CULTURE

The Best Documentaries & Docuseries of 2024 (So Far)

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Frida Kahlo
Prime Video

Documentaries are thriving in the age of streaming, as supply meets the endless demand for deep dives into new worlds. From a two-part look at the multi-decade career of iconic comedian Steve Martin, to harrowing films like 20 Days in Mariupol, this year is shaping up to be a great one for a diverse set of investigations.

Read on for W’s best documentaries of 2024 (so far).

Will & Harper

Release date: TBD on Netflix

Netflix

When Will Ferrell’s close friend, former Saturday Night Live head writer Harper Steele, comes out as a trans woman, the pair set out together for a two-week cross-country road trip from New York to Los Angeles, stopping in dive bars, Walmart parking lots and national parks along the way. The ensuing film is filled with deep conversations and lots of laughter—during the trip, they also talk to their famous friends, including Tina Fey, Will Forte, Kristen Wiig, and Seth Meyers. The Sundance premiere of the film received multiple standing ovations, resonating with audiences as a testament to the unique journey of self-discovery and connection that lifelong friendship provides.

Magic City: An American Fantasy

Release date: TBD

Dreamcrew

This three-part series uncovers the untold story behind the iconic Atlanta strip club, Magic City, and its rise from a humble club in 1985 to a cultural institution dubbed the “Black Studio 54.” The series, which premiered at SXSW, takes a look at the club’s enigmatic founder, entrepreneurial phone salesman Michael Barney (aka Mr. Magic), and the lives of the many women responsible for Magic City’s success over the years. It also features interviews with employees, dancers, journalists, management, and celebrities—including 2 Chainz, Shaquille O’Neal, Quavo, Killer Mike, Outkast’s Big Boi, and more—as they share how the club influenced decades of hip-hop music with the motto: “If the girls in Magic City dance to it, it’s a hit.”

Diane von Furstenberg: Woman in Charge

Release date: June 25 on Hulu (US) and Disney+ (internationally)

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

At 77, Diane von Furstenberg is known around the world for her iconic wrap dress and initialed (DVF) fashion line. Now, a documentary by Oscar-winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy (who will also direct the next Star Wars film) will delve into Furstenberg’s life story, detailing her Belgian childhood as the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, her marriage into (and subsequent divorce from) German royalty, the creation of her fashion empire, and her extensive philanthropy. Featuring interviews with famous friends of Furstenberg—like Marc Jacobs, Hillary Clinton, and Oprah, to name a few—the doc will premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival before landing on streamers. Hopefully, there will be mention of her two-season, 2014 reality show, House of DVF—fingers crossed.

Catching Fire: The Story of Anita Pallenberg

Release date: In theaters and on VOD May 3

Anita Pallenberg

© Michael Cooper. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Eternal muse Anita Pallenberg is the subject of a new documentary, which draws heavily from the words of her unpublished memoir (voiced in the film by Scarlett Johansson). The German-Italian model, actress, and multi-hyphenate creative rose to fame in the 1960s and 1970s after becoming embedded with the Rolling Stones. First dating Brian Jones, and later Keith Richards (with whom she had three children), Pallenberg was an integral part of the iconic rock band, inspiring many of its songs and providing backing vocals and critical feedback on production. Though she faced her fair share of misogynistic scrutiny (being accused, for instance, of trying to break up the band), Pallenberg was a cultural force in her own right. She also led a complex personal life, shown in this intimate film through private home videos and family photographs.

High & Low: John Galliano

Release date: April 26 on Mubi

Mubi

High & Low charts John Galliano’s rise to the highest of heights as he became one of the most influential fashion designers of his time, to his staggering fall from grace after a series of his anti-Semitic and racist rants went viral in 2011. The doc takes into account Galliano’s upbringing in Spain and England, his difficult relationship with his father, and his entry into celebrity society as he became a designer to the stars—and the usual struggles that come with the trappings of fame, like excessive partying and the extreme pressure of the international fashion schedule. With interviews from Galliano himself, along with well-known figures from the fashion world (including Naomi Campbell, Anna Wintour, and Robin Givhan), High & Low asks viewers to decide for themselves whether the designer is worthy of redemption, and why genius so often seems to beget trouble.

The Jinx—Part Two

Release date: April 21 on HBO and Max

Robert Durst

HBO MAX

In 2015, filmmaker Andrew Jarecki’s Emmy-winning docuseries The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst became a true crime hit, and resulted in the arrest of its titular subject for murder. A New York billionaire real estate heir, Durst had evaded responsibility for decades for the murders of his first wife, a longtime friend, and a neighbor, eventually facing suspicion for several other cold cases. The Jinx—Part Two picks up where the first series left off—with Durst in jail, facing trial (Durst died a prisoner in Stockton, California in 2022, which the film also covers). Jarecki remained in close contact with Durst over the years, and in addition to interviews with him, the six-episode Part Two features witnesses who had not previously come forward, Durst’s prison calls, interviews with law enforcement involved in the investigations, and unseen material related to the murder cases.

Brandy Hellville & The Cult of Fast Fashion

Release date: April 9 on Max

Danny Rozenblit/Courtesy HBO

With its “one size fits all” tagline, Brandy Melville has become both a beloved shopping destination for teenage girls and primed for controversy. Those who watched White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie and Fitch won’t be surprised to learn that one of that 2000s-era’s successors in the teen space has its own murky practices, from its participation in the global fast fashion industry to the allegedly toxic culture it fosters behind its shiny exterior. Brandy Hellville captures it all.

Kim’s Video

Release date: April 5 in theaters

Youtube

Kim’s Video is many things, including, in the first section, a look at the history of the famous New York movie rental store, which opened in 1987 and expanded to five Manhattan locations (with the most well-known being on St. Mark’s Place) before eventually closing in 2007 (its extensive archive of VHS tapes and DVDs was sent to be tended to in Sicily). A nostalgic tribute to the store’s singular influence on downtown New York culture and cinema nerds everywhere, the documentary then takes on a more thriller vibe, playing with genre as it goes on a wild goose chase to find the aforementioned archives in Italy and to dig deeper into the enterprising, young South Korean immigrant who started the operation in the first place, Youngman Kim.

Girls State

Release date: April 5 on Apple TV+

Apple TV+

In a climate of extreme political polarization, it’s difficult to have genuine conversations. Girls State, however, follows 500 teenage girls from across the battleground state of Missouri as they gather for a week-long experiment in democracy, where they build a government from the ground up, campaign for office, and form a Supreme Court to weigh on the divisive issues of the day. Rather than being the subject of discussions and policies, the girls get to decide their future, at least in theory, while making friends along the way.

The Synanon Fix

Release date: April 1 on Max

Max

Given the public’s fascination with cults, it’s no surprise that Synanon, the California treatment center that grew from a respected rehabilitation program in the late 1950s into an abusive communal living experimental, is getting the documentary treatment. The Synanon Fix (from the filmmakers who created the enlightening Downfall: The Case Against Boeing) is told mainly through first-person accounts of former Synanon members and traces the organization’s history from a radical therapeutic community to one plagued with criticisms of child abuse, assault, and even attempted murder. It also carefully examines at its charismatic and controversial founder, Charles “Chuck” Dederich.

STEVE! (martin) A Documentary in 2 Pieces

Release date: March 29 on Apple TV+

Apple TV+

Beloved as he is, Steve Martin is an enigmatic figure in entertainment, and A24 and Tremolo Production’s STEVE! (martin) a documentary in 2 pieces aims to peel back the curtain on the comedian and actor’s life and personality. The first part, “Then,” chronicles Martin’s early success in standup, which he walked away from at 35, and “Now” focuses on the 78-year-old’s current enjoyment of the fruits of his labor, all while tracing his personal and artistic transformation.

Carol Doda Topless at the Condor

Release date: March 22 in theaters

Cinetic Media

This new documentary tells the story of Carol Doda, a young San Francisco cocktail waitress who upended social norms against the backdrop of the 1964 Republican Convention with her topless act atop a white baby grand piano at a North Beach nightclub—challenging conventions, celebrating the beginning of the sexual revolution and becoming one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. The doc is both a look at Doda’s life and legacy and a tour of the boisterous, vibrant world of North Beach, San Francisco at that time.

20 Days in Mariupol

Release date: Available now on Prime Video

Frontline PBS

At a time when journalists around the world face increasing threats and barriers to producing their work, 20 Days in Mariupol highlights the importance—and danger—of reporting from combat zones. The Academy Award-winning Frontline documentary follows an AP team of Ukrainian journalists trapped in the besieged city of Mariupol, Ukraine; the only international reporters remaining in the city, they are left to capture the devastation around them at immense personal cost.

Four Daughters

Release date: Available now on Netflix and Prime Video

Netflix

The Oscar-nominated Four Daughters tells the true story of Tunisia native Olfa Hamrouni and her four daughters after the eldest two were radicalized as teenagers, leaving their home to fight alongside the Islamic State in Libya. Hamrouni drew international attention in 2016 when she criticized the Tunisian government for not stopping her daughters from leaving, and for preventing her from going to find them in Libya. Four Daughters is a mix of documentary and fiction, bringing in actors to play the two missing daughters to reconstruct the family’s story.

God Save Texas

Release date: Available now on Max

Max

God Save Texas is told in trilogy form, with each of the three episodes highlighting a different issue currently facing the state of Texas. Three award-winning filmmakers (and Texan natives), Richard Linklater, Alex Stapleton, and Iliana Sosa, return to their hometowns, telling the history of each city and connecting the themes to the broader story of America today. The border, the prison industrial complex, and the oil industry are all investigated, as each city depicted—Hunstville, El Paso, and Houston—is used to examine the past, present, and future of the Lone Star State.

The Greatest Love Story Never Told

Release date: Available now on Prime Video

Prime Video

An accomplished, global multihyphenate superstar, Jennifer Lopez still had one project she wanted to complete: independently producing a new album and an original film to explore her “twenty-year journey to self-love.” The resulting documentary is a highly personal look at Lopez’s process of recording her latest album, This Is Me...Now, bringing viewers into the most intimate parts of her life through interviews with her inner circle and candid moments at home, with her family, friends, and of course, Ben Affleck.

Lil Nas X: Long Live Montero

Release date: Available now on Max

HBO/Max

Lil Nas X hit the ground running this year with Long Live Montero, which follows the Grammy award-winning rapper, singer, and songwriter as he prepares for his first-ever headlining U.S. tour. For anyone curious about the artist behind the controversy and the memes—it’s also a highly personal look at the pressures of creating a tour.

Frida

Release date: Available now on Prime Video

Prime Video

Frida, from first-time director Carla Gutiérrez, was a hit with critics and audiences when it premiered at Sundance this year, and for good reason. While Frida Kahlo is best known for her iconic paintings and especially self-portraits, the artist was also a prolific writer, documenting her life in diaries, letters, and essays. Frida is narrated completely in Kahlo’s own words, drawing from these sources (and interviews she gave) to showcase her work while providing an intimate glimpse into her thoughts, feelings, and romantic life.

Quiet On Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV

Release date: Available now on Max

Christopher Polk/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Investigation Discovery’s four-part documentary series, Quiet On Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV dives deep into the “golden era” of iconic late 1990s and early 2000s Nickelodeon shows, uncovering the deeply toxic and abusive environments that flourished behind the scenes. Shows like All That, The Amanda Show, Zoey 101, and Drake and Josh are examined as actors, writers, directors, and parents from that time are interviewed about bad behavior they witnessed or experienced, ranging from mildly uncomfortable to illegal. It’s a disturbing watch, with former Nick star Drake Bell sharing for the first time his experience of being abused by convicted sex offender Brian Peck—and another entry into the canon of series that exposes the darkness behind seemingly very successful industries.

Freaknik: The Wildest Party Never Told

Release date: Available now on Hulu

Andre 3000 and Big Boi of Outkast

Hulu

Ever since news of Freaknik: The Wildest Party Never Told dropped on social media, those who attended the iconic Atlanta spring break party in the ’80s and ’90s have been bracing themselves for previously unseen footage of the wild times of hookups and legendary parties that made the titular event famous—and ultimately led to its downfall. Yet Freaknik, executive produced by Luke Campbell, Jermaine Dupri, and 21 Savage, is a celebratory, nostalgic look at the Freaknik’s origins, with a focus on how it brought attention to Atlanta and American Black culture and why its infamous legacy still resonates today.

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