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Culture Shock

Documentaries to Dust off your Summertime Brain

Even with summertime jobs, internships or summer school – summer brings the perpetually craved downtime that can make you feel like your brain is turning to mush. Looking for a way to brush off the cobwebs growing in your summer time mind? My go-to brain Swiffer are quirky or interesting documentaries. They are all the fun of learning in the conveniences of your own couch or bed, and you can get these documentaries from your local public library, movie store or stream them from Netflix. No matter where you grab them from, here are some documentaries – great and iffy – that have given my brain a swift scrub with an added entertainment factor.


A Band Called Death

With a focus on the deep family bonds of the three brothers who make up the Detroit-based punk rock band Death this documentary has guest commentary from the likes of Kid Rock and Questlove. Although their demo failed over 30 years ago, they have found their fan base and now have been given a platform to share their music and some of the history behind it.


Looking to cry while also feeling guilty about ever going to Sea World? Blackfish is the hauntingly beautiful documentary for you. This grim documentary is incredible well done, and examines the life of Tilikum the performing killer whale who caused the death of several individuals while in captivity.

Being Elmo

This is an adorable and compassionate documentary for any lover of Sesame Street. It looks at the life of the puppeteer, creation of the puppet’s character, and how the puppets are made. Might not be great to show the kids you’re babysitting – you don’t want to be responsible for the young ones finding out that Elmo’s delightful personality doesn’t come from his own fuzzy red heart but from the hand that hangs out inside his belly.


This book made movie on economics is 6 different stories all wrapped up on one. It looks at different scenarios– from fixing sumo wrestling to choosing baby names – from the viewpoint of an economist. Entertaining and educational! The gold mine of documentaries.

Girl Model

Russian preteens are recruited into trying to become models in Japan but only end up in huge debt. Over all pretty depressing, but shows a whole new world. It gives a new perspective on modeling in the United States and has negative connotations on the modeling/beauty pageant system that is in place.

Guns, Germs and Steel

I watched this back in world history class my freshman year of high school, but it was really educational, so buckle up for some good learning. It is an in depth look at the inequality that the world faces and argues that it can all be traced down to the exchange and use of guns, germs and/or steel.

Inside Chipotle

WARNING: this movie will make you crave Chipotle. The documentary highlights some of the financial and organizational structure for this 1,400 store chain. Plus the founders of this delicious comfort food seem like genuinely nice guys. This is great if you already eating a burrito, and it is only 21 mins.

Jesus Camp

More than a little spooky, this intense documentary follows three young children at a controversial Christian summer camp. These kids are encouraged to speak in tongues and become political activists. It is an interesting look at the younger segment of this potentially unsettling belief system. Worst part? Maybe that the leader of this camp cries that Harry Potter is evil (because he is a wizard) or the mother of one of the children actively convincing her son that global warming is a myth.

Pearl Jam Twenty

With a treasure trove of B-Roll footage, this documentary shows the history of Pearl Jam. If you’re a fan of Pearl Jam, this is definitely one to check out.


This is an in-depth look at the making of Snoop Dogg’s (or Snoop Lion) reggae album Reincarnated. Most of this movie is all of the different ways that Snoop Dogg can smoke marijuana. SPOILER ALERT: there are a lot of ways.

Shut Up and Play The Hit

Chronicling the last ever show of the band LCD Soundsystem, this is a great movie for any musical aficionado. Instead of being sad it is over, they celebrate the prior six years with the best funeral they could imagine. Best listened to loud, and if you can manage, in surround sound.


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