All the Documentaries You Need to See in January 2022

This month's highlights include the surprise return of 'Cheer' and a spotlight on the films of Lee Grant.

Documentaries in January 2022

Welcome to Documental, a monthly column keeping fans of nonfiction films and docuseries up to date on all the documentary content coming to theaters and your favorite streaming services. Here’s a guide to all the essential documentary titles to watch in January 2022.

Happy new year! January is typically a light month for new documentary releases. The awards contenders have made their debuts by the end of December, and now we’re waiting for Sundance to premiere this year’s initial hopefuls. So, January’s Documental guides are best for highlighting exciting programs of classic docs and notable documentarians.

First up, though, is something new, or at least a fresh season of a recent favorite. Let’s get right into it. Here’s your guide to all the documentary films and series new to theaters and streaming in January 2022:

Pick of the Month: Cheer Season 2

cheer season 2 netflix

The Netflix docuseries Cheer made its debut in January 2020 to great acclaim. It went on to win three Primetime Emmy Awards and two Critics Choice Real TV Awards. Coming from Greg Whiteley, creator of Last Chance U, the series’ success wasn’t surprising. But soon after its release, COVID-19 struck and plans to continue the show were put on hold.

Actually, I was told back in 2020 that the series wasn’t going to be able to continue at all due to the pandemic (it was deemed a limited series for CCA consideration). And when Cheer‘s most popular “character,” Jerry Harris (named Best Male Star in 2020 by the CCA), was later arrested on child pornography charges, the series appeared to be best left behind.

Well, surprise! Cheer Season 2 was announced out of the blue last month by Netflix for release this month. The continuation will pick up with events starting two years ago, again following the rival cheer squads from Navarro College and Trinity Valley Community College as they aim for the National Championship in Daytona Beach.

Season 2 of Cheer covers the cancelation of the 2020 championship due to COVID-19 as well as the event’s return in April 2021. The series also addresses Harris’ arrest and follows that story as well. With so much time and material to cover, it’s not surprising that this season has nine episodes compared to Season 1’s six. Make a binge day of it when it arrives.

Cheer Season 2 premieres in full on Netflix on January 12th.

The Docs of Sundance ’92

cheer season 2 netflix

With the 2022 Sundance Film Festival coming up soon, The Criterion Channel is looking back to the program of 30 years ago. The 1992 Sundance Film Festival was a big deal, as it’s credited with launching indie film into mainstream awareness thanks to such films as Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and Allison Anders’ Gas, Food Lodging.

The former didn’t make the cut for Criterion’s “Sundance Class of ’92: The Year Indie Exploded” program, but we’re focused on the docs anyway. Their selections include Errol Morris’ A Brief History of Time and Camille Billops and James Hatch’s Finding Christina, both of which tied for the Grand Jury Prize for documentaries that year. Morris also received a directing award for the film, an adaptation of Stephen Hawking’s book of the same name.

Other nonfiction titles in the mix: Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s Audience Award-winner, Brother’s Keeper; Marlon Riggs’ Color Adjustment, about the representation of African Americans in prime-time television; Lucille Carra’s poetic travelogue The Inland Sea; Alan Berliner’s Intimate Stranger, a film about his maternal grandfather; and Michael Apted’s Incident at Oglala, about a shootout on a Native American reservation in 1975; 

Plus: T. Minh-ha Trinh’s Shoot the Contents, which looks at the China of its time (and which won a cinematography award that year); Jean-Pierre Gorin’s My Crasy Life, about a Samoan street gang in LA; and Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s road trip doc Where Are We? Our Trip Through America. Robert Mugge’s music doc Deep Blues: A Musical Pilgrimage to the Crossroads is also technically a part of the program but isn’t available until April 1st.

Sundance Class of ’92: The Year Indie Exploded begins on January 1st.

Documentaries by Lee Grant

Down and Out in America Lee Grant

Lee Grant has officially only won a single Oscar, for her supporting performance in Shampoo. But she also directed the Oscar-winning documentary feature Down and Out in America and for some reason isn’t credited with the honor alongside its producers. Anyway, you can now see the film and celebrate her achievement with it via The Criterion Channel.

The streaming service is highlighting the filmmaking career of Grant, who recently turned 96 years old. She’s best known as an actress (with three other Oscar nominations to her credit for her performances) but she also went behind the camera and made a number of important nonfiction films such as the early transgender doc What Sex Am I?, released in 1985.

The program mostly covers her 1980s work. There’s 1981’s The Willmar 8, about a women’s bank strike, 1983’s When Women Kill, about women behind bars for murder, and 1989’s Battered, focused on domestic abuse. Also included is her final doc, from 2005, A Father… A Son… Once Upon a Time in Hollywood featuring Kirk and Michael Douglas.

Documentaries by Lee Grant are streaming on The Criterion Channel starting January 3rd.

We Need to Talk About Cosby

Do we need a documentary about Bill Cosby? According to comedian and Emmy-winning TV personality W. Kamau Bell, we do. And he’s probably right. Bell directs this four-episode docuseries for Showtime, and it’s also part of the documentary program at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival this January. It might even be the first Sundance ’22 doc released.

We Need to Talk About Cosby covers the debate on whether we can still enjoy art and other content created by people who turn out to be terrible people. Bell believes Cosby is the ultimate example and addresses how big a part of our lives he was up until he was revealed to be a serial rapist. This isn’t going to be an easy doc to watch, but it is indeed necessary.

We Need to Talk About Cosby debuts on Showtime over four weeks, starting on January 30th.

Now here is your calendar for all the documentaries and reality series releasing in January 2022:

Documentary Release Calendar for January 2022

DateTitleStreaming ServiceNote
1/18 Broken Hearts (2017)Tubi
The Accidental Wolf -- Season 1 (2022)Amazon Prime -- Topic Channel
Along the Coast (1958)The Criterion ChannelFrench New Wave Shorts
Antarctica: A Year on Ice (2013)The Criterion Channel
Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest (2011)Tubi
Becoming Santa (2011)IMDb TV
Black Panthers (1970)The Criterion ChannelFrench New Wave Shorts
A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story (2015) Tubi
A Brief History of Time (1991)The Criterion ChannelSundance Class of ’92
Brother's Keeper (1992)The Criterion ChannelSundance Class of ’92
Chronicle of a Summer (1961)The Criterion ChannelFrench New Wave
Cocaine Cowboys (2006)Crackle
Cocaine Cowboys: Reloaded (2014)Crackle
Color Adjustment (1991)The Criterion ChannelSundance Class of ’92
Facing Ali (2009)Amazon Prime Video
Fastest Cars in the Dirty South -- Season 1 (2022)Amazon Prime -- MotorTrend Channel
Finding Christina (1991)The Criterion ChannelSundance Class of ’92
Follow the Money -- Season 1 (2022)Amazon Prime -- Topic Channel
Food, Inc. (2008)Amazon Prime Video, Tubi
Freedom on My Mind (1994)HBO Max
Good Hair (2009)Amazon Prime Video
The Gospel According to to André (2017)HBO Max
Hillary's America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party (2016)IMDb TV
Incident at Oglala (1992)The Criterion ChannelSundance Class of ’92
Inequality for All (2013)Tubi
The Inland Sea (1991)The Criterion ChannelSundance Class of ’92
Intimate Stranger (1991)The Criterion ChannelSundance Class of ’92
Jig (2011)Hoopla
Koyaanisqatsi (1982)Tubi
Matthew Barney: No Restraint (2006)Hoopla
Miss Sharon Jones! (2015)Hoopla
More Than a Game (2009)Amazon Prime Video
My Crasy Life (1992)The Criterion ChannelSundance Class of ’92
Neil Young: Heart of Gold (2006)Showtime
Ô saisons ô chateaux (1958)The Criterion ChannelFrench New Wave Shorts
Pharos of Chaos (1983)The Criterion ChannelStarring Sterling Hayden Series
The Pleasure of Love in Iran (1976)The Criterion ChannelFrench New Wave Shorts
Pumping Iron (1977)IMDb TV
The Queen of Ireland (2015)Hoopla
The Queens of Comedy (2001)Showtime
Salut les Cubains (1963)The Criterion ChannelFrench New Wave Shorts
Shoot for the Contents (1991)The Criterion ChannelSundance Class of ’92
Soul Power (2008)Crackle
Spellbound (2002)Max Go
State of Play: Trophy Kids (2013)Hoopla
Stories We Tell (2012)IMDb TV
That's Dancing! (1985)TCM
That's Entertainment! (1974)TCM
That's Entertainment, Part 2 (1976)TCM
That's Entertainment III (1994)TCM
The Tillman Story (2010)Tubi
Uncle Yanco (1967)The Criterion ChannelFrench New Wave Shorts
Venus and Serena (2012)HBO Max
Where Are We? Our Trip Through America (1992)The Criterion ChannelSundance Class of ’92
Women Reply (1975)The Criterion ChannelFrench New Wave Shorts
Zero Days (2016)Amazon Prime Video, Tubi
1/3Battered (1989)The Criterion ChannelDocumentaries by Lee Grant
Down and Out in America (1986)The Criterion ChannelDocumentaries by Lee Grant
A Father ... A Son ... Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2005)The Criterion ChannelDocumentaries by Lee Grant
What Sex Am I? (1985)The Criterion ChannelDocumentaries by Lee Grant
When Women Kill (1983)The Criterion ChannelDocumentaries by Lee Grant
The Willmar 8 (1981)The Criterion ChannelDocumentaries by Lee Grant
1/4Alex Murdaugh: Death. Deception. Power (2021)Peacock
1/5Madonna: Truth Or Dare (1991)Paramount+
1/6Joe Montana: Cool Under Pressure (2022)PeacockPeacock Original
1/7Antisemitism (2020)OVIDOVID Exclusive
Streaming Premiere
Hype House -- Season 1 (2022)NetflixNetflix Original Series
The Making of the King (2022)Netflix
Pharma Bro (2021)Hulu
State of Terrorism (2017)OVIDOVID Exclusive
Streaming Premiere
1/10Ailey (2021)Hulu
Lands (2009)The Criterion ChannelDocumentaries by Maya Da-rin
Margins (2007)The Criterion ChannelDocumentaries by Maya Da-rin
Paper & Glue (2021)Peacock
1/11Ailey (2021)PBSAmerican Masters -- Season 36 Episode
1/12Cheer -- Season 2 (2022)NetflixNetflix Original Series
1/13Brickmakers (Chircales) (1972)OVIDOVID Exclusive
The Calm After the Storm (2021)OVIDOVID Exclusive
Streaming Premiere
Diego, The Last Goodbye (2022)HBO MaxMax Original
Mute Fire (2019)OVIDOVID Exclusive
Streaming Premiere
1/14Betty White: First Lady of TelevisionPeacock
1/15The Challenge - Seasons 12 & 25 (2006 & 2014)Netflix
Foodtastic (2021)Disney+
Life Below Zero - Season 17 (2021)Disney+National Geographic Original Series
Science Of Stupid - Season 8 (2021)Disney+
Selling Tampa - Season 1 (2021)NetflixNetflix Original Series
The Repair Shop (2021)Discovery+
Teen Mom 2 - Seasons 3 & 4 (2011-2012)Netflix
Zero Days (2016)Hulu
1/17Betty White: 100 Years Young (2022)In TheatersFathom Events Screening
The Murder of Fred Hampton (1971)HBO Max
A Reckoning in Boston (2021)PBSIndependent Lens Episode
1/18The Last Tycoons: The Producers Who Made the Classics of French Cinema (2021)OVIDOVID Exclusive
Streaming Premiere
1/19Assembled: The Making of Hawkeye (2022)Disney+
Heavenly Bites: Mexico (2022)NetflixNetflix Original
The Puppet Master: Hunting the Ultimate Conman (2022)NetflixNetflix Original Series
Searching for Gerda Taro (2021)OVIDOVID Exclusive
Streaming Premiere
Too Hot to Handle -- Season 3 (2022)NetflixNetflix Original
1/20 Midnight Asia: Eat. Dance. Dream -- Season 1 (2022)NetflixNetflix Original Series
1/21Neighbors (1952)OVID
12/23Dead Man’s Switch: A Crypto MysteryDiscovery+
1/24Not Going Quietly (2021)PBSPOV -- Season 34 Episode
Roger & Me (1989)The Criterion Channel
Three Songs for Benazir (2022)NetflixNetflix Original
1/25Hooligan Sparrow (2016)American CinemathequeRisk Taker:
The Documentaries of Nanfu Wang
In the Same Breath (2021)American CinemathequeRisk Taker:
The Documentaries of Nanfu Wang
Neymar: The Perfect Chaos (2022)NetflixNetflix Original
One Child Nation (2019)American CinemathequeRisk Taker:
The Documentaries of Nanfu Wang
1/27Flamenco at 5:15 (1983)OVID
1/28Framed! A Sicilian Murder Mystery (2022)NetflixNetflix Original Series
Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness -- Season 1 (2022)NetflixNetflix Original Series
Gorbachev. Heaven (2021)OVIDOVID Exclusive
Streaming Premiere
Prism (2021)OVIDOVID Exclusive
Streming Premiere
1/30We Need to Talk About Cosby (2022)ShowtimeShowtime Original
1/31Missing in Brooks County (2021)PBSIndependent Lens Episode
The Woodmans (2011)The Criterion Channel
DateTitleStreaming ServiceNote

(Editor in Chief)

Christopher Campbell is the founding editor of Nonfics.