Upcoming Documentaries To Keep On Your Radar

It's awards season, which means that some of the best documentaries of the year are set to debut all within a few weeks of one another. Many are headed directly to streaming platforms, so you don't even have to leave your house to enjoy them. We found five films that intrigued us in particular. From an animated biography, to a harrowing look inside the first months of the pandemic, the films on this list all bring intense stories to audiences and ask us to examine the darker aspects of our humanity. 


"Adrienne" follows the creative passion and untimely death of actress and filmmaker Adrienne Shelly. After starring in 20 films, Shelly started making moves behind the camera, attracting a lot of attention as someone in with great potential. That all was cut short, however, when Shelly was found dead in what police first ruled a suicide. However, her husband, Andy Ostroy, who also directed the film, insisted Shelly did not kill herself. Police investigated her death further, leading to the arrest of her murderer. 

Shelly's most influential work, "Waitress," starred Keri Russell ("Antlers"), and was released to much critical acclaim after her death. The film was later adapted into the popular musical of the same name. Many familiar faces pop up in the documentary, including Russell, Sara Bareilles, Paul Rudd, Nathan Fillion, and more. They join Shelly's loved ones to bring their memories of her to the film in order to illuminate what it was that made her special, and why her loss was such a tragedy. 

"Adrienne" comes to HBO Max December 1, 2021. 


At the top of the Awards Season Hype lists is the animated documentary "Flee." Animated documentaries are not a new concept, but they are atypical. Critically acclaimed films like "Waltz With Bashir" and "Tower" have helped normalize the format in the documentary space, and "Flee" looks to expand on that. 

"Flee" is directed by Jonas Poher Rasmussen, and recounts the story told to him by a childhood friend, known only as "Amin" in the film. Amin left Afghanistan as a child refugee, and the documentary recounts the five years of turmoil he spent fleeing the country as the Taliban took over. The trailer gives the impression that the film will reveal Amin's personal secrets along the way as well. Oscar nominee Riz Ahmed ("Sound of Metal") will voice Amin for the English dub. The film is gaining a lot of attention, with some thinking it may even be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, making it the first documentary that could earn that title. 

"Flee" will be released in theaters December 3, 2021. 

The First Wave

The poster for "The First Wave" has a simple tagline that does a good job of summarizing the film itself. It reads, "Four Months, New York City, 2020." Those six words are enough to conjure together a horror story without even seeing the film — our minds fill in the blanks for us. 

"The First Wave" comes from filmmaker Matthew Heineman, who also directed the Oscar-nominated film "Cartel Land." Shot in cinema vérité style, the film is a fly-on-the-wall look at the tumultuous stories that came out of early months of the pandemic. It focuses on the points of view of hospital workers, doctors, and nurses. Some say the documentary is a grim but "necessary watch," a sober revelation showing the clear pathway between our the confusing early days of our global trauma to the place we are at now. 

"The First Wave" will stream on Hulu December 5, 2021.

The Forever Prisoner

"The Forever Prisoner" follows the history of "enhanced interrogation techniques" used by the CIA in the War on Terror. These procedures, including waterboarding, are now considered by most to be torture. The story is told by people involved in the decisions made at the time. It also focuses on the imprisonment of Abu Zubaydah, one of the "high value" detainees still held at Guantánamo Bay. Zubaydah himself provides diaries and drawings for the film. 

"The Forever Prisoner" is directed by Alex Gibney, a prolific filmmaker in the documentary space. Many of his films are focused on political and military intrigue similar to that of "The Forever Prisoner." He's also responsible for other HBO favorites like "The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley," and "Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief,"," as well as the two-part documentary about the opioid crisis, "The Crime of the Century." Gibney also won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for the film "Taxi to the Dark Side." 

"The Forever Prisoner" streams on HBOMax on December 6, 2021.

Who We Are

"Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America" is directed by the sister filmmaking team of Emily Kunstler & Sarah Kunstler. It's based on a presentation given by Jeffrey Robinson, a former ACLU Deputy Legal Director, who has spoken about the topic of racism in America around the world. In 2018, Robinson gave his talk to a packed theater on Broadway. The documentary features footage from this show, as well as archival viewpoints and interviews, helping to lay out Robinson's thoughts and experiences as a Black man living in the United States. As noted on the documentary's website, it aims to ask "all of us to examine who we are, where we came from, and who we want to be." 

Robinson also hosts a podcast with Carvell Wallace of the same name, where he continues the discussion he started in the film.

"Who We Are" will be released on January 14, 2022. 

Awards Season Favorites

We're hard pressed to pick a title on this list we're looking forward to seeing the most. They each have interesting angles and unique perspectives to offer. At the same time, considering how dark the topics are, we're not suggesting a binge of these titles all at once. This batch of documentaries features several that are making the year's "best-of" lists already. "Flee," "Who We Are," and "The First Wave" all rank in the top 10 of Variety's Oscar Predictions for Best Documentary Feature. So, you probably can't go wrong with any of them.