Looking for great, compelling, thought-provoking documentarie to watch at home this October (which happens to be 'Black History Month')?
Our cinema might still be closed at the moment, but we want to make sure that we continue to offer space for as much creative, cinema-loving normality as we can – and a vital part of that is not losing sight of the key moments where we can collectively dedicate our focus to things like Black History Month.
Since we opened our doors more than five years ago, we’ve shown many great, compelling, thought-provoking documentaries which were made by black directors. This list is some of our favourites, which we think everyone should see!
There’s definitely some we’re sad to see aren’t currently available to watch online, and we’ve also tried not to repeat past selections from our Black Lives Matter and Racism in the UK blogs.
But if you’re looking for some unmissable docs to make sure you still enjoy a month of totally inspiring, educative and eclectic films by black directors right from your living room, these are the films we’d recommend!
Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool / Stanley Nelson / USA, UK / 2019 / 115 mins
Featuring never-before-seen archive, studio outtakes and rare photos, director Stanley Nelson’s tour-de-force portait of the great Miles Davis tells the story of a truly singular talent and unpacks the man behind the horn
The central theme of Miles Davis’s life was his restless determination to break boundaries and live life on his own terms. It made him a star. For the people who loved him most, it also made him incredibly difficult to live with. Again and again, in music and in life, Miles broke with convention—and when he thought his work came to represent a new convention, he changed it again.
You can watch the film on BBC iPlayer.
Shakedown / Leilah Weinraub / USA / 2018 / 72 mins
“A film about a L.A. black lesbian strip club is smart, intimate and eye-popping — a documentary that both PornHub and the Criterion Channel could get behind.” Variety
Leilah Weinraub was the resident videographer for The Shakedown club night for over 15 years. In her debut feature-length documentary, she spotlights the queer strip scene in L.A., sharing the community they created and the impact it had.
You can watch the film here.
Hale County This Morning, This Evening / Ramell Ross / USA / 2018 / 77 mins
“Where does time reside?” Daniel is preparing for college, and considering the paths he could take, while Quincy becomes a father.
Exploring the passage of time, director RaMell Ross creates a sense of how the past exists in layers within the present. With hypnotically beautiful imagery and a warm, playful relationship with his subjects, this is a lyrical and poetic observation of life in Hale County on the Black Belt region of Alabama.
You can watch this film on Amazon Prime.
Black Mother / Khalik Allah / USA / 2018 / 77 mins
Part film, part baptism, in Black Mother director Khalik Allah brings us on a spiritual exploration of Jamaica. Allah introduces us to a succession of candid testimonies from people who call this island home.
Immersed in the sacred, the profane, and everything in-between, Black Mother channels rebellion and reverence into a deeply personal ode informed by Jamaica’s turbulent history but existing in the urgent present.
You can watch the film on Amazon.
Show Me the Picture: The Story of Jim Marshall / Alfred George Bailey / UK / 2019 / 92 mins
A kaleidoscopic journey through the life of Jim Marshall, the enigmatic rock and roll photographer who documented the major cultural events of the sixties but fell victim of his own excesses.
Jim Marshall knew how to be at the centre of the action. Passionate about photography and music from an early age, his iconic photography captured the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, and the Rolling Stones at a key moment in history. With his camera always at his side, he also chronicled a rapidly changing America.
You can watch the film on Amazon Prime.
You can watch the film on ModernFilms, Amazon Prime, YouTube,
DocHouse hosted a Q&A with the director you can watch it here
Life, Animated / Roger Ross Williams / USA, France / 2016 / 92 mins
Roger Ross William’s Oscar-nominated Life, Animated tells the remarkable story of how a boy who couldn’t communicate with the world, found a pathway to language and a framework for making sense of his surroundings, through Disney animations.
By evocatively interweaving classic Disney sequences with scenes from Owen’s life, the film explores how identification and empathy with characters like Simba, Jafar, and Ariel forged a conduit for Owen to understand his feelings and interpret reality.
You can watch the film on iTunes.
13TH / Ava Duvernay / USA / 2016 / 100 mins
The title of Ava DuVernay’s extraordinary and galvanising documentary refers to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which reads “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States…”
The progression from that second qualifying clause to the horrors of mass criminalisation and the sprawling American prison industry is laid out by DuVernay with bracing lucidity.
You can watch the film on Netflix.
OJ: Made in America / Ezra Edelman / USA / 2016 / 467 mins
Ezra Edelman’s epic re-telling of O.J. Simpson’s life story places the man, the act, the media circus, the trial and public opinion into the context of the historic and contemporary America that nurtured it.
The 7.5 hour film, divded into four parts, revisits – and redifines – it all. Drawing upon more than seventy interviews – from long-time friends and colleagues of Simpson to the recognisable protagonists of the murder investigation to observers and commentators with distinct connections to the story – this utterly engrossing documentary, which took home the Oscar for Best Documentary in 2017, unravels the defining cultural tale of modern America.
You can watch all five parts on BBC iPlayer – BBC Storyville.