A bunch of the best TV documentaries of the year arrive on Neon this week. Here are the ones you won’t want to miss.
Rescue Chimpanzees of the Congo with Jane Goodall (premieres August 1, weekly thereafter)
Everyone loves a second chance, so prepare for your heartstrings to be pulled and your tear ducts emptied in this five part docu-series about the Jane Goodall Institute Rehabilitation Centre in the Republic of Congo. Featuring never-seen-before archival footage of Dr Goodall’s groundbreaking rescue work from the past 30 years, this series shows how Goodall’s sanctuaries and caregivers have saved thousands of chimpanzees from the illegal wildlife trade. If the stories of these legendary animals don’t melt your heart, the up-close footage of those beautiful baby chimps definitely will. / Tara Ward
The Last Cruise (premieres August 2)
Cast your mind back to February 2020, right at the very start of the pandemic. The virus was already ravaging parts of Italy and China, and the city of Wuhan was in lockdown – imagine that, an entire city under lockdown! – but the first sign for most of us that this was a truly global threat was the news of the outbreak onboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship. The ship left port on January 20; by March 1, when the last crew members disembarked, 712 passengers and crew members were infected and 14 would die.
Using cellphone video taken by those both living in cramped below-deck quarters and in swanky seaview suites, The Last Cruise follows the spread of the virus from the odd niggly cough to full blown outbreak – and the growing panic in all parts of the ship as the terrible reality sets in. / Catherine McGregor
VICE Versa: Between Musk and Mars (premieres August 3)
The fourth instalment in Vice’s independent documentary series follows the retiree citizens of Boca Chica as they fight to keep their homes, which are threatened by the billionaire space race. The people of this Texas town are being run out by rampant technocrat Elon Musk and SpaceX, in what ViceTV’s executive VP Morgan Hertzan calls a “David vs Goliath” story – but Musk sees himself as a David, too, up against the Goliath of the planet Mars. How many townspeople will he sacrifice to get to space? / Josie Adams
Obama: In Pursuit of a More Perfect Union (premieres August 4, weekly thereafter)
The cornerstone of Neon’s documentary spotlight is this three-part HBO series telling the story of the 44th president of the United States, set against a background of America’s ongoing, often brutal, reckoning on race relations. Knowing that his words would be pounced on and twisted by his political foes, Obama tended to avoid dwelling on his racial identity during his presidency. But as this documentary shows, race and racism was a constant in his life and career – from his early years, when he was one of the only Black kids at his Hawaiian school, to his early years as an activist in Chicago, to the “birtherism” attacks of his presidential campaign and the racist dog whistles that became commonplace in right-wing coverage of his presidency (remember the time he and Michelle performed a “terrorist fist jab”, otherwise known as a fist bump?). A must-watch for all us US politics nerds. / CM
The Legend of the Underground (premieres August 5)
This poetic documentary uncovers the rampant discrimination that exists against the LGTBIQIA+ community in Nigeria. Directed by Nneka Onuorah and Giselle Bailey, the film explores the lives of several charismatic, non-conformist youth who have a heartbreaking choice to make: fight for the freedom to love, or flee to a comparatively freer life in the United States. The two standouts are Mikael Ighodaro, who lives a happy life in New York and is able to explore his identity, and James Brown, a flamboyant dancer whose phrase “they didn’t caught me” ends up going viral. Vibrant, stylish, important: like all the best queer people you know. / SB
VICE Versa: Chyna (premieres August 6)
If you’re like me, you can’t hear the word Chyna without then whispering under your breath, “ninth wonder of the world”. The groundbreaking WWE wrestler, born Joanie Laurer, tragically died in 2016, and remains one of the most memorable women competitors of all time. This documentary, born from the same DNA as Vice’s hit series “The Dark Side of the Ring”, follows her career from superstar highs to being dismissed from WWE and stripped of the right to use her own name. It’s a scathing but empathetic look at a woman whose story was crying out to be told, and it’s great to finally see that happen. / SB
The Day Sports Stood Still (premieres August 7)
Are we ready for documentaries about the Covid-19 pandemic? If they’re as good as this one is, then absolutely. The Day Sports Stood Still comes from Antoine Fuqua (the award-winning director behind HBO’s Muhammad Ali documentary) and chronicles the abrupt stoppage of sport last year – but also athletes’ prominent role in the reckoning on racial injustices that escalated during the pandemic. Professional basketball plays a prominent role here, from the initial postponement of the Oklahoma Thunder vs Utah Jazz game when Rudy Gobert tested positive for Covid-19 – a moment that rocked American sports – through to the messy management of the NBA bubble. It’s thrilling, fascinating stuff that has wider things to say about the way in which the world has – or hasn’t – coped through Covid-19. / SB
VICE Versa: HIV: The Neglected Pandemic (premieres August 8)
Covid-19 might have the headlines, but it’s worth remembering that there’s still another pandemic raging amongst us: HIV/AIDs. HIV: The Neglected Pandemic is a comprehensive two-hour look at what it means to be HIV positive in the United States. Narrated by Queer Eye’s Jonathan Van Ness, the documentary showcases the scientific advancements in the field of HIV treatment and the reality of living with the disease. It also explores the truth behind the statistics through personal accounts, insights from different communities across the rainbow spectrum, and the stories of those with real, lived experience of a pandemic that has left the headlines, but not the world. / SB
You can watch all of these documentaries and more on Neon.
Subscribe to The Bulletin to get all the day’s key news stories in five minutes – delivered every weekday at 7.30am.