Looking for a new documentary to capture your imagination? Look no further than our pick of the best films streaming on Netflix this month.
Whether you’re too tired to scroll the TV listings, weary at the prospect of starting another series or simply too frazzled to contemplate even making a decision about what to watch, there is one entertainment genre which always delivers the goods: documentaries.
These days, there is a bounty of must-see films that show the world and its colourful inhabitants in a new light, and Netflix is undoubtedly in a class of its own when it comes to the documentary game. In the past few weeks alone, the likes of The Tinder Swindler, White Hot: The Rise And Fall Of Abercombie & Fitch and Bad Vegan have been constant conversation starters, as have a host of other tales ranging from the macabre and unnerving to the downright bizarre.
To make it easier for you to decide which documentaries are worthy of your attention, we’ve sorted the must-sees from the misses. From political exposés and scandalous true crime, you’ll be ahead of the game when these shows take over your group chats later this month.
While you’re here, don’t forget to check out our monthly round-up of all the best TV shows and films streaming on Netflix, because May is shaping up to be chock-a-block with screen gems.
Hold Your Breath: The Ice Dive – 3 May
After breaking her leg in a bike accident in 2010, Johanna Nordblad was advised to use cold water treatments to aid her recovery.
Five years later, Nordblad had found a new lease of life in free diving, where a diver holds their breath for the duration of a dive until they resurface, without the use of any equipment. In 2015, she set a Guinness World Record by swimming 50m under ice in 2°C water. In March 2021, she then swam 103 metres (338 feet) without fins or wetsuit beneath thick ice at Lake Ollori in Finland.
In this remarkable new 40-minute documentary, the Finnish free diver attempts to break the world record for distance travelled under ice with a single breath. Just make sure you’re wrapped up warm because Nordblad wears just a swimsuit and goggles when she dives. Brrr!
Meltdown: Three Mile Island – 4 May
In 1979, the worst nuclear event in US history took place on Three Mile Island in Middletown, Pennsylvania. The near-catastrophe was followed by a national cover-up, and now, a new four-part documentary series re-examines exactly what went wrong.
Based around the personal accounts of chief engineer and whistleblower Richard Parks, the series revisits how the incident unfolded in real time and explores the impact on the local community. Through dramatic re-enactments, archival footage, never-before-seen home video and in-depth interviews with insiders, the documentary will explore the lingering effects of the disaster and its relevance today in the face of the climate and energy crisis.
“Whistleblowers are real-life superheroes,” said executive producers Carla and Michael Shamberg. “They risk their lives or livelihoods when they speak truth to power to protect the rest of us.”
Our Father – 11 May
Netflix’s latest true crime offering Our Father might well take the title for the most disturbing documentary to date.
It tells the real-life story of several people in Indianapolis who made the perplexing discovery through DNA testing that they had over 50 half-siblings – a number that defied best practices in fertility medicine.
As the newfound brothers and sisters set out to learn more about their genealogical bond, they uncovered a sickening truth: their parents’ fertility doctor, Donald Cline, had been using his own sperm to secretly inseminate his female patients in the 70s and 80s.
The documentary follows the criminal investigation into Cline, the traumatic impact of his actions upon his patients’ children, and the victims’ fight to pursue justice. Despite pleading guilty in December 2017, Cline remains a free man to this day.
Cyber Hell: Exposing An Internet Horror – 18 May
This shocking documentary uncovers the atrocities of the “Nth room”, in which women and underage girls were subjected to horrifying sexual abuse in secret chatrooms in South Korea from 2018–2020.
It tells the story of two female college students, a group of journalists and the cybercrime police officers who chased down the “Nth Room”, an online criminal network of sexual exploitation. Crafted from interviews, archives, animation and reenactments, the film reveals how women and girls were coerced into uploading explicit materials of themselves to Telegram chat rooms, which ringleaders charged fees in cryptocurrency for tens of thousands of users to access.
The Photographer: Murder In Pinamar – 19 May
In the summer of 1997, the murder of photojournalist José Luis Cabezas shocked Argentina. After disappearing from an exclusive beach resort, Cabezas was kidnapped, tortured and brutally murdered in what appeared to be a retaliation for taking a photograph of notorious businessman Alfredo Yabrán. His murder revealed an organised crime network that appeared to involve corrupt individuals within the country’s political and financial elite and ultimately had consequences that would be almost as dramatic as the crime itself, not only for the perpetrator but for the whole country.
Christobel Hastings is Stylist's Entertainment Editor whose specialist interests include pop culture, LGBTQ+ identity and lore.