‘The Square,’ ‘The Trials of Muhammad Ali’ and ‘Mitt’ Top This Week’s Nonfics Home Picks


Most people don’t get to see documentaries until they arrive on a home video platform of some kind, whether it’s DVD, Blu-ray, VOD, iTunes, TV, Netflix streaming, etc. So, this may be the most important post of the week for fans of nonfics. Join us every Tuesday for a look at what documentaries and reality programming is recommended by myself and other contributors to the site. As always, if you know of something we missed or should be aware of, drop us an email or a note down below.

Here are our ordered picks for January 21, 2014:

1. The Square

[New to Netflix Watch Instantly] — In a perfectly timed release, this newly Oscar-nominated documentary on the Egyptian Revolution from Jehane Noujaim (Control Room) hit Netflix streaming last week exclusively. Even if it hadn’t received the Academy recognition, though, it would top this week’s picks (it probably should have been highlighted last week, actually), as it was on our list of the best docs of 2013, landed in the top 10 of our critic poll and it was also on my own personal list. Daniel Walber gave it a ★★★★★ review last fall, writing, “The Square is almost like a novel, with characters that both assert their independence and stand in for larger elements of their society. The revolutionaries themselves are a way in for the audience, leading to a prosaic representation of truth. As heroes they draw forth our admiration, but as men with complicated lives and genuine struggles they offer a window into the truth of their world. The Square, in this way, is nothing short of literature.”

2. The Trials of Muhammad Ali

[New to iTunes] — Another from my list of the top 20 docs of last year, this historical film by Bill Siegel (co-director of Oscar nominee The Weather Underground) looks at Muhammad Ali’s life following his conversion to Islam and his protest of the Vietnam War, which landed him a prison sentence for draft evasion and ruined his favor with many Americans for decades. From my ★★★★ review: “[Siegel] doesn’t waste space with the usual, cliche stock footage of Vietnam and undefined shots of random protests in the streets. Every bit of material appears to be directly relevant. It helps that there is much archival footage of Ali to use, but even with access to and allotment of tons of footage many filmmakers still include familiar filler. I don’t know for sure how much here is previously unseen content, but it all definitely feels fresh while also being entirely essential … It’s a look at a history by way of Ali, and it’s a look at Ali by way of history, and it’s one of the best docs I’d claim to have learned something from all year.”

Also available on iTunes and YouTube

3. Mitt

[Debuts on Netflix Watch Instantly on January 24th] — While it doesn’t quite compare to some of the best campaign trail docs of the past, this six-year-in-the-making effort from Greg Whiteley (New York Doll) is still fascinating for being about the loser of the last presidential race (and loser of the Republican primary before that). It’s really a film about a family, as it’s almost entirely focused on Mitt Romney, his wife Anne and his sons who were with him through both attempts. And it’s very humbling and humanizing, giving us a nice parallel to what we see of Rick Santorum in last year’s better campaign doc, Caucus. Short on insight and discovery, Mitt still shows us a side of the man we may not have known and could find surprising. Basically it seems to ask, why was Romney even running? There’s something kind of cynically anti-Capra-esque about the film, as the Romneys come off rather old-fashioned, Mitt being a modern-day, out-of-place Mr. Smith. And shucks, you kind of feel really bad for the guy in the end, even if you didn’t want him to be in the White House.

Also screening at the Sundance Film Festival this week

4. Stolen Seas

[New to Netflix Watch Instantly] — I first heard about this film about Somali pirates when filmmaker Zal Batmanglij included it on his list of the top 10 docs of all time. It was the only title accompanied by a note, too: “Rattled me out of a predictable worldview. Made me remember how complex a system we live in. It’s funny to think that we understand it all.” After that, Dan Schindel also spotlighted Thymaya Payne’s film in a Doc Option column, recommending it as an alternative to Captain Phillips: “Stolen Seas is a great example of taking a singular event and unwrapping it to point to the larger confluence of factors that help an audience understand why it’s happened. It also manages the rare feat of acting mainly as a deliverer of information, but in the process becoming more than just a basic primer on an issue. It does so by finding the humanity in everyone involved in this, both victims and victimizers (and the victimizers of the victimizers). It gives the facts on the subject while remaining open-ended, suggesting no easy solutions and leaving plenty for viewers to digest, hopefully before they go on to explore the subject further.”

Also available on iTunes

5. Girl Model

[Streaming on POV] — A revealing film, almost to a surreal point at times, on the modeling industry and its exploitation of young girls. Directed by Ashley Sabin and David Redmon (currently at Sundance with a new short) follow a 13-year-old girl from Siberia to Japan, where she faces a terrifying and lonely reality as her career certainty isn’t as clear as it seemed, and simultaneously a jaded former model turned scout who represents one of the better futures that is possible for the younger subject. This was my favorite doc of the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival, from which I wrote on Movies.com: “a film exposing the world of youth modeling in ways you both expect and can’t possibly imagine. It’s not necessarily sad in a direct way, but the circles of blame and cycle of the industry are upsetting in an overarching sense … [the ex-model] one of the year’s most intriguing doc characters.” Available for free on POV until February 1st.

Also available on iTunes and Netflix Watch Instantly

6. Monica & David

[New to Netflix Watch Instantly] — This entry previously appeared in another edition of Nonfics Home Picks. Alexandra Codina turned the camera on her cousin with Down Syndrome as the young woman prepares for her wedding to a similarly disabled young man, and the result is one of the sweetest, most romantic documentaries of all time while also presenting an unfamiliar kind of mother/daughter story, too.

Also available on DVD and iTunes and streaming on SundanceNow, Netflix and Amazon.

New to DVD [and/or Blu-ray]:

Alien Implants: Evidence of UFO Abductions and Encounters

The Beatles: A Magical History Tour

The Doors: R-Evolution [Also on Blu-ray]

Fleetwood Mac: A Videobiography

Forward 13: Waking Up the American Dream

The Hidden Hand

How the Universe Works Season 2

Legends of Pop: ABBA Uncut

Modern Land Warfare

Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy [Also on Blu-ray]

Railways of Austria

Secret Access (National Geographic Classics)

Space Voyages (Smithsonian Channel)

Stevie’s Trek to the Holy Land: Abraham’s Promise

Stevie’s Trek to the Holy Land: The Miracle of Moses

White House Revealed (Smithsonian Channel)

World’s Richest Kingpins Vol. 1

New to Netflix Watch Instantly:

The Act of Killing — Theatrical Cut (★★★★ Nonfics Rating) [Stream Now]

The Baidu Billionaire: The Google of China [Stream Now]

Discover: Planet Ocean [Stream Now]

Inside: Chipotle [Stream Now]

Inside: DeBeers [Stream Now]

Inside: Dolce & Gabbana [Stream Now]

Inside: LinkedIn [Stream Now]

Inside: McDonald’s [Stream Now]

Inside: Pixar [Stream Now]

Monica & David (★★★★ Nonfics Rating) [Stream Now]

The Muslims Are Coming [Stream Now]

The Square (★★★★★ Nonfics Review) [Stream Now]

Stolen Seas [Stream Now]

Strongman [Stream Now]

WWE: n.W.o.: The Revolution [Stream Now]

WWE: Rock vs. Cena: Once in a Lifetime [Stream Now]

New to iTunes/Amazon Instant/VOD:

Can Do: The Legacy of Jimmy Heuga [Amazon Instant Video]

Sons of Africa [Amazon Instant Video]

Split: A Deeper Divide [iTunes]

The Trials of Muhammad Ali [iTunes]

Uprising [Amazon Instant Video]

Must-See Nonfiction TV:


Hubble [1/21 on 3net, 11am and 5pm ET]

The Other F Word [1/21 on The Movie Channel, 1:45pm ET]

Chimpanzee [1/21 on Starz Kids & Family, 2:55pm and 10:50pm ET]

Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment [1/21 on Pivot, 3pm ET]

Dragonslayer [1/21 on Showtime Next, 3:25pm ET]

Galapagos [1/21 on 3net, 10pm ET]


Galapagos [1/22 on 3net, 1am, 4am, 7am, 10am and 4pm ET]

Chimpanzee [1/22 on Starz Kids & Family, 6:35am ET]

Redemption [1/22 on HBO, 8:15am and 11:15am ET]

Into the Deep [1/22 on 3net, 11am and 5pm ET]

Primary [1/22 on Pivot, 11am ET]

99%: The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film [1/22 on Pivot, 12pm and 6pm ET]


El Bulli: Cooking in Progress [1/23 on Link TV, 12am ET]

Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston [1/23 on Showtime Women, 2:50am ET]

The Yes Men [1/23 on Starz Cinema, 5:45am ET]

Kumare [1/23 on Pivot, 11:30am ET]


Startup.com [1/24 on Showtime Next, 10:30am ET]

Dragonslayer [1/24 on Showtime Next, 2:15pm ET]

West of Memphis [1/24 on Starz Cinema, 2:15am ET]

Galapagos [1/24 on 3net, 7pm ET]

Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage [1/24 on VH1 Classic, 11:30pm ET]


Which Way is the Front Line From Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington [1/25 on HBO 2, 5am and 8am ET]

Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment [1/25 on Pivot, 6am ET]

Primary [1/25 on Pivot, 7am ET]

Beware of Mr. Baker [1/25 on Showtime Extreme, 1pm ET]

Galapagos [1/25 on 3net, 1pm ET]


99%: The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film [1/26 on Pivot, 6am ET]

We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists [1/26 on Pivot, 10am ET]

Chimpanzee [1/26 on Starz Kids & Family, 10:45am and 6:40pm ET]

Everest [1/26 on HDNET, 3:30pm ET]


The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia [1/27 on Showtime Extreme, 1:40am]

Chimpanzee [1/27 on Starz Kids & Family, 2:50am ET]

Everest [1/27 on HDNET, 5am ET]

West of Memphis [1/27 on Starz Cinema, 5am ET]

Startup.com [1/27 on Showtime Next, 6:15am ET]

Burma VJ: Reporting From a Closed Country [1/27 on Pivot, 12pm ET]

War Photographer [1/27 on Pivot, 2pm ET]

Into the Deep [1/27 on 3net, 8pm and 11pm ET]

Herblock: The Black & The White [1/27 on HBO, 9pm ET]


Herblock: The Black & The White [1/28 on HBO, 12am, 4am and 7:20am ET]

Into the Deep [1/28 on 3net, 2am, 8am and 2pm ET]

The Yes Men [1/28 on Starz Cinema, 5:05am ET]

Beware of Mr. Baker [1/28 on Showtime Extreme, 1:25pm ET]

(Editor in Chief)

Christopher Campbell is the founding editor of Nonfics.