10 documentaries to binge-watch on Netflix

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"Minimalism" takes a compelling big-picture look at the social and psychological dangers of consumerism, but also walks us through some fascinating stories of people who seek to reduce the things in their lives in the pursuit of longer lasting happiness. Screencap from NETFLIX US & CANADA/YOUTUBE

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Documentaries can go from the dull to the life-changing. But always, as is the nature of true stories, the best will leave you deeply affected emotionally, or deeply intrigued by new information.

Below, we’ve compiled some of the best documentaries you can binge-watch on Netflix over a long weekend.

1. Five Came Back (2017)

“Five Came Back” is a documentary on documentaries. Based on Mark Harris’ book “Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War,” Laurent Bouzereau’s documentary tells the story of five Hollywood directors and their work at the frontlines of World War II.

When the war hit, five legendary filmmakers — Frank Capra (“It’s a Wonderful Life”), John Ford (“The Grapes of Wrath”), John Huston (“The Maltese Falcon”), William Wyler (“Ben-Hur”), and George Stevens (“A Place in the Sun”) — put their careers on hold to shoot documentaries for the U.S.

One notable decision by Bouzereau is the use of interviews with five living directors (Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Guillermo del Toro, Paul Greengrass and Lawrence Kasdan) to give context for the wartime work of the titular five. Keep your ears peeled as well for the crisp narration by Meryl Streep.

2. Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things (2016)

After starting to make a conscious effort to live with less in 2010, authors and podcasters the Minimalists (Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus) started writing books on the subject, which eventually gave way to this documentary with director Matt D’Avella.

D’Avella was initially set to shadow Millburn and Nicodemus on their North American book tour for “Everything That Remains” but as they went along, they found stories of more and more people seeking minimalist lifestyles and decided it ought to be a full-length documentary.

The film takes a compelling big-picture look at the social and psychological dangers of consumerism, but also walks us through some fascinating stories of people who seek to reduce the things in their lives in the pursuit of longer lasting happiness.

3. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015)

What you know about Scientology may only be what’s on the surface — which is to say, the unusual rumors about famous members such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta, and maybe those pictures of a blissful Nicole Kidman walking out of a courthouse after finalizing her divorce with Cruise.

Alex Gibney’s “Going Clear” tries to form a full picture of the Church of Scientology with a combination of archival interviews with the church’s founder L. Ron Hubbard, news clips of famous Scientologists and jaw-dropping interviews of former members. The interviews tell a harrowing story of physical and mental abuse within the church. We also see some footage of ex-Scientologists being harassed and surveilled.

All in all, it makes for a haunting picture of an organization shrouded in mystery. The church leadership has since vehemently denied the film’s claims, which lends the film a little more intrigue, because it means the claims are probably true.

4. Into the Inferno (2016)

“Into the Inferno” is your classic nature documentary taken to the next level. German director Werner Herzog follows volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer through an exploration of active volcanoes in Iceland, Indonesia, North Korea, and Ethiopia.

Through the process, you get a sense of the work of volcanologists, but in typical Herzog fashion, the director lends a layer of magic and existential wonder to the whole film. The volcano becomes a vessel to discuss ways of life and connections between nature and human beliefs.

Peter Zeitlinger’s cinematography captures the big and the small — the breathtaking sight of nature in all its cruel glory, as well as intimate moments of people living their day-to-day lives.

5. 13th (2016)

In the compelling Netflix documentary “13th,” director Ava DuVernay masterfully cuts the narrative of the incarcerated African-American. With eloquent interviewees, masterful graphics, and well-researched footage, the film shows the arc of racism in the United States of America as the result of the repetitive exploitation of a loophole in the 13th Amendment.

DuVernay’s editorial mastery, with props to her long time collaborator and editor Spencer Averick, manifests in the absolute absence of a narrator. And yet, a narrative is clearly at work. The film has plenty of interviewees — a fair mix of academics, activists, and politicians — who propel the story from one chapter to the next. Although some may find the number of voices overwhelming, their soundbites are arranged so the story flows seamlessly from the freedom of slaves to the recent U.S. presidential elections. — REGINE CABATO

6. The Propaganda Game (2015)

Director Álvaro Longoria made the most of permission to shoot his trip to North Korea by putting together “The Propaganda Game,” a stunningly well-mounted look into the way the nation presents itself, both to its people and to the outside world.

It’s a refreshing study on the hermetic nation, capturing scenes that most people haven’t seen of the country — its architectural and natural beauty, as well as its vibrant people and their day-to-day lives.

The main narrative that emerges is one of two opposing accounts perpetuated by North Korea and the rest of the world — one that sees the nation as a place of bustling growth and another that treats North Korea as a place of terror and the world’s greatest global threat. As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle, and what’s compelling about Longoria’s documentary is the balance with which he presents both sides to give you a more nuanced picture.

7. Hostage to the Devil (2016)

“Hostage to the Devil” tells the story of former Jesuit priest and real-life exorcist Malachi Martin, who became infamous in the 1970s for his writing and exorcisms.

Director Marty Stalker creates an eerie mood throughout the film, telling the story of Martin’s work through archival footage and interviews and a frightening, well-timed score. Stalker frames the narrative as one of a man against the strength of an ancient evil, focusing on one particular exorcism where Martin worked to save a young girl.

Amid interviews with people who knew Martin and people who believed he was a sham, you see footage of some real exorcisms. The film makes for a haunting experience that leaves you with a million questions about the nature of the paranormal.

8. Jesus Camp (2006)

Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s “Jesus Camp” is an eerie look into the workings of a charismatic Christian summer camp for kids. The directors captured the day-to-day lives of three children at the Kids on Fire School of Ministry, where they were taught that they could “take back America for Christ.”

Kids on Fire School Ministry has since closed. Still, the film is a frightening watch, seeing the way the children are recruited into an “army of God” and indoctrinated in one of the most extreme versions of evangelical Christianity. At a certain point, Becky Fisher, the pastor running Kids on Fire, compares her work to the training of terrorists in the Middle East, saying, "I want to see young people who are as committed to the cause of Jesus Christ as the young people are to the cause of Islam.”

The film is full of jaw-dropping moments like this, where you have to remind yourself that, yes, this is a real thing that’s happening.

9. Holy Hell (2016)

Will Allen made good use of his time as an in-house videographer for the Buddhafield cult by eventually leaving the cult and using his accumulated footage to make the documentary “Holy Hell.”

Another look into the workings of a cult, the film walks you through former members’ experience of falling into the feel-good, nature-loving Buddhafield culture, then slowly takes you through the disillusionment they felt with the group’s charismatic leader Michel.

The film is compelling for the stark contrast it presents between the bliss the members felt joining the cult, then the harrowing alleged abuses by Michel that led these people to leave the group. Their story mirrors Allen’s own journey through his 22 years under Michel’s spell.

10. The Blue Planet (2001) / Planet Earth (2006)

These two BBC One documentary shows, both narrated by Sir David Attenborough, were landmark series in the 2000s because of the epic scale with which they portrayed nature.

“The Blue Planet” took five years to make and took the plunge into the world’s oceans, exploring previously unobserved animal behavior and unknown parts of the sea. Running on the success of the first show, “Planet Earth” expanded the scope to the entire planet, taking the same approach of capturing the world’s grandeur and mystery to different parts of the globe.

Both series are proof of how little humans know about the workings of the world. Each leaves you with a sense of how much more we’ve yet to discover.

In 2016, a six-episode sequel to Planet Earth, Planet Earth II, was produced by the BBC. It is still narrated by Attenborough.