3 Documentaries from Netflix

I have no real overview of what Netflix offers, when it comes to documentaries. Below you find a link to an article that recommends the best documentaries on Netflix and there are many fine names. And titles which you can also find, when you go to Netflix itself and click on the documentary section. You find names like Werner Herzog, AiWeiWei, Banksy, Errol Morris, Marina Abramovic, Nick Broomfield, Albert Maysles and titles like ”O.J. Simpson”, ”Long Shot”, ”Making a Murderer”, ”Amanda Knox”, ”The Promise”, ”Strong Island” – all crime documentaries, not to forget the films on Janis Joplin and Nina Simone… But you have to search carefully as they are listed among a lot of tabloid stuff.

Nevertheless – as we are Netflix subscribers in our household – I assure you that the grandchildren already from age 3 know the name Netflix – I watched three documentaries recently, two of them were at Nordisk Panorama competition in Malmø and the third one I picked up because it was the subject of a double page article in a Danish newspaper.

I am referring to Bryan Fogel’s two hour long investigative work, ”Icarus” on the Russian state organised doping of athletes to take part in the Olympics. The film’s main character is the man who was leading the laboratory that manipulated the urin tests until he blew the whistle, Grigory Rodchenkov, who left Russia and is now hiding somewhere in the US. He is an amazing character for a film.

Swedish Kasper Collin’s ”I Called him Morgan” (PHOTO) is a film that is based on a sound interview with the trumpeter Lee Morgan’s widow Helen, who shot him one snowy night in a jazz club. AND based on great archive material AND wonderful music from Blue Note and other famous jazz sources. It’s a love story, it has a fine tone, it has interviews with people, who knew the two. One snowy night – there are beautiful images ”from” 18.2.1972, when it happened.

Both films are well crafted, professional and I watched them with pleasure because of their interesting stories. In these cases you can say that ”Content is King”, even if I got irritated of the wall-to-wall  mix of sound and music that serves to tell the spectator what to feel right now, in this scene, in this sequence. Mostly obvious in that respect is ”Icarus” but there is also a lot of ”noise” in the third film, the English/Icelandic ”Out of Thin Air”, a crime story, described like this on the webpage of the English producer Mosaic Film: ”Set within the stark Icelandic landscape the filmexamines the 1976 police investigation into the disappearance  of two men in the early 1970s. Iceland in the 1970s  was a idyll; a farming community, pretty much cut off from the much of the rest of the world. Crime was rare, murder rarer still. Then two men disappear under suspicious circumstances and foul play is suspected. The country demands a resolution. Police launch the biggest criminal investigation Iceland has ever seen. Finally, six people confess to two violent murders and are sent to prison. It seems the nightmare is over. But in many ways the nightmare has just begun….”.

This is the weakest of the three films to be found on Netflix that I watched. Simply because it jumps from one suspect to the other, mixes it with archive and an interview with one suspect, a woman. There is no clear red thread in narrative.

Is Netflix good or bad? Well from a viewer’s point of view it can only be good that documentaries are made available on a vod for a price that is not overwhelming but are they documentaries that could have ended up on public service channels anyway? And the industry side… that I dont know enough about: Netflix takes all rights world-wide, when they buy a film (I am not talking about those films that they finance/produce themselves) and if they come in at the end of a film’s life in festivals and on public tv, then what is the problem. But do they? Tell me.

”I called him Morgan” by Kasper Collin (2016, Sweden/USA, 92 mins.)

”Out of Thin Air” by Dylan Howitt (Iceland, 2017, USA, 86 mins.)

”Icarus” by Bryan Fogel (USA, 2017, 120 mins.)





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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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