-crime fare, shedding light on how a master of deception can move through the world with such relative ease. – Dan Jackson Where to watch:Netflix (Watch the trailer.)
The Sparks Brothers
Release date: TBA Director: Edgar Wright (Baby Driver)
I knew practically nothing about the band Sparks, made up of the brothers Russ and Ron Mael, going into Edgar Wright’s loving and long documentary, but I emerged a fan, which is some of the highest praise I can give a film like this one. Wright sets out to explain the underground phenomenon behind Sparks, which has weaved in and out of the public eye since the early 1970s. The director methodically goes through the Maels’ discography, highlighting their pop experiments and deeply amusing and bizarre lyrics. It’s meticulous and also enormously funny, featuring insight from the Maels themselves as well as devoted fans like Flea, Weird Al, and Mike Myers. There are animated recreations, recreations acted out by the elder Maels, and tons of archival footage. Mostly, you leave feeling a towering affection for these weirdos and their weirdo music, which is, I assume, exactly what Wright intended. – EZ Where to watch: TBA
Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street
Release date: TBA Director: Marilyn Agrelo (Mad Hot Ballroom)
There’s so much to love in director Marilyn Agrelo’s warm survey of the creation of Sesame Street, from the footage of Frank Oz and Jim Henson goofing off when the cameras were still rolling to the tender reminder of the way the show handled the death of Will Lee, otherwise known as Mr. Hooper. Based on the 2008 book by Michael Davis, it’s an origin story detailing how the crew behind Sesame Street set out to make a new kind of children’s television program, using techniques from advertising to push education, that was more interested in reaching minority and low income audiences than well-to-do suburban children. It’s a largely rosy portrait, mentioning more complicated topics but then quickly moving past them, but any annoyance with its good nature is quickly forgotten. As a history lesson about one of the most important pieces of pop culture to ever grace the airwaves, it will have you smiling and singing. (It’s worth noting that it was produced by HBO Documentary Films. HBO broadcasts Sesame Street in a controversial move that pushed the show farther away from its public television roots, which the film doesn’t touch.) – EZ Where to watch: TBA on HBO Max
Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)
Release date: TBA Director: Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson
The footage alone would be worth recommending The Roots’ drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s directorial debut, which sold at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival for a record-breaking sum. These recordings of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, a weeks-long musical event that happened the same year as Woodstock, have been unavailable to the public until now, an example of a Black historical artifact being buried. The archival material is incredible, capturing unparalleled performances from Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, The Staples Singers, Mahalia Jackson, Sly and the Family Stone, and so many more acts. Thompson frequently lets the music speak for itself, but also uses it as a guide through the place and the period, showing how Black artists were responding and evolving during the era. Summer of Soul is thoroughly joyous and also enormously vital. – EZ Where to watch: TBA on Hulu
Release date: March 5 Director: Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw (The Last Race)
This immersive new documentary functions both as a breathtaking, painterly look into the lush forests of Italy, populated by old-growth trees, picturesque little houses, and kind, pastoral villagers, and a stunning portrait of a dying art: the insular, competitive profession of truffle hunting, digging up fungi that can fetch for thousands of dollars with the help of sensitive dog noses. (Call Me By Your Name director Luca Guadagnino, owner of a truffle dog, is an executive producer.) The Truffle Hunters feels like a love poem to something the world is in danger of losing, the fires and clangs of industry and capitalism having no place in the small yet teeming world of this mysterious profession. Like its namesake little fungus, a movie like this is a rare, valuable treat. – Emma Stefansky Where to watch:In theaters (Watch the trailer.)
Starting with the new moon on Sunday, January 22, this Lunar New Year ushers in the year of the Rabbit. We’ve put together a guide on celebrating the Lunar New Year in Australia.
What is special about the year of the Rabbit?
As you might know, each year has an animal sign in the Chinese Zodiac, which is based on the moon and has a 12-year cycle. This year, we celebrate the year of the rabbit, known to be the luckiest out of all twelve animals. It symbolises mercy, elegance, and beauty.
What celebrations are taking place and how can I get involved?
There are plenty of festivals happening all around the country which you can get involved with. Here they are per state.
New South Wales
Darling Harbour Fireworks When: Every year, Sydney puts on a fireworks show, and this year, you can catch it on January 28 and February 4 at 9 pm in Darling Harbour.
Dragon Boat Races When: Witness three days of dragon boat races and entertainment on Cockle Bay to usher in the Lunar New Year. The races will commence on January 27 and finish on January 29.
Lion Dances When: Catch a traditional Lion Dance moving to the beat of a vigorous drum bringing good luck and fortune for the Lunar New Year. The dance performances will happen across Darling Harbour on Saturday, January 21, Sunday, January 22, and Sunday, February 4 and 5, around 6 pm and 9 pm.
Lunar New Year at Cirrus Dining When: Barangaroo’s waterfront seafood restaurant, Cirrus, is celebrating the Year of the Rabbit with a special feast menu. Cirrus’ LNY menu is $128pp with optional wine pairing and is available from Saturday, January 21, to Sunday, February 5.
Auntie Philter When: Hello Auntie’s owner and executive chef, Cuong Nguyen will be dishing out some of the most classic Vietnamese street foods with his mum, Linda. All of Philter’s favourites will be on offer, as well as Raspberry Pash Beer Slushies and other cocktails being served at the Philter Brewing rooftop bar on Sunday, January 22 and Sunday, January 29.
Lunar New Year Festival When: Ring in the Lunar New Year with food, music, arts, and more on Sunday, January 22, from 10 am to 9 pm.
BriAsia Festival When: From February 1-19, Brisbane will come alive with performances, including lion dances and martial arts displays. There will be street food, workshops, comedy and more.
Chinatown Adelaide Street Party When: Adelaide is set to hose a fun-filled day celebrating the Chinese New Year on Saturday, January 28, from 12 pm to 9 pm.
Crown Perth When: Across January and February, Crown Perth hosts free live entertainment, including colourful lion dances, roving mascots, and drumming performances. The restaurants will also throw banquets and menus dedicated to the Lunar New Year.