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Quarantine Culture: Essential Documentaries for Desperate Times

April 9, 2020
by Editorial Staff
People seated far from each other on a couch wearing masks Photo courtesy of iStock, Pixabay // Illustration by Leah Worthington

Samantha Grant, a lecturer at the UC Berkeley School of Journalism and documentary filmmaker, knows how difficult it can be to fill the many hours of day during lockdown. So, she recommended some of her favorite documentaries, new and old, to help pass the time (most of which are kid friendly).

Continue your at-home education with our ongoing series, “Quarantine Culture,” featuring recommendations from the Cal community for what to watch, read, listen to, and cook during shelter in place.

Here’s what Grant had to say:

Seeing as we are basically in lockdown here in San Francisco, I am currently living and working alongside my partner and our 3 young children all day long. So during their waking hours (7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.) we are busy getting their homeschool up and running and are therefore trying to keep the programming in the educational and mostly family-friendly vein. That said, I believe that with the exception of graphic violence or sex, most things are OK for the kids to see as long as we have contextualizing conversations around whatever we’re watching. Since we have every single meal together (and 3 snack breaks) there’s plenty of time for talking around the table—so our scope is wide! 

1. Kid-approved Short

Movie poster for 'Gnarly in Pink'
Courtesy of Gnarly in Pink press kit

As a documentary filmmaker myself, I absolutely love watching documentaries and I am always looking for docs that I think the kids will enjoy. I like to have a range of short films and longer films available, depending on the timeslots we have in our school schedule. We recently watched a great short NYT Op-Doc called Gnarly in Pink about a group of 6-year-old skateboarders who are breaking gender norms and limitations by tearing it up in the half-pipe. 

2. Aesthetic Cinematography

Women kneeling near small chicks.
Courtesy of Neon Rated, LLC

We’ve mixed in a more recent film like The Biggest Little Farm, which we all loved because, well, its a gorgeous film about a small family farm and how they prevail against the many challenges of such a venture.

3. The Classics

Movie poster for 'Step into Liquid'
Step into Liquid official poster

There are some old reliable classic “mockumentaries,” like This is Spinal Tap and Best in Show (to bring in some much needed comic relief). We’ve also been reaching for feel good films that help us take our minds of everything that’s going on—like Step into Liquid, a classic surf film which we all always love watching. 

4. Up Next in the Queue

Various people standing behind robot shaped puppets.
Courtesy of Walking Iris Media

Finally, many of my colleagues and filmmaker friends have released films that I haven’t had the chance to see yet so “Shelter In Place” is a great opportunity for me to catch up watching those. Really looking forward to checking out Crip Camp, about a summer camp for disabled teenagers directed by Jim Lebrecht and Nicole Newnham, and Our Time Machine, about a father son relationship and how they manage the distance brought on by Alzheimer’s by Leo Chiang and Yang Sun.

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