Explore the streets of Istanbul, scale Patagonian peaks, and surf the waves of Bali without leaving your living room.
Has the transportive quality of film ever been more necessary? In a time when we can only dream of international travel, why not make those dreams more immersive with the true stories of the people that make the places we long to visit so special. These documentaries will take you to the heart of some of the most incredible places in the world.
Top Picks for You
"Morning of the Earth"
WHERE: Australia, Bali, Hawaii
This classic surfer documentary, directed by Alby Falzon, follows several surfers during the early ‘70s as they seek to get away from the competitions that have taken over the scene. The doc follows them as they seek to reconnect with nature by “living in three unspoiled lands and playing in nature’s oceans.” The film features no dialogue, allowing viewers to immerse themselves in the scenic shots of coastal Australia, Bali, and Hawaii.
Directed by Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska, this 2019 documentary follows Hatidze Muratova, the last of Macedonia’s wild beekeepers. She travels across the countryside collecting honey from wild bees, but when she teaches her new neighbor this trade he ignores her advice to always leave half the honey, disrupting the careful balance between the bees and their keeper. It’s a gorgeously shot film that illustrates how important it is for us to live in harmony with the environment—and how the selfish interests of humans disrupt that harmony.
"Burden of Dreams"
The central plot point of Werner Herzog’s 1982 adventure epic Fitzcarraldo concerns the dragging of a steamboat over a steep hill in the Amazon basin. But, rather than employ editing or special effects to put this image on screen, Herzog was determined to film a steamboat being pulled up a steep hill in the Amazon basin. Director Les Blank documented the fraught shoot as it played out against the remote, lush backdrop of the Amazon as Herzog’s fixation parallels that of the titular character in his own film every step of the way.
Istanbul may very well be the street cat capital of the world. Even the Hagia Sophia has a resident cat with a reputation so illustrious she even met Barack Obama back in 2009. So it seems fitting that there should be a whole feature-length documentary dedicated to the city’s unofficial mascots. Director Ceyda Torun explores the city from the point of view of its many feline denizens and the humans that adore them.
"Lorena, Light-Footed Woman"
This documentary, directed by Juan Carlos Rulfo, profiles long-distance runner Lorena Ramirez. Ramirez comes from Mexico’s indigenous Tarahumara community, who are famous for their ability to run over long distances with ease. Ramirez competes in (and wins) some of the most difficult ultramarathons sans special gear or shoes, opting instead for running sandals and traditional skirt. This short film follows her as she trains, running through the picturesque mountains where she grew up.
"Jiro Dreams of Sushi"
This 2011 documentary, directed by David Gelb, profiles master sushi chef Jiro Ono. Jiro is also the owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro, the Michelin-starred home of what is purported to be the best sushi in Tokyo. But based on the intense dedication Jiro poured into his chosen culinary art over the course of his 85 years, it’s easy to see why a seat at Sukiyabashi Jiro’s counter is so coveted. It’s an interesting lens through which to see Tokyo; it also features scenes of the famous Tsukiji Fish Market before it relocated to Toyosu.
"180 Degrees South: Conquerors of the Useless"
After discovering footage of a trip Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins took to Patagonia, Jeff Johnson decides to recreate their adventure, with the ultimate goal being to summit the notoriously difficult the Corcovado volcano. Directed by Chris Malloy, this documentary features stunning footage of Patagonia that will have you planning your own adventure by the time the credits roll.
"People of a Feather"
Joel Heath and the Community of Sanikiluaq, an Inuit village in Canada’s Belcher Islands, share directing credit for this 2012 documentary that looks at the longstanding relationship between the people of the islands and the eider duck. Eider down has been collected to make the clothing that protects the Inuit population from the harsh Arctic winters. But with the eider duck population being disrupted by runoff from a hydroelectric dam in Quebec, this delicate balance has altered life for the people and the ducks. Shot over the course of seven winters, this documentary features beautiful shots from below and above the ice as well as striking time-lapse footage.
Marcelo Machado’s 2012 documentary explores Tropicalismo, an artistic movement that played on Brazil’s reputation as a tropical paradise during the 1960s. As a movement, it encompassed an array of art forms, including literature and film, but it’s most well-known for its musical iterations. Via a combination of contemporary interviews, performances, and archival footage, the film explores how this counter-cultural movement arose and continues to influence art today.
WHERE: Mongolia, Japan, Namibia, United States
This 2010 documentary’s premise is as straightforward as its presentation. The film follows four babies, each in a different part of the world, from infancy until they’re a year old. There’s no dialogue beyond the occasional “motherese,” just a simple but beautiful presentation of all the ways we’re different and all the things that are universal about the earliest stages of the human experience.