5 Documentaries With The Power to Affect.

photo by Matt Collamer

I recently came across a short slice of life documentary featuring inmates taking in their first moments of freedom from Huntsville State Penitentiary in Texas, which once again reminded me how powerful a thoughtfully packaged perspective of a lived experience can be. I’ve never looked someone in the eyes as they take their first breath of freedom after 30 years of incarceration, but now through this documentary I’ve felt someone in that moment.

Our individual human experience is limited, but through stories we have expansive access to diverse perspectives of lived experiences. With such ease of access to this wonderful gift, intolerance of “other,” no matter its form or function, seems to me like unnecessary weight in the backpack as we climb our mountains.

If fear is the spark for intolerance, then understanding is the fire extinguisher and I look forward to a future where children grow up with more access to fire extinguishers than fire starters. While I hypothesize that standardized access to basic human needs, emotionally intelligent mentorship, and culturally diverse communities is what will lead us towards this future; it’s been storytelling which has progressed our species this far.

While good fiction can shine a flashlight onto diverse characters and circumstances, it is often only an introduction to the material. Thankfully non-fiction can carry the torch deeper into the cave by creating rich understanding between the viewer and the subject matter; and great non-fiction can inspire cultural movements.

An infographic from Ava DuVernay’s “13th”, the powerful documentary which explores the prison system and how it is used as a weapon against minorities.

Here are 5 recent documentary projects worth watching, all of which had a profound affect on me:

“13th” — — An in-depth look at the prison system in the United States and how it reveals the nation’s history of racial inequality. (available on Netflix)

Won’t You Be My Neighbor” — — An exploration of the life, lessons, and legacy of iconic children’s television host, Fred Rogers. (available on Amazon Prime)

RBG” — — An intimate portrait of an unlikely rock star: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. With unprecedented access, the filmmakers explore how her early legal battles changed the world for women. (available on Hulu and Amazon Prime)

The Social Dilemma” — — This documentary-drama hybrid explores the dangerous human impact of social networking, with tech experts sounding the alarm on their own creations. (available on Netflix)

Invisible People” — — There is a direct correlation between what the general public perceives about homelessness and how it affects policy change. Most people blame homelessness on the person experiencing it instead of the increasing shortage of… (Hundreds of stories available on YouTube)

— For weekly movie, television, short film and web content recommendations, subscribe to The Laughter Letter, a weekly newsletter which explores the human condition through the lens of storytelling.




Screenwriter. Publisher of The Laughter Letter. Filmmaker. Founder of Snackhaus, a video production studio in Los Angeles.

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C.R. Laughter

C.R. Laughter

Screenwriter. Publisher of The Laughter Letter. Filmmaker. Founder of Snackhaus, a video production studio in Los Angeles.

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