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Stream Culture

Stream Culture

If you want to learn more about the world, turn on Netflix

Curiosity might be bad for cats, but it stands to reason that it’s good for people. The act of learning keeps the brain active, while gaining enlightening new perspectives encourages conversation and can be emotionally rewarding. Moreover, a 2014 study by scientists at the University of California found that satisfying our curiosity might help us to learn other things at the same time.

To me this sounds like an excuse to spend a night on the couch watching Netflix. Not one of the streaming service’s binge-watchable series, though. Rather, something chosen from the films and shows in its Documentaries category. This includes scores of independent productions from the last decade as well as Netflix’s own titles. For the curious mind, therefore, there is plenty of choice and content that is bang up to date.

Icarus (image copyright Netflix)

A case in point is Icarus, Netflix’s riveting expose of doping in professional sports that won the 2018 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. Alternatively, life-affirming sports stories can be seen in Resurface, a film about a surfing therapy program for suicidal war veterans, and Pedal the World, which charts cyclist Felix Starck’s account of crossing 22 countries on two wheels.

Another topic that documentary filmmakers have had a taste for in recent years is food. Netflix’s menu includes a smorgasbord of films and series, from culinary travel shows to critiques of the Western diet. Netflix keeps current here, too, with Rotten, which is fresh out this year. Each episode of this eye-opening six-part series looks at the less savoury side of the production and distribution of foodstuffs that we can take for granted, such as milk, honey and fish.

Netflix also offers a diverse selection of documentaries on the Earth and its people. Inspiring stories are told in Daughters of Destiny, which profiles a boarding school in India that gives poor girls an education, and On Yoga: The Architecture of Peace, which is summed up in its title. Chasing Coral, meanwhile, investigates why coral reefs are dying off around the world. Its message is worrying but the underwater photography is stunning.            

Documentaries can reveal the bigger picture and stimulate personal insights. Thanks to Netflix and other streaming services we no longer need to live near an independent movie theatre or a film festival to have those experiences. Next time I’m feeling curious, therefore, I think I’ll reach for the remote.

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