LIST: 10 documentaries to stream online
MANILA, Philippines – Mid-May saw the release of the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) 2016 “Best Picture” winner, Sunday Beauty Queen, on YouTube.
The film broke ground in many ways, coming in the year the MMFF was rebranded following controversy – which, among others, entailed strict guidelines on accepting "final films" rather than scripts, and a shuffled entry selection committee. It was also the first-ever documentary feature to win Best Picture.
Initially, also due for release this weekend was Lauren Greenfield’s documentary on Imelda Marcos, The Kingmaker. Supposedly free to stream on ABS-CBN’s iWant platform, director Greenfield tweeted on May 15 that the online premiere would be postponed to a later date, but is now available on-demand on Vimeo and Apple TV.
In honor of the two, we’ve compiled a list of other compelling documentaries you can catch online.
Coronavirus: Explained (2020)
You must be familiar with Vox. Having embraced long-form video through recent years, the news site launched its exclusive Explained series with Netflix in 2018. In its latest spinoff, Explained delves into the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The first episode entitled “This Pandemic” provides historical and scientific context to better understand the magnitude of the coronavirus pandemic. In true Vox fashion, it delivers this information in a highly visual and engaging manner. The remaining two episodes are scheduled to come out in the next few weeks.
You can catch Coronavirus: Explained on Netflix.
American Factory (2019)
Local industries being “saved” through acquisition by Chinese corporations? Hits a little close to home, don’t you think?
With the growing Chinese presence and influence in the Philippines, the Barack Obama-produced American Factory strikes a chord that’s relatable for local audiences – possibly more so than it intended to be.
American Factory is about a small town in Ohio, whose lifeblood was a General Motor factory. The factory closed down two days before Christmas 2008. Many of the townsfolk went jobless, and the community suffered a major hit. Six years later, Fuyao Glass Industry Group, a Chinese manufacturing company, put up shop in abandoned space that was the GM plant. It hired many of its predecessor’s previous workers to supplement Fuyao’s own Chinese staff, which they brought over to America.
What follows is an eye-opening “fly-on-the-wall” documentary rooted in the clash of cultures and ideologies but nuanced enough to not go into finger-pointing but rather show the ambivalence rooted – if not required – in capitalist structures.
You can catch American Factory on Netflix.
Knock Down the House (2019)
On the political side of the spectrum, we have this recent Sundance darling chronicling the political journeys of four working-class women during the 2019 congressional race.
With sudden sensation and current New York representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at its center, Knock Down the House sheds light on the grueling process of building a successful grassroots campaign in today’s America. Featuring other congressional hopefuls Amy Vilela, Cori Bush, and Paula Jean Swearengin, the film introduces us to the young and energetic political action committee known as Brand New Congress.
Wild Wild Country (2018)
Produced by the prolific Duplass Brothers, this Netflix documentary mini-series explores the jarring history of the infamous “free-loving” sannyasin cult. More jarring, much of the show is narrated by the cult’s most intriguing lieutenant Ma Anand Sheela, the architect behind the Rajneeshpuram pop-up settlement in Oregon. (Imagine watching a Manson Family documentary narrated by “Tex” Watson.)
The film also features in-depth accounts from former sannyasins like lawyer and Rajneeshpuram mayor, Philip Toelkes, but Sheela is undoubtedly the star of the show. Following Wild Wild Country’s acclaim, Amazon Studios began developing its own “Sheela” biopic starring Priyanka Chopra Jonas.
You can catch Wild Wild Country on Netflix.
We recommend this recent Sundance winner from Singapore to celebrate our Southeast Asian neighbors and the toils of raw, micro-budget filmmaking.
A film within a film, Shirkers tells of a long lost movie produced by then teenagers, Sophia Siddique, Jasmine Ng, and Straits Times film critic, Sandi Tan, who directed this documentary.
With such a small domestic market, Singapore’s film industry thrives on community-backed independent films. This is why the story of a hijacked and forgotten passion project cuts so deep. The unfolding mystery behind its antagonist ultimately renders Shirkers into an autobiographical true-crime hybrid.
Shirkers is also on Netflix..
Give Up Tomorrow (2012)
Twenty-one years ago, Sisters Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong disappeared while waiting for their ride home outside a mall in Cebu City. A few days later, a heavily-decomposed body, believed to have been Marijoy, was found in a ravine in the nearby town of Carcar. Jacqueline's body, to this day, is still missing.
Soon, eight men were arrested for the crime – 7 were convicted, while 1 turned state-witness. Their purported ringleader was Francisco Juna "Paco" Larrañaga, then a 19-year-old and scion of the prominent Osmeña clan. It was a media frenzy called by many as the “trial of the century.”
Larrañaga claimed that he was in Quezon City the night the Chiong sisters were abducted – a claim backed up by his classmates, teachers, and even airline personnel.
Filmmakers Michael Collins and Marty Syjuco, who is related to Larrañaga by affinity, pleaded Paco's case in the 2011 documentary Give Up Tomorrow. At the center of the film is a young man put behind bars by an allegedly twisted criminal justice system. According to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, the trial ran against the principles of fairness and justice.
You can catch the whole film on Rappler's YouTube page.
Imelda (2003) and Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey (2012)
Considered the thematic predecessor of The Kingmaker (some even calling it a straight-up remake), Ramona Diaz’s 2003 debut feature, Imelda, profiles the infamously extravagant former first lady by letter her tell the story herself.
Juxtaposed with contrasting views from journalists and historical experts, Imelda is most fascinating when it shows the stark contrast between Imelda Marcos’ recollections and recorded fact. Whether these are straight-up denials or delusions of grandeur brought about an inability to face reality just makes the film all the more maddening.
Another Ramona Diaz documentary, one on Pinoy YouTuber-turned-rockstar Arnel Pineda, is also available online. The film rocked the Tribeca Film Festival in 2012, chronicling the quick rise of Journey’s most unexpected new frontman.
As with Diaz’s other works, Don’t Stop Believin’ portrays both Arnel and his Hall of Famer bandmates Jonathan Cain and Ross Valory intimately. From Manila to San Francisco, the film tours with these rock legends as they return to modern-day prominence.
Jazz in Love (2013)
Before the groundbreaking Sunday Beauty Queen, documentary filmmaker Babyruth Villarama gained acclaim for her 2013 film, Jazz in Love.
The documentary tells the story of Ernesto “Jazz” Tigaladao Jr., a 22-year-old gay man from Davao, and his 56-year-old German boyfriend, Theodore Rutkowski. Theodore has just proposed to Jazz after 11 months of dating. The film follows the struggles of turning this dream wedding into a reality, especially in the Philippines, as there are no laws that allow same-sex unions.
Jazz in Love is a simple, intimate story of one’s desire – the wish to get married – that would be by all means normal if not for the pair’s sexuality. The film is respectful, empathic, and normalizes rather than makes a novelty of the love their two protagonists share.
ABS-CBN and GMA news documentaries
Featuring in-depth perspective on real issues many Filipinos face, as well as reflective of the human condition, many of these short docs have been acclaimed not only locally but also internationally.
ABS-CBN has also made a lot of their documentary work free on their iWant platform – including their standout long-form works under the DocuCentral banner. Catch "Invisible," "Radical Love," and "HIV Rising."
(Bonus: Horror fans would also be glad to know that Magandang Gabi Bayan's "Gabi ng Kababalaghan" is also online.)