This was yet another amazing year for the doc genre, and keep in mind, especially for social impact projects. Most of these films scored in the 90s with critics at Rotten Tomatoes, many of them award winners on the festival circuit.
While we feel these are the top overall social impact movies of the year, we know “best” is subjective, so we’re not presenting them here as a countdown, but covering in alphabetical order.
To find out which video platforms are showing the films, and watch the trailers, click on the thumbnails below.
You ready? Let’s jump into this…And we will begin with a true David vs Goliath story.
Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
Abacus, a small family-run bank, becomes the only U.S. bank to face criminal charges in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. The indictment and subsequent trial forces the Sung family to defend itself -- and its bank's legacy in the Chinatown community -- over the course of a five-year legal battle.
Cleary, this becomes much more than just defending the bank, or a family business. It became about honor, justice, and standing up for a community
Abacus was, as we are reminded at the end of the movie - was “the only U.S. bank indicted for mortgage fraud related to the 2008 crisis.” Did the government intentionally pass up the big fish and pick on this small one? — was immigration part of the issue? You can be the judge, in this classic underdog story.
As we all know, Coral reefs around the world are vanishing at an unprecedented rate. Divers, photographers and scientists set out on an ocean adventure to discover why the reefs are disappearing and to reveal the underwater mystery to the world.
As intelligent as it is beautiful, Chasing Coral gives us quite the cinematic experience…and a great example of how a powerful film can engage audiences around an issue, hoping to inspire us to reverse the consequences facing our planet before it’s too late.
A remarkable accomplishment, Dina is about a relationship that evolves between an eccentric suburban woman and a Walmart door-greeter. This documentary is intimate, powerful and rewarding, as we are reminded that Romance, regardless of your mental capacity, is a beautiful thing
The film doesn't feel or look like a documentary. It's a gracefully told character sketch, but there is an unusual style that manages to retain a narrative flow .
A movie that only begins as a expose on doping in sports and becomes something bigger - about the dangers of being a whistleblower, especially when it blows on Russia.
An expensive acquisition at Sundance by Netflix, “Icarus” is a sizzling documentary, the kind of film that gets people talking
It plays out like a genuine spy thriller. Cheating and doping in sports have been making headlines in these past few years, but this film manages to take a deeper dive into this systematic corruption.
An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power,
Former Vice President Al Gore continues his tireless fight, racing around the world to train an army of activists and affect international climate policy. Cameras track him behind the scenes – as he shares how the perils of climate change can be overcome with human passion and perseverance.
Yes, there we get our share of doom and gloom, but also a sense of hope. A good refresher on man-made-climate change, the film presents a powerful demonstration of the issues. Important viewing for all.
Jane Goodall, a young and untrained researcher, challenges the male dominated scientific consensus of her time with her chimpanzee research and – to some extent - revolutionizes people's understanding of these animals and the world of nature
Primarilly comprised of 16mm footage shot during Goodall’s early years by her eventual husband van Lawick, the film paints a lush picture, showing the true passion and commitment Jane felt for these creatures. Filmmaker Brett Morgan does a phenomenal job injecting emotional depth into the story, while cleverly interweaving archival footage and animations…with a terrific score by Phillip Glass
One of the most well-crafted docs of the year, JANE is a likely nominee for Academy Award for Best Documentary.
One of Us
This Netflix Original tracks the lives of three ex-members of Brooklyn's Hasidic community: Ari, Luzer, and Etty. Each struggles with being ostracized from their former community and families, while sharing their circumstances. The characters also share their religious doubt, along with past domestic trauma.
Exploring a rarely seen, complex subject matter, this movie really calls the basic issues of Human Rights into question.
In Step, we visit inner city Baltimore, tracking the senior year of a girls' high school step team. We get a glimpse into the homes, school and dance life, as these girls try to become the first in their families to attend college. The girls push to make their dancing a success against all odds.
Uplifting and compassionate, Step won the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Inspirational Filmmaking at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and the Audience Award for Best Feature at the 2017 AFI docs festival
Winner of the Gotham Independent Film Award for Best Documentary Filmmaker Yance Ford investigates the 1992 murder of a young black man. It becomes a gut wrenching personal journey, since the victim, 24-year-old William Ford Jr., was the filmmaker's brother.
Yance speaks directly to the camera about his brother's murder 20 years ago, and about its affects on the family. You really get the sense of unfinished business, racial tension and deep sorrow felt by the filmmaker, as he reconstructs the stories surrounding the murder. Strong Island is both memoir and investigation into the circumstances under which his brother was murdered, by a white car mechanic.
Jennifer Brea is close to marrying the love of her life when she's struck down by a fever that leaves her bedridden. Doctors tell her “it's all in her head,” and she decides to document her struggles as she fights for a cure. She gets her share of degrading treatment, while connecting to others challenged with the same debilitating disease.
Intimate, powerful and inspiring a call to action, Unrest won a Special jury prize for editing at Sundance
And that’s wrap on Cause Cinema’s Best Docs of 2017. Again, these amazing works are more than just engaging and entertaining, they’re inspiring.
We hope you have an opportunity to see these extraordinary works, and should you connect with specific causes at the heart of a certain project, take a moment to visit the links provided above. In addition to guiding you to the best in social impact filmmaking, we want to provide access to the causes themselves – giving you the opportunity to get involved, take action and help create change.
If you have not already done so, feel free to sign up for our podcast on itunes, or and share with your friends…The more we all see, the better informed we will be…and together we can leverage the power of film to create change.