When Hollywood is Too Fake: 15 Inspirational Documentaries

It’s not an overstatement to say that movies can be inspirational. Millions of men over the decades have felt that they too should seek out a life where they can shoot people, become borderline alcoholics and take beautiful women to bed, just as James Bond does. A whole generation of teenage girls watched Titanic and felt that they too deserved an epic adventure, and that they most definitely deserved to date Leonardo DiCaprio. Traditional narrative movies can certainly give you an inspirational feeling, but this is often not enough to motivate you to work towards your ambition, since you know that the story you’ve just watched is a piece of fiction.

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Inspirational documentaries can be a true source of inspiration, and you know that while the real word doesn’t usually have an uplifting soundtrack and the benefits of editing, what you’ve just seen has really happened. While not all of the inspirational documentaries we’re going to examine are necessarily related to those who want to carve a name for themselves as tech entrepreneurs, they’re certainly beneficial when you want to perk yourself up and refocus on your goal, all while being told a fascinating story.

1. Man On Wire (2008)

Perhaps the spectacle of the high wire walker is a thing of the past, although James Marsh’s documentary explores the life of one of the best of the best. Phillipe Petit became known around the world in 1974 when he illegally hung a wire between the twin towers of the World Trade Center and walked across it, some 1350 feet above the ground. Petit follows his dreams and shows that beauty can be created by the strangest of activities.

2. Grizzly Man (2005)

Perhaps Timothy Treadwell never gave up on the idea of playing with teddy bears, and so he made it his life’s mission to live amongst wild grizzly bears over 13 summers. Treadwell apparently felt isolated while living in contemporary society, and was more at home amongst the bears. While the experience didn’t end well for Treadwell, he was a person who followed his dream despite the risk.

3. Indie Game: The Movie (2012)

A truly inspirational documentary for those who want to succeed in a popular industry, although outside of a large corporation. The film tells the story of three software developers who make, market and release independent video games (which you may have guessed from the title). What’s particular interesting is how the story changes when a large games developer (in this case, Microsoft) takes an interest in one of the indie games.

4. Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)

While some sushi is better than others, you might think that the art of making it has essentially gone as far as is possible. Jiro Ono, now in his late 80’s, disagrees. This documentary details his quest to perfect the art of sushi making, and he’s already rather darn good at it, since his restaurant has been awarded three Michelin stars. A gentle, quiet film, Jiro Dreams of Sushi shows that while you can be working towards a goal, you should also find satisfaction with the journey.

5. Planet Earth (2006)

Many television actors reportedly don’t like high definition, as it shows their wrinkles and other imperfections with crystal clarity, although the documentary medium is possibly the best place to showcase HD, displaying the natural world in vivid detail. This BBC documentary, narrated with the soothing tones of Sigourney Weaver, took five years to make, and delved into the major ecosystems of the world. The sheer amount of work involved in this staggering production speaks volumes about the filmmakers dedication to achieving their goals- cutting corners is not a possibility with this type of work.

6. Into the Universe With Stephen Hawking (2010)

The title of “smartest person in the world” is open to debate, but theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking is surely a contender. This inspirational documentary was produced for the Discovery Channel asks the big questions, and speculates on the creation of the universe, the possibility of life beyond our planet, and the very nature of reality. It’s certainly not to be watched when you want something easy.

7. I Am (2010)

What’s wrong with the world? This is the simple question posed by director Tom Shadyac in his documentary, although it could be argued that as the director of such low brow comedies as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Nutty Professor and Liar Liar, his films have contributed enough “wrong” to the world. The film works as a collection of opinion pieces of the greatest thinkers of our time, including Desmond Tutu and Noam Chomsky, and truly is food for thought, even if you don’t agree with the opinions on offer.

8. Finding Joe (2011)

All about the journey of life and the nature of heroism (whether large or small), the “Joe” in question is writer Joseph Campbell, who wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, which compares the traditional hero’s journey in myth and fiction to a person’s own journey in life.

9. Happy (2011)

Also from Tom Shadyac, although he acted as a producer on this film, Happy explores the nature of happiness through examining various communities around the world and looking at their levels of satisfaction with various aspects of their life. Such a question as “what does it mean to be happy” is difficult to answer, but the film shrewdly points out that the things that are supposed to make us happy in the modern world often don’t.

10. The Secret (2006)

The key concept of the self-help book The Secret has been parodied extensively, and it’s an easy target- if you want something enough, it will happen (all those Titanic fans who wanted to date Leonardo DiCaprio have so far been disappointed). The film version explores the basic idea in more detail, reinforcing the power the positive thinking, and that it’s not simply a case of wishing or praying for something, but actually of being optimistic and that if your thoughts are positive, positive things will happen to you. Naturally, this school of thought has been subject to intense criticism, although the millions who saw the film presumably got something from it.

11. Crazy Sexy Cancer (2007)

Traditional films about illness can be uplifting, and yet you know that as soon as the credits roll, Tom Hanks goes back to being a multimillionaire movie star. Crazy Sexy Cancer is an inspirational documentary without equal, and is directed by Kris Carr, who is also the subject. After being diagnosed with Epithelioid hemangioendothelioma, which is a very rare cancer, Carr keeps a video diary of her quest to understand more about her disease. Despite the depressing statistics when it comes to fatalities from this cancer, the film is actually quite upbeat, showing how Carr refused to give up- something she hasn’t yet and will hopefully never do.

12. Craigslist Joe (2012)

The classified advertisement website with a global reach, Craigslist has been criticized for carrying a large number of false listings (scams), and even being a platform for murderers and sex offenders to find victims. Craigslist Joe looks at the positive aspect of the site, and makes a viewer think that you can actually rely on the kindness of strangers. Filmmaker Joseph Garner spent a month wandering America, contacting people via the site and receiving food and accommodation for free, showing that the world isn’t as bad as we might think.

13. The Corporation (2003)

For those of us who might have some issues with modern capitalism, The Corporation is a refreshing viewing experience. The film looks at the evolution of the modern corporation, and how in contemporary times, a corporate entity has many of the same rights as a person. It’s a rather objective examination, and while it doesn’t shy away from pointing out the flaws in the idea of a modern corporation, it also shows how many of these negative attributes were necessary to develop the business world as we know (and need) it.

14. The Startup Kids (2012)

The Startup Kids is essential viewing for any aspiring tech entrepreneur, and can almost be watched as an instruction manual. The founders of successful tech start ups such as Dropbox and Soundcloud are interviewed and is a warts and all look at what went right, and in many cases, what went wrong.

15. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)

Arcade games have largely faded into obscurity thanks to fancy home gaming consuls, but not for those who are featured in The King of Kong. While becoming the world champion of Donkey Kong is not something most of us want to do with our lives, the single mindedness of those depicted in the films tells a simple message- follow your dream and do what makes you happy, no matter how pointless others might think it is!

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