Given a choice, many of us would pick an action thriller or comedy over a non-fiction film to watch. Because, let’s be honest, a history lesson on the big screen just doesn’t go well with popcorn. For those who do pick non-fiction films, the appeal often lies in watching how filmmakers dissect and repackage real-life events. Beyond entertainment and nostalgia, though, non-fiction films often also have an agenda to push, whether it is belatedly setting the record straight, exposing a cover up or calling for action to bring about change. Here are a selection of recent non-fiction films worthy of our attention.

The Post
Non-fiction film: The Post
Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep play the respective stakeholders of The Washington Post | Credit: The Guardian

Even if you’re not old enough to remember the Vietnam War, you may be aware of the immense suffering it brought to the Vietnamese and the Americans. What most people didn’t know (until it was too late) was that the Vietnam War could have been avoided. So what made America send out its troops anyway.

Steven Spielberg’s The Post recounts the events following US military analyst Daniel Ellsberg’s leak of the Pentagon Papers to mainstream newspapers. Stakeholders of the media consequently found themselves having to decide between publishing an incendiary exposé about the US government’s motivations, and hushing up to save the newspaper from hefty lawsuits.

Watch the trailer here. The Post is also available on Netflix.

richard jewell
Non-fiction film: Richard Jewell
Paul Walter Hauser plays the protagonist, Richard Jewell | Credit: The New York Times

Understandably, the name Richard Jewell hardly rings a bell. And if not for Clint Eastwood’s film, we wouldn’t know who he is.

Jewell is the American security guard who came under the spotlight amid the Atlanta Summer Olympics in 1996. After discovering a bag filled with explosives, he acted swiftly to evacuate people to safety. Jewell should be a national hero on all counts. However, because it failed to identify the perpetrator, the FBI pinned Jewell with the crime instead.

If you’re not already sick of watching the present miscarriages of justice in America under the Orange Mafia, watch this.

Watch the trailer here. Richard Jewell is also available on Amazon Prime.

Non-fiction film: Spotlight
Michael Keaton (Walter “Robby” Robinson) and Mark Ruffalo (Michael Rezendes) | Credit: Time

The world was horrified to learn about Harvey Weinstein and the casting couch in 2017. It is disgusted by women’s testimonies against #45 that continue to surface. Yet nothing is quite as disturbing as reports of religious leaders sexually assaulting minors – from rogue Pakistani clerics, to India’s exploitation of devadasis, to America’s Catholic priests. The latter is the subject of Tom McCarthy’s 2015 biographical drama film Spotlight.

Set in the 2000s, the film follows a group of investigative journalists from the Boston Globe. They decided to look into the molestation case of Father John Geoghan after lawyer Mitchell Garabedian pointed to a cover-up by Cardinal Bernard Law. And in doing so, they unearthed a whole slew of similar cases that were similarly covered up to avoid a major scandal.

Watch the trailer here. Spotlight is also available on Amazon Prime.

The report
The Report
Adam Driver (David Jones) | Credit: Lowy Institute

Adam Driver is one watchable actor. If you’ve seen him in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and Marriage Story, you’ll want to catch him in The Report. Directed by Scott Z. Burns, the film is based on a real-life investigation of the CIA by the US Senate.

Driver plays David Jones, a former US Senate investigator, who spearheads the investigation. He is tasked to look into the CIA after its destruction of records of terrorist interrogations came to light. His findings revealed that the interrogation methods used by the CIA were focused on torture rather than information retrieval, all in the name of counteracting terrorism.

Watch the trailer here. The Report is also available on Amazon Prime.

trial by fire
Non-fiction films: Trial By Fire
Jack O’Connell (Cameron Todd Willingham) and Laura Dern | Credit: The New York Times

In 2004, Cameron Todd Willingham received the capital punishment for murdering three of his children by arson. But Willingham was evidently innocent, so why was he persecuted anyway? Oscar-winner Edward Zwick’s 2018 film addresses this question and probes into the controversy and tragedy of his conviction.

Based on David Gann’s Trial By Fire, the film gives a no-frills narrative about Willingham’s case. More importantly, it points out how the fate of Willingham’s trial outcome was, in fact, predetermined, simply because not many people liked a man who had a predilection for  violence and infidelity. His case was rife with inaccurate tip-offs and accounts coming from jailhouse informants and eye-witnesses. Trial By Fire is yet another film uncovering the flaws of the American judicial system.

Watch the trailer here. Trial By Fire is also available on FandangoNOW.

Other honourable mentions: Detroit, Chappaquiddick, Chernobyl, and Snowden.

written by.

Lester Tan

Lester is into films, food and basically anything culture related under the sun.
5 Non-fiction films that will shake your faith in humanity
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