Documentary film is perhaps one of the most compelling film genres ever created. When you find a good documentary, it doesn’t just keep your attention for a couple hours, it makes you feel; it compels you to act. A good documentary stays with you long after it ends, and changes the way you see some of the things in this wide open world.
Unfortunately, not all documentaries look awesome on the outside. Some take a little more time, patience, and love to get into, but it doesn’t make their story any less compelling. Here are 6 documentaries that look boring, but are actually incredible:
Helvetica is a documentary about a font. No, really, it’s a documentary that explores the story of Helvetica’s rise to prominence since its introduction in 1957, and how it has influenced typography, advertising, design, and the global visual landscape ever since. What you don’t know about Helvetica is that it has managed to permeate its way through our entire existence, and is an integral component of our global culture. The documentary interviews some of the most influential graphic designers of our lifetime, including Mike Parker, Norm, Massimo Vignelli, Rick Poyner, and many, many more. Link
Perhaps the lamest-sounding documentary on this list, King Corn follows college cohorts Ian Cheney and Curtis Ellis as they move from Boston to Greene, Iowa… To start a farm and sell corn.
But the film’s larger narrative is an interesting, frightening, and wholly in-depth look at the industrialization of the American produce industry, and how it’s putting an end to the “American family farm.” The film shines a very necessary spotlight on the produce industry and how our government focuses more on economic profit than on the social, environmental, or economic ramifications of widespread industrialized produce farming. Link
Spelling bees are apparently very serious business, and Spellbound is a documentary feature film that aims to tell that story. The film follows eight teenagers as they prepare to compete in the 1999 National Spelling Bee. More than that, it takes a look at the competitive culture in America’s education system, as well as the cultural difference between different types of people. The Emmy Award-winning film currently sports a whopping 98% on rotten tomatoes, and an 80/100 on Metacritic. Link
At Berkley is a documentary about—you guessed it—UC Berkeley, one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the entire world. At Berkeley is a 4-hour-long documentary that provides viewers with a remarkable look into the famous university’s history, its culture, its social and philosophical missions, and its obligation to the state of higher education. Education, especially publicly funded education, is exceptionally fragile, even at a level as prestigious as Berkeley’s. This film demonstrates just how dicey things can get. Link
Perhaps the best example of cinéma vérité the world has ever seen, Salesman is a 1968 documentary that is said to have single-handedly re-inspired a generation of documentary filmmakers. The coolest thing about Salesman is that the subject matter is so subtly uninteresting—door-to-door bible salesmen and their personal stories—that it’s truly remarkable that this documentary has held up as well as it has. It’s beautiful, truthful, and marvelously well-executed. If you’re going to watch any single film on this list, let this be the one. Link
Linotype: The Film
The linotype machine completely revolutionized the way the modern world received printed information. And in an age where most of our literary world is either absorbed digitally or on paper from digital printers, the linotype is now obsolete. Linotype: The Film takes a look into the beautiful and charming history of the linotype machine—its rise to prominence and the impact that it had on the entire world. It may sound a little lame, but it’s truly incredible how this little (and by “little” we actually mean “fucking massive”) machine changed the world, only to be scrapped and melted down to nothing in the end. Link