Making a political documentary comes with an implicit risk: you're only appealing to half (or so) of the people who are even interested in watching political documentaries, thanks to the political divide of the public.
It's exceedingly rare for a documentary to make the swamp of politics entertaining to watch while maintaining a clear perspective, staying committed to the truth, and appealing to more than just "one side."
But, rare as they are, such political documentaries do exist! Several have managed to capture the essence of their message and deliver it in a powerful way for prospective audiences.
From the poisoning of Navalny to the overturning of Roe v. Wade, here are the best political documentaries that had strong messages rooted in evidence and an honest view of the world.
5. Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)
Fahrenheit 9/11 is the film that brought the relationship between the media and the White House into damning focus.
In it, Michael Moore details the White House's role in drumming up support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq with how they framed news coverage to the American people.
The film is made from a certain perspective, of course, but it's a position with lots of merit. In retrospect, it's become clear that the tactics used by George W. Bush and the post-9/11 administration had the intended goal of taking the United States into the Middle East.
As a piece of filmmaking designed to make viewers angry, Fahrenheit 9/11 brings a level of vivid emotional toil as it showcases how toxic the war has become as a subject, even 20 years later.
4. Last Men in Aleppo (2017)
Last Men in Aleppo is a thrilling and devastating close-up look at the ongoing Syrian civil war from the perspective of the White Helmets.
The White Helmets are a group of people who go into the various war zones to provide aid to those in need. It's a heartbreaking introspection on the darkness of these moments of crisis.
These volunteer rescue workers who risk everything are the perfect lens through which we can see the world of Aleppo, caught up in a proxy war between Russia and NATO yet aiding both sides.
In watching the day-to-day lives of these ordinary people who bring the most basic of human needs to a war-torn city, we see a stunning indictment of war and brilliant glory for individual heroes.
3. Reversing Roe (2018)
The decision by the Supreme Court of the United States to overturn Roe v. Wade has come to pass this year; however, the documentary Reversing Roe came along years before SCOTUS actually made their move.
An in-depth look at the history of abortion rights in the United States, Reversing Roe is a powerful piece. We're taken through the extensive background of why the subject is so controversial and how today's political spectrum is shaped by the original ruling in 1973.
Reversing Roe lays bare the reasons why opposers turned abortion rights into a hot issue that plagues modern America to this day, all while clarifying the legal history behind the iconic legal case.
2. Citizenfour (2014)
After choosing to steal and leak highly classified documents that led to widespread scrutiny of the United States's surveillance operations, Edward Snowden became a fugitive holed up in Hong Kong.
Citizenfour tracks his movements from there, after which Snowden ends up living (somewhat unwillingly) in Russia. Across it all, Citizenfour gives us an unfiltered look at the life of a man whom many call a patriot.
The fascinating mind of Edward Snowden and his justifications for what could be seen as treason are laid bare for us to decide whether he's guilty or not of being a dissident and a traitor.
By the end of Citizenfour, it's clear that the documentary believes him to be a man who had good intentions. But did he act on them in the right way? Should he be prosecuted for his methods despite his intentions?
Edward Snowden is a divisive figure in the United States. However, he's slowly gaining more support from people who have seen just how much impact mass surveillance has had on society.
1. Navalny (2022)
Navalny is a piercing look into the life of Alexei Navalny, the opposition candidate to Vladimir Putin. In it, Navalny's life is opened up to the rest of the world in ways unmanaged by other political documentaries.
The documentary focuses on the investigation into Alexei Navalny's poisoning in 2020, which uncovered the truth of who had carried out the operation. Navalny's courage and resolution to continue opposing Putin is an astonishing show of strength in the face of devilry.
Seeing Navalny and his family endure such a traumatic ordeal while still campaigning for a democratic Russia is an image that leaves us speechless, hoping for their eventual success.
With the current situation in Russia, this documentary has more weight to it than ever as Alexei continues to fight for his beliefs from prison.