My Favorite Documentaries of 2017

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It was another amazing year for documentaries!

Here are a few must-see docs of great power and great artistic achievement. You’ll probably notice that my picks diverge from most “best of” lists – as always. I’m not trying to be contrary, or make a point; it’s just that I just don’t care about what’s supposed to be important. These are simply the films that moved me the most, spoke to me the most and left the biggest impression. That is to say, they’re not the best documentaries; they’re the best filmsI look forward to your passionate disagreement!
                                                                                                                  – Matt Holzman, host of The Document.


In a sea of polemic, finger-waving docs comes a riveting film that challenges what you think you know and believe. Ostensibly a film about trophy hunting, it ends up being a powerful statement about how emotion and good intentions can get in the way of solving the world’s most intractable issues – especially in the age of hyper-partisanship. Sorry friends, you are part of the problem. Listen to our story on The Document.


For the past half century, the citizens of a scenic Tuscan hilltop village (is that redundant?) have turned their lives into theater. In the midst of the global economic crisis, their play seems like its audience should be… everybody. Jeff Malmberg and Chris Shellen embedded themselves in Monticchiello (rough gig) to create an absolutely beautiful film that’s ultimately about the power of art, the artistic process and pici pasta.

Brimstone & Glory

There is something incredibly poignant about watching revelers dance in a cloud of smoke and a shower of sparks in this gorgeous film about a town in Mexico that holds a massive fireworks festival and handcrafts most of the country’s fireworks. Listen to our story about how the director almost died making this film on The Document.


The beating heart of “Machines” is the unrelenting thrum of aging machinery, but the title also refers to the humans who tend to the contraptions and seem to have become a part of them. It’s a fascinating, mesmerizing and wonderfully non-didactic film about the human cost of globalism. You’ll never wear a Gap T-shirt the same way again.

Casting JonBenet

Surely the most controversial of these picks, this “love it or hate it” film isn’t really about the JonBenét murder at all… it’s about the part we play in turning personal tragedy into a tawdry public event. Using the conceit of casting a film with people who live in the area around the Ramseys, you’ll hear yourself in some of the opinions, and you won’t like that you do.

Whose Streets?

This electric film captures the protests in Ferguson after the killing of Michael Brown – largely using home footage. Even some ardent “All Lives Matter” people will have to admit that the police behaved like an invading army fighting armed insurgents rather than angry citizens, but the film ultimately is about the power of people to create change.

Also Incredibly Worth Seeing
Abacus: Small Enough to JailAll These Sleepless NightsAlphaGo
Bronx Gothic, Burn Motherfucker, Burn!, City of Ghosts, Cuba and the CameramanDawson City: Frozen TimeDina, GilbertJaneKediLast Men in AleppoMotherlandOne of UsQuestSantoallaStrong IslandTake Every Wave: The Life of Laird HamiltonThe Departure, The Force, The ChallengeVoyeur.