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Around the World in 80 Documentaries

You don't have to leave your home to travel around the world–or at least to learn about it–with the help of these compelling documentaries. Just sit back and watch as people and stories from all reaches of the globe are brought right to your living room through these movies. Some are free and some you'll have to get at your college library, but they'll all leave you in awe of the people, places and creatures who call this world their home.

North America

Check out these films to learn more about the lives and culture of those living in the US, Canada and Mexico.

  1. Super Size Me: This Morgan Spurlock documentary exposes the real dangers lurking behind fast food as he attempts to eat nothing but McDonalds for one month.
  2. When the Levees Broke: Watch this HBO documentary to learn more about the true impact of Hurricane Katrina.
  3. Harlan County, U.S.A.: This 1976 Oscar-winning film will let you see the effects of a dramatic and sometimes violent miner's strike.
  4. America the Beautiful: In this film, the American obsession with looking younger, sexier and better is examined in detail.
  5. Maxed Out: This documentary takes a hard look at the use and overuse of credit cards in American culture.
  6. No Te Rajes!!: Translated into English as "Don't Give Up on Me!," this short documentary shows a period of civil disobedience in Mexico City during 2006.
  7. Unrepentant: Take a different look at Canada with this film that exposes the plan to eliminate native people and one clergyman's attempts to expose the crimes.
  8. National Parks: America's Best Idea: This Ken Burns series from PBS will let you learn about the history and beauty of American parks.
  9. Flamenco at 5:15: You might not think about Canada as the heart of flamenco, but this Oscar-winning film documents the impact of two Spanish dance teachers on the National Ballet School of Canada.
  10. King Corn: Here you'll find a film that exposes the increasing impact corn production has had on American eating and the economy.
  11. Street Fight: Nominated and winner of numerous awards, this film documents the no-holds-barred battle for the mayor of Newark, NJ.
  12. Dear Zachary: Keep your tissues handy when you watch this heartbreaking film, made for the son of a man murdered by an obsessed ex-lover.


These films will help you learn more about Europe past and present.

  1. The Gleaners and I: This film follows the age-old practice of gleaning in modern France.
  2. Hitler's Children: Check out this documentary series to learn about the real-life individuals who joined Hitler's Jungvolk movement.
  3. A Nod and a Wink: This older documentary takes a look at a law in Britain called the Conspiracy Act and the unjust powers it gives to the government.
  4. Auschwitz: The Nazi Final Solution: Watch this documentary series to get a complete and accurate look at the death camp of Auschwitz and others around Europe.
  5. 25 Million Pounds: Here you'll get to see into the mind and life of Nick Leeson, a man who scammed numerous people out of millions.
  6. Binwars: With garbage collection reduced to every other week, this film examines the battle between the people and the government over garbage.
  7. Bulgaria's Abandoned Children: This film takes an often sad look at the children abandoned in a nation with more institutionalized children with disabilities than anywhere in Europe.
  8. End of Nations: Learn more about the much contested Lisbon treaty in this documentary.
  9. An Islamic History of Europe: Through this documentary you'll get a chance to see the many ways Islamic culture shaped Europe.
  10. Mind the Gap: In this movie you'll take a more in-depth look at the London bombings following 9/11.
  11. Steal This Film: This free film will help you gain a better understanding of copyright issues and piracy.


Even if you don't know much about Africa you can learn loads through these compelling documentaries.

  1. The White Diamond: Werner Herzog documents a beautiful teardrop-shaped flying ship as it explores the forests of Guyana in this film.
  2. God Grew Tired of Us: This film will tug at your heart with the stories of the lost boys of Sudan.
  3. Invisible Children: Through this film the horrors of the ongoing Ugandan war will become clear, and the role of children in this war will become hauntingly clear.
  4. Darfur Now: Watch this film to learn more about the tragedy of the Darfur region and ways that you may be able to help.
  5. War Dance: Winner of numerous awards, this film follows three children in an Ugandan refugee camp and their participation in a large music competition.
  6. A Walk to Beautiful: This compelling film follows five Ethiopian women suffering from obstetric fistula.
  7. Mandela: Son of Africa, Father of a Nation: Through this film you'll learn about South African leader Nelson Mandela's journey from young man to prisoner to world leader.
  8. Ghosts of Rwanda: This movie will shed light on the atrocities of the Rwandan genocide of 1994.
  9. The Diamond Empire: Frontline examines the myths surrounding diamonds in this film.
  10. The Origins of AIDS: Find out more about where the AIDS virus came from and if it really transferred from monkeys to humans.
  11. Cry Freetown: This film exposes the many horrors of Sierra Leone's brutal civil war.


Explore Asia from India to Japan through these movies.

  1. Born Into Brothels: This film takes a harrowing look at the children of prostitutes struggling to escape from poverty in India's slums.
  2. Buddha Wild: In this film you'll hear Thai and Sri Lankan monks living far from home talk about their faith and culture.
  3. Tibet: Cry of the Snow Lion: Made over a period of ten years, this film takes a look at the political and social standing of Tibet today.
  4. The Cu Chi Tunnels: Learn more about these tunnels and the people who lived in them during the Vietnam War here.
  5. Wild China: This six-part series will give you a stunning look at the wildlife and land of China.
  6. Up the Yangtze: Rent this film to see the way one family was impacted by the construction of the Three Gorges Dam.
  7. Blindsight: Follow a group of blind children as they climb through the Himalayas to discover the limits of their own strength and courage.
  8. Japan: Memoirs of a Secret Empire: Japan was once a country closed off from much of the outside world, and through this documentary you'll learn about that hidden past.
  9. The Day My God Died: This heartbreaking film will tell the stories of six young girls whose lives have been impacted by the child sex trade.
  10. Amongst White Clouds: Edward A. Burger journeys into the hidden lives of China's forgotten Zen Buddhist hermit tradition through this film.
  11. Japanorama: This documentary series explores many facets of the pop culture of Japan.
  12. Year Zero: The Silent Death of Cambodia: Many still aren't aware of the secret bombings of this Asian nation carried out by Nixon and Kissinger, but this film will bring it to light.

Middle East

These documentaries will help you learn more about the people and culture of the Middle East.

  1. No End in Sight: Made in 2007, this film provides a compelling look at the fall of Iraq due to US decisions and sanctions.
  2. Waltz With Bashir: This animated documentary shows the often painful and repressed memories one soldier has of the 1982 Lebanese War.
  3. Iraq in Fragments: Everyday people share their thoughts about living in an Iraq shaken by war, religious tensions and violence in this documentary.
  4. Gaza Strip: In this film you'll see life in the Gaza Strip, with a focus on one young man with limited education and limited opportunities.
  5. Inside Mecca: Learn more about the center of religious worship for millions of Muslims around the world in this film.
  6. Kingdom of David: The Saga of the Israelites: This PBS documentary will help you learn more about the history of Judaism.
  7. The Fifty Years War: Israel and the Arabs: This series takes an in-depth look at this extended conflict in the Middle East.
  8. The Accused: While incredibly controversial, this documentary presents in visually gripping detail the massacre of Palestinians in 1982.
  9. The Hidden Wars of Desert Storm: Watch never-before-seen interviews in this investigation into the realities of the Gulf War.
  10. Iran Is Not the Problem: This film takes a different stance on Iran, presenting the conflict between the country and the US from another perspective.
  11. Muhammad Legacy of a Prophet: This film is a great opportunity to learn more about the man behind one of the world's most practiced religions.

South America

Check out these movies to gain some insights into South American culture and politics.

  1. The Revolution Will Not be Televised: This film addresses the April 2002 Venezuelan coup attempt which briefly removed Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez from power.
  2. Plan Columbia: Learn more about the conspiracies surrounding US involvement in Columbian drug trade and politics.
  3. Cracking the Maya Code: Watch this film to learn how the Mayan language was deciphered and centuries old writings brought to light.
  4. The Panama Deception: This film presents the untold story of the 1989 US invasion of Panama, winning an Academy Award in the process.
  5. Keep the River on Your Right: Through this film you'll get access to the experiences of painter Tobias Schneebaum, who spent a great deal of time with the peoples of Peru and New Guinea.
  6. Lost King of the Maya: Trace the rise and fall of the Mayan city of Copan in this intriguing documentary feature.
  7. The Take: In the wake of an Argentinean economic collapse, this film follows a group of auto workers who want nothing more than to restart the factories.
  8. Hummingbird: Nominated for numerous awards, this film tells the story of two groups in Brazil who work to get young kids off the street and out of trouble.
  9. Nicaragua: A Nation's Right to Survive: This 1983 film investigates some of the corruption found in South America, especially that of the US-backed dictatorship in this small country.
  10. No Volveran – The Venezuelan Revolution Now: If you don't know much about the Venezuelan Revolution, this film offers a chance to learn.
  11. Salvador Allende: This film shows the life and times of deposed and killed Chilean President Salvador Allende, taken out of power because of his socialist beliefs by a US-backed coup.
  12. Buena Vista Social Club: Take a look back at the people who made this Cuban dance and music club home to an invaluable amount of Cuban culture during the 40s and 50s in this award-winning film.

South Pacific

Go down under with these documentaries on Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.

  1. Welcome to Australia: This film will show you the brutal historical treatment of the aboriginal peoples of Australia and the inequalities that continue.
  2. Fortress Australia: Learn about a plan to fortify Australia using atomic weapons in this interesting film.
  3. Cane Toads: An Unnatural History: The introduction of these toads has ruined the Australian ecosystem and left the country with an overabundance of them, as this film shows.
  4. Sydney: Story of a City: Check out this film to explore the city of Sydney through an artistic lens.
  5. Billabong Odyssey: Watch as this group of surfers attempts to surf on some of the biggest and baddest waves in the world.
  6. South Pacific: Strange Islands: This film will let you see the amazing wildlife that calls New Zealand home.
  7. Solo: This movie tells that tale of Andrew McAuley's attempt to become the first person to kayak 1,600 kilometers from Australia to New Zealand.
  8. Coral Reef Adventure: See some of the most beautiful and endangered coral reefs in the world, especially those in Australia's Great Barrier Reef, in this film.
  9. When We Were Pirates: In this film you'll get to see a group of men as they attempt to build a ship and sail to Australia.
  10. The Coconut Revolution: Here you can watch as a group of rebels in Papua New Guinea fights for their independence from colonial powers.
  11. Killer Whale and Crocodile: This film unites a traditional artist from Canada with one from Papua New Guinea.