Katie McDowell, Life & Leisure

The best docs to watch right now

I don’t know exactly what the problem is lately, but I seem to have zero attention span for most things.
Or, more accurately, for most things fiction.
Try as I might, I can’t manage to invest in any new TV shows. Even old favorites with fresh seasons fail to entice — attempts to catch up with “Bosch” and “Westworld” have both wound up with me scrolling aimlessly on my phone.
My movie-watching has likewise suffered — the last several I’ve ordered on pay per view have gone ignored 15 minutes in.
Even my voracious reading habits are affected: If it’s not a memoir these days, it’s bound to end up on the ever-growing stack of “I’ll-come-back-to-its” by my bed.
Give me a documentary, however, and I’m all ears (and eyes).
Not that my obsession with true stories is anything new, necessarily. I’ve loved documentaries for as long as I can remember. The more macabre or depressing, the better.
But I’ve generally been able to intersperse these types of movies and shows with the standard make-believe variety, thus lending a bit more diversity to my watchlist.
Not recently, however. You’re either about something that actually happened, or I’m reaching for the remote.
Luckily, there have been some good ones on offer (with a few more promising releases coming soon).
Which is great, because, you know, God forbid I go outside or exercise or something.
Anyway, in case there are any fellow outdoors-averse, true-story fans out there, I thought I’d share a few of the most interesting features I’ve come across.
— “Wild, Wild Country” (six episodes, Netflix). Apparently, in the 1980s, a group of followers of Indian guru Bhagwan Rajneesh bought up a bunch of land in Oregon and caused all kinds of mayhem. I say apparently, because until I saw this documentary, I had never the story of the Rajneeshees or the controversy around their commune. How that is, I have no idea, because it was huge news at the time, and the kind of stuff documentary filmmakers live for.
— “Cold Blooded: The Clutter Family Murders” (two episodes, SundanceTV). Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” is one of my favorite books of all time, so when I heard about this docu-series, I was psyched. It’s very well done, and gives far more insight into the victims and their lives than the book or Capote ever did. Family members speak out for the first time on camera, and the pain and shock of it all is still palpable in their voices. If you dig Capote’s take on the case, do yourself a favor and check out this version.
— “Mommy Dead and Dearest” (movie, HBO). In 2016, Gypsy Rose pleaded guilty to murdering her mother, Dee Dee Blanchard, with the help of her boyfriend. Which is bad, obviously. But Dee Dee was no Mother of the Year. Instead, she was pretty much the poster child for Munchausen syndrome by proxy. Watch and see for yourself.
— “The Rachel Divide” (movie, Netflix). Remember Rachel Dolezal, the former Spokane, Wash., NAACP leader who falsely claimed to be African-American but was outed by a local news station and her white parents? This documentary takes a closer look at her life, her actions, her motivations and the effects the scandal has had on her family, her career, and the public, many of whom felt justifiably betrayed by her “truth.” An interesting story in its own right, it also raises deep questions about identity, race, and what defines and determines both.
— “I Am Evidence” (movie, HBO). Hosted by Olivia Benson, er, Mariska Hargitay, this film looks at the shameful, terrifying and infuriating backlog of untested rape kits collecting dust in police precinct evidence rooms. Filled with interviews with real assault victims, this isn’t an easy watch, but it is such an important topic, you should anyway.
The fact that it’s hosted by my personal hero, forever girl crush, and the star of literally the only TV show that I never, ever get sick of, just makes me recommend it that much more.

Katie McDowell is a lifestyles writer/copy editor for The Dominion Post. Email her at kmcdowell@dominionpost.com.