With easier access to equipment and more talented filmmakers willing to take risks to tell their stories, the documentary category continues to be filled with top-quality films each successive year, which makes putting together a list of 2015's best difficult, if not practically impossible. Not only are there more titles, but streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and HBOGo are embracing (and funding) the form to give viewers more places to watch entertaining and enlightening films.
RELATED: Skip the Film, See the Documentary
The directors behind these projects continue to push the boundaries of traditional cinematography, putting themselves in hazardous situations, using guerrilla techniques, and going further into the world to find the tales truly worth telling. There's no question that for every night you have free could be spent watching a great documentary. Here's a list of our favorites from this 2015.
Katheryn Bigelow, Oscar-winning director of The Hurt Locker, became an executive producer of Matthew Heineman's directorial debut Cartel Land after seeing it, which should be a pretty good indicator of the film's impact. The movie delivers an unprecedented view into the lives of two modern-day vigilante leaders who have taken up arms against the murderous Mexican drug cartels on separate sides of the Mexico and U.S. border. There's a constant sense of danger as Heineman spends time shadowing Mexican doctor José Mireles, head of the heavily armed Autodefensas, around his state of Michoacán as his group engages in firefights with the cartels, protecting their own neighborhoods as the local authorities stand idly by. Up north, Heineman follows Nailer Foley, an impassioned army veteran who patrols the Texas border for cartel members with a volunteer group of citizens, some traveling hundreds of miles to join his cause. Cartel Land is an eye-opening look into a violent world that still menaces today, and also poses a provocative question: At what point does fighting fire with fire become the only option?
Credit: Matthew Heineman / Courtesy of Sundance Institute