Maya Newell’s sensitive 2015 documentary follows the lives of four kids --Gus, Ebony, Matt and Graham-- who are growing up with gay or lesbian parents. Particularly delightful is Gus, whose obsession with pro wrestling perplexes his feminist mums. A “gayby” herself as the daughter of two mums, Newell hoped that the film would eventually be used a teaching aid in schools to help kids get their heads around same-sex parenting, and this year she got her wish: the Victorian Government announced Gayby Baby will be part of the Safe Schools program for students between grade 5 and year 10.
In the early 1970s, Bing Russell --Hollywood star and father of Kurt-- decided to start a baseball team. Well, there’s more to it than that, but when Major League Baseball deserted the city of Portland, Oregon, Russell arrived with plans to start an independent Minor League team. This surprising doc, a hit at Sundance in 2014, tracks the ups and downs of Russell’s Portland Mavericks, a ragtag team put together through open tryouts who went on to be one of the most successful independent baseball teams of all time. Unsurprisingly, the remake rights to the story were snapped up at Sundance - and Todd Field, the Mavericks’ teenage bat boy back in the day, is attached to direct.
You don’t have to be a skateboarding expert from way back to enjoy Tristan Patterson’s lyrical profile of skater Josh “Skreech” Sandoval. Winning the Best Documentary gong at 2011’s South By Southwest Film Festival, Dragonslayer follows Skreech as he skates his way around California, Denmark and Sweden. The film, as the New York Times’ Jeannette Catsoulis said, “vivifies a subculture of random hedonism and future myopia”; you’re never sure if Skreech has what it takes to make it as a sponsored skater, or if he’s just kicking dust in the empty pools of northern California.
If you’ve been revelling in Wolf Hall or ever guiltily sat down to binge on The Tudors, give yourself a shot of the real deal with this enjoyably salacious documentary series. Tracking the lives of one of England’s most infamous royal dynasties, Secrets Of The Tudors is particularly enlightening on the topic of Henry VIII, who seems more like a Game Of Thrones villain with each passing documentary. The series also provides insights into the life of Elizabeth I that suggest her world was altogether less glamorous or like a Vogue shoot than the film starring Cate Blanchett.
The late, great Bill Cunningham revolutionised what we now know as ‘street style’ photography with his work for the New York Times. This delightful 2010 doco follows Bill around New York, often on his bicycle, as he searches for ordinary people with extraordinary style. From his tiny apartment above Carnegie Hall (where he sleeps on a cot bed beneath towering archives of his work) to his refusal to so much as accept a glass of water at fancy events (because that would make his presence transactional), Bill Cunningham New York is a bewitching portrait of a true original.
Before YouTube and file sharing, you might have been lucky to see a shonky VHS copy of the “Raiders Remake”, a shot-for-shot remake of Raiders Of The Lost Ark made by a bunch of kids in Mississippi in 1982 (well, they started in 1982; it took them seven years all up). This alternately joyous and poignant documentary tracks both the history of the kids’ remake as well as their attempt to finally film the “fight at the airstrip” scene that had always eluded them. Don’t be surprised if you finish watching Raiders! and are immediately inspired to make (or remake) a movie of your own.
If you enjoy watching gruff, tough blokes cry and hug each other, then Jake the Snake is tailormade for you. Released in 2015, this film follows the fall of pro wrestler Jake “the Snake” Roberts, toppled by injuries, drug use and alcoholism, and his rise as assisted by fellow wrestler turned yoga guru Diamond Dallas Page. When another fallen wrestler, Scott “Razor Ramon” Hall, turns up for help at Page’s house, you may find it becomes unbearably dusty in your living room. It’s like Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, but with the upbeat ending you always hoped that film would deliver.