12 Best Movies to Watch From Impact Partners

Staff & contributors

, 2017

Director Bryan Fogel, who you might know as the guy behind Jewtopia, initially set out to chronicle his exploration of doping to win an amateur cycling race. He starts off by reaching out to experts to help him with obtaining and administering said drugs, one of which points him towards Russian scientist Grigory Rodchenkov, the director of Russia's national anti-doping laboratory. Rodchenkov eagerly agrees to help him out.

Little did he know that his Russian acquaintance would transform Fogel film from a self-experiment documentary into a true-crime political thriller, when the scientist admits to being involved in a state-sponsored doping scheme of epic proportions on camera. Putin is obviously not amused.

Aside from all the madness that unfolds in this Netflix production, it's Rodchenkov's likeable and eccentric personality that makes the story more relatable and human as well as giving you a rare glimpse into the upper echelons of a country like Russia. As the plot thickens, one can't help but think that Fogel too is in over his head. Rightly award-winning, this is gripping stuff even if you're not into sports!

Genre: Documentary, Mystery

Actor: Bryan Fogel, Dan Cogan, Don Catlin, Grigory Rodchenkov, Jacques Rogge, Nikita Kamaev, Richard Pound, Victor Webster

Director: Bryan Fogel

Rating: TV-MA

Difficult but essential viewing, Procession tracks the progress of six men undergoing art therapy—specifically, by creating short filmed scenes to process their trauma from being sexually abused by Catholic priests. The resulting films we get to see are wildly varied in the emotions they express, forming a rich and powerful tapestry of the effects abuse can leave on individuals. And to see these men confront the worst events of their lives through filmmaking begins to feel like validation for filmmaking itself, that it can truly be an art form that changes and saves lives. But even more striking, somehow, is the unbreakable bond that forms among these survivors throughout this entire process, captured with reverence and overflowing compassion by director Robert Greene.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Dan Laurine

Director: Robert Greene

This groundbreaking documentary follows the USA Olympics sexual abuse case that made headlines in 2015. Through interviews with Olympians, their families, and investigative reporters, it’s also a documentary on the overall culture of abuse in gymnastics: sexual, physical, and emotional.

In one scene from the 1996 Olympics, gold medalist Kerri Strug has to run, vault, and land - all with a severe foot injury that was covered up by her coaches. She does this twice, limping between attempts and crawling off the mat on the second, crying. Meanwhile, her family, her coaches, the spectators - the World - is celebrating.

When she’s carried off, it’s Larry Nassar, the pedophile at the center of the documentary, who carries her.

Athlete A is groundbreaking exactly because it illustrates that the problem is not only with one doctor, or the 54 coaches who were also found guilty of sexual abuse, or the morally bankrupt leadership of USA Gymastics; it’s also about what went so wrong with society to see the abuse of young girls as cause for celebration.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Géza Poszar, Gina Nichols, Jen Sey, John Nichols, Maggie Nichols

Director: Bonni Cohen, Jon Shenk

Rating: PG-13

This searing allegation of sexual abuse against Def Jam Recordings' Russell Simmons unfolds with the intelligence and tenacity of a world-class prosecution. But more importantly, On the Record remembers to fight for a justice that's restorative, too—paying proper tribute to Drew Dixon and many other equally creative and talented women behind the scenes in the American hip hop industry. With every new argument it introduces, this documentary encourages us not only to be open to new information, but to rewire our very way of thinking about race, intersectional feminism, and the music business. It may be a bit of a cliché, but On the Record really does leave you smarter than when you started, with a heightened awareness of how the present moment is inseparable from our history.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Shanita Hubbard

Director: Amy Ziering, Kirby Dick

Hilarious and sweet, Meet the Patels is a charming collaboration between siblings Geeta and Ravi Patel. While the film is a documentary, it feels more like a real-time romantic comedy - which makes sense, given that it’s about Ravi’s quest for the perfect wife. Standard tropes, such as parental disapproval, are present here, but the film keeps it fresh as it focuses on the intricacies of Indian dating, specifically with traditional matchmaking and modern internet dating. However, like some of the best romcoms, the real heart of the story lies outside of Ravi’s love life. What drives the story is the dynamic between Ravi and his family. Balancing parental expectations with personal hopes is a struggle anyone can relate to, though this film presents this through comedic debates about marriage. At the same time, these debates end up insightful and oftentimes reveal fundamental principles the family believes in. It’s only through resolving familial issues that Ravi finally figures out his love life.

Genre: Comedy, Documentary, Drama, Romance

Actor: Ravi Patel

Director: Geeta Patel, Ravi Patel

Rating: PG

Even if you’re a huge Broadway fan, you’ve probably never heard of the “industrial musical." While it no longer exists in practice, in the 1970s industrial musicals were shows that corporations commissioned for some of the biggest Broadway names to produce. The script would be based on the company’s offerings and history, and privately performed by real Broadway actors to audiences made up exclusively of company and factory staff.

Now, a documentary about industrial shows doesn’t scream “entertaining,” but to describe Bathtubs Over Broadway in such a manner would be selling it way short. It’s really about Steve Young, a comedy writer for David Letterman, and how his life changed when he found his first industrial musical LP when leafing through a crate of old records for a Late Night segment he was working on.

Ultimately, what makes this such an enjoyable watch is the protagonist’s enduring passion over what at first appears to be nothing but a niche obsession. But with time, as he connects with other collectors and the people who were involved in the original industrial musical productions, his passion breeds community and lifelong bonds. Even if you’re no fan of Broadway, this makes for a great pop culture documentary and an unexpectedly touching story of human connection.

Genre: Comedy, Documentary, Drama, Music

Actor: Chita Rivera, David Letterman, Florence Henderson, Jello Biafra, Martin Short, Melody Rogers, Sheldon Harnick, Steve Young, Susan Stroman

Director: Dava Whisenant

Rating: PG-13

If you grew up watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, you may find yourself now humming along: It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor, would you be mine? Could you be mine? 

If you did not grow up watching this iconic children’s television program, you may still be familiar with its host, the late Fred Rogers. Rogers was an advocate for empathy and extending kindness toward people of all races, religions, and ages. He never talked down to the neighbors who paid him visits on the show, which aired from 1968 to 2001, even while tackling heavier subjects like grief, divorce, and loneliness.

Morgan Neville’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor best captures Rogers’ ability to build communities and make you, the viewer, feel less alone. Through interviews and archival footage, a clear portrait emerges of Rogers’ legacy and singular force of goodwill. Both the documentary and Fred Rogers’ spirit serve as reminders that each of us are worthy of love, exactly as we are.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Al Gore, Ayden Soria, Betty Aberlin, Bill Clinton, Bill Isler, Brian Kilmeade, Christa McAuliffe, David Bianculli, David Letterman, David Newell, Eddie Murphy, Eleanor Way, François Clemmons, Fred Rogers, George Wirth, Hedda Sharapan, Hillary Clinton, Jim Rogers, Joanne Rogers, Joe Negri, Johnny Carson, Josie Carey, Junlei Li, Koko, Lorin Hollander, Lynden Liu, Lyndon B. Johnson, Major Hawbaker Manask, Max King, McColm Cephas Jr., McColm Kona Cephas Jr., Nick Tallo, Robert F. Kennedy, Susan Stamberg, Tom Junod, Tom Snyder, Yo-Yo Ma

Director: Morgan Neville

There is no shortage of resources—be it books, films, articles, or interviews—about the atrocities Ferdinand Marcos unleashed on the Philippines. And yet, in the years since his exile and eventual death, his family has returned to power in the country, winning the hearts and (manipulated) minds of the masses.

In The Kingmaker, director Lauren Greenfield (who earlier directed the equally revealing The Queen of Versailles) exposes how this came to be, with a focus on the titular kingmaker herself, Imelda Marcos. It’s chilling how much of Imelda’s stated goals in this documentary, which spans five years, have come true. History repeats itself, and Greenfield skillfully and delicately captures the delusion, irony, and blatant corruption of a family dead set on owning a country, as if it were another luxury to purchase (or in the case of the Marcoses, pocket). 

Genre: Crime, Documentary, Drama

Actor: Andres D. Bautista, Benigno Aquino III, Bongbong Marcos, Etta Rosales, Imee Marcos, Imelda Marcos, Leni Robredo, Mary Yturria

Director: Lauren Greenfield

Rating: R

Sophie Compton and Reubyn Hamlyn's British-American documentary about the harm of deepfakes won the SXSW Special Jury Award for its innovative storytelling and deservingly so. The two filmmakers use a clever and considerate way to let a young woman fictitiously named Taylor share her story of how she found deepfake pornography of herself online. With testaments, desktop form reconstructions, and lots of deepfakes, Compton and Hamlyn alert the audience to how terrifyingly widespread this kind of abuse is, and even more: how unregulated it is. Across the globe and 48 US states deepfake pornography is legal to make and spread, while victims remain helpless and unprotected. More than 90% of them are women. These chilling statistics are only part of the reason this documentary takes an activist stance and wants to raise awareness against the uncontrolled spread of face-swapping algorhythms amidst heated discussions around AI and ethics.

Genre: Documentary

Director: Reuben Hamlyn, Sophie Compton

Rating: NR

Lauren Greenfield’s film follows the Siegel family’s decline from opulent abundance to gaudy ruin. Mega wealth, delusions of grandeur, and grotesquely opulent taste—the Siegel family were the perfect subjects for the film, which sets out to document their most lavish expense: their Versailles home, a mansion sprawling more than 85,000 square feet and modeled after the Palace of Versailles.

The Siegels, no doubt, are entirely out of touch with reality. David Siegel, the owner of one of the world’s largest timeshare developers, married Jackie, a former Mrs. Florida who is 30 years younger. The Versailles home is to be Jackie’s castle, an enormous home for her eight kids and numerous pets.

But the 2008 recession does not spare the Siegels, and their company is devastated. After layoffs and desperate attempts to recover financially, the family struggles to pay back the banks. Construction halts. The Versailles home remains vacant and unfinished.

While the film does not sympathize with the Siegels, Greenfield creates a space where pity is possible as well as criticism. And from there comes the universal: desperation, longing, hope for better, if not also more, more, more.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Director: Lauren Greenfield

Although limited by the timeframe in which it was released—that is, before its characters really got to finish organizing themselves in response to the film's subject matter—Aftershock still provides a detailed primer on the ways the American healthcare system has been manipulated to take advantage of the underprivileged. The documentary can get technical but since it grounds its reporting on two tragic stories of preventable loss, there's more than enough reason to pay full attention. It definitely isn't meant to answer every question about pregnancy care, but it definitely compels deeper inquiry into the ways we've been socialized into perceiving romantic notions about childbirth.

Genre: Documentary

Director: Paula Eiselt, Tonya Lewis Lee

A deeply affecting and meaningful documentary, directed by the woman who it revolves around. Jennifer Brea, a Harvard Ph.D student, begins suffering from unusual symptoms: prolonged and extreme fatigue, mental confusion, full-body pain, etc. When she goes to the doctor she is dismissed for being dehydrated and depressed. Later she finds an extended community suffering from her exact same symptoms, all of which fall under the umbrella of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, more widely known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. She decides to tell their stories from her bed, and as such this movie is a collection of videos from her and her partner, added to the stories of others living with the disease. An important and inspiring movie that sheds a light on the lives of the millions affected by CFS around the world. Watch the trailer.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Jennifer Brea, Jessica l e Taylor, Jessica Taylor-Bearman, Omar Wasow, Patricia E. Gillespie, Samuel Bearman

Director: Jennifer Brea

Rating: N/A, Not Rated