I’m not a theatre person. In fact I have a growing fear of being restrained to a seat in a movie theatre. So YouTube is my alternative best friend, where I can watch any content I want, from music videos, shows, news and my favourite of all, documentaries.
In my opinion, the beauty of documentaries lies in meticulous effort put into the production, taking time to track the story, go wherever it brings you and capturing those moments we either don’t think about, or only have one chance of seeing. I also appreciate producers who take the effort of checking out what has already been said/done and present a fresh new perspective.
Some well-known documentary sites include Al Jazeera and Vice, and I do appreciate learning about the variety of topics and countries from the comfort and safety of my own home. So here is my top 10 list of documentaries on YouTube that I’d recommend to anyone who has an hour or two to spare.
A Certain Kind of Death
Note: Visuals of corpses, roaches and cremation. Not for the faint-hearted.
I’ve always been a little curious about death. This documentary brings us through the process of finding a Jon/Jane Doe and how the people go through the SOP of handling the corpse, finding their next-of-kin, burial, clearing of apartment plus assets and ultimately, being laid to rest.
I was okay with the documentary until the part on post-cremation where what’s left was reduced to powder. Somehow it gave me the chills.
Suicide Forest in Japan
Note: Slightly visual stills.
The world, or at least the cyber world, seems to have a weird fascination about Japan. It seems like they are the new generation mankind in times of disasters but at the same time, the people seem to be under immense pressure.
The suicide forest is a quietly intense documentary. There’s not a lot of dramatic effects but it feels very personal, almost as if we can relate to what some of them feel. The tents, the string guides, the patrols… There’s always something reminding people that you still have a chance to turn your back and leave.
Fake Funerals in South Korea
There’s no real dying in this documentary. It’s one of those documentaries that I always skip but decided to click one day. It begins on a rather ridiculous note and I wasn’t convinced.
But it’s one of those documentaries that bring you over to the darkest side of your inner self slowly, unknowingly. At the end it feels like… a relieved constipation. All your emotions and tension are released and you understand the whole point of everything. #Deep
Topic of Reborn Babies
by Vice & Documentary Fans
I’ve first heard of reborn babies from the Vice documentary and then more recently, I came across the one from Documentary Fans. There’s no reason for me to choose to post either one because they are pretty complementary.
From the Vice point of view, you can see the male figure who is part of the game and for DF’s, the guys are also creeped out. Likewise, the two documentaries provide complementing perspectives and also bring a balance to the argument – are they babies or just dolls?
It’s fascinating, heartbreaking and creepy, all at the same time.
Ants: Nature’s Secret Power
with Bert Hölldobler
Quite a few channels have produced documentaries about ants but this is by far my favourite. Haha, yes I have a “favourite documentary on the topic of ants”. #NerdThe show covers everything from reproduction, species, lab tests, infrastructure, communal living and their chemical communication system.
And you know how that changed my life?
When I see an ant on my study table, I start to poke them instead of killing them. And sometimes it works! I imagine that they send out a warning signal and my table is free from ants for a few hours, at the very least.
Thai Meth Epidemic and Vomit Rehab (Yaba) by Vice
Note: Scenes of intensive puking, the uglier version of the rainbow puke that Snapchat offers.
In recent years when we see religions screwing up people’s lives, I began to wonder what the whole point of religion is. Is it the modern version of witchcraft/sorcery that one day, the future generation will deem fictional and dismiss?
But I appreciate this documentary about Yaba rehab, because finally, lifestyle and faith coincide and bring about a positive end result. Without involving violence, dominance or money.
The Girls of the Taliban
by Al Jazeera
I’m not sure how objective this documentary is and I’m only on the receiving end of the content. So apart from the terrorism and news, we actually know very little about the living conditions of the normal people there right?
As someone who lives relatively far away from them, I feel that this documentary provide Southeast Asians something like a missing piece of the puzzle – They were not born to be, but rather, molded into what people expect them to be, little by little with time. And more importantly, not everyone there is on the same page when it comes to the tug of war between modernization and tradition.
Death Row – The Final 24 Hours
by Discovery Channel
Not surprisingly, I know a lot more about prisons in the US more than those in Singapore.
It started because I liked the Ghost Adventures show where they would spend about 20 minutes of the show introducing the prisons like the Eastern State Penitentiary, Missouri State Prison, Idaho State Penitentiary and the Wyoming Frontier Prison.
From there, I started to watch documentaries about the gangs, survival in prisons, and my favourite of all, the death row introduction. Not because of its sadistic nature but rather, a clear presentation of each method and the real life accounts of those who were involved in the operations.
Billions in Change
featuring Manoj Bhargava
Unless you only watch YouTube on mobile or… I don’t know, live under the rock? Otherwise you would have seen the advertisement about this documentary featuring 5 Hour Energy drink businessman Manoj Bhargava.
In the modern age where we waste a lot of time on rubbish (paperwork, contracts, clauses, theories, argumentative, debates, forums… yada yada), I love how no-nonsense he is. He isn’t against anyone, but he has a very clear set of rules to ensure productivity and betterment of our future without sacrificing our natural resources.
Another incidental point I love about the documentary is the involvement of Singapore in his projects. He seems like someone high up and distant, but when he says that his plan has to be from a somewhat neutral place and thus chose Singapore, well… You really see the value of Singapore from a whole new perspective. That sense of pride is real, unlike the cheesy patriotic advertisements… SGsomething50… that overcompensate.
China’s Dirty Secrets
by Al Jazeera
Lastly, on the point of productivity, China’s Dirty Secrets is a must-watch because it is a possible problem in any developing or developed country where the leaders focus too much on the numbers and forget about the people.
From my lowly perspective, it seems simple enough – you’re asking those kampong residents to move so that you can build tall buildings with more apartments. So you’d have more than enough capacity to house all of them right? But no, the business side decides to jack up the prices, so those who lived are deprived, and those infrastructures are empty shells without real people making them a town, a community, a sustainable business. Can you imagine if that was what happened in Singapore?
So yes, this documentary is easy to relate to and it sets you thinking. Ironically, the answers are simple, but the people involved aren’t willing to compromise for a better future together.
11. I Survived… 9/11
by Biography Channel
Recently just before Lunar New Year, I chanced upon the 9/11 documentaries. Back then, I was only 10 years old and knew little about what exactly happened. Until very recently, all I knew was the collapse of two towers and that it was done by the terrorists.
Of the documentaries I’ve seen, this one hit me the most because of the recounts done by the survivors from different walks of life – those who were working there, who were nearby, who were helping others in need. It gives a full picture and honest recount of the things that happened – even the more sensitive parts about people falling from the building and the attack on the Pentagon.
An extension of the tragedy that is worth knowing more about was the story of the falling man. It shows the media grey areas and also how different people think differently of the same decision.
Know of any great documentary on YouTube that you think I should watch? It can be anything! Animals, inventions, cultures, politics… just let me know! I hope you would find these recommendations insightful as much as I did. 🙂