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10 powerful Health documentaries you need to watch in 2020

As people who work to innovate in health, you know as much as we do about how it’s essential to stay up-to-date and informed about the latest insights into social, environmental, political and technological factors affecting your market .

While there will always be a place for the deep insightful written word, do you (or your team) have time to read lengthy written reports? No, we thought so. Don’t worry, you are not alone.

One thing we discovered over years of working in strategy is that people always loved film. Increasingly, documentary film offers a more accessible way for your team to learn about your market. Our clients have found it a powerful means of conveying insights about the challenges of their industry and organisation.

No other medium can paint a memorable picture in such a short time, exposing you to different viewpoints, and encourage creative and critical thinking.

So we gathered a list of some of the most influential health documentaries out there.

  1. Heal

Director Kelly Noonan‘s documentary takes us on a scientific and spiritual journey where we discover that our thoughts, beliefs, and emotions have a huge impact on our health and ability to heal.

There is a particular emphasis on how chronic stress compromises the immune system which can lead to a higher susceptibility to illness. The latest science reveals that we are not victims of unchangeable genes, nor should we buy into a scary prognosis. The fact is we have more control over our health and life than we have been taught to believe. HEAL taps into the brilliant mind’s of leading medical, psychological, spiritual, and homeopathic experts, and offers ways we can make improvements.

2. The End Game

Facing an inevitable outcome, terminally ill patients meet extraordinary medical practitioners seeking to change our approach to life and death.

‘Created by Academy Award winning filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (The Times of Harvey Milk; Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt; The Celluloid Closet) this is that rarest of films whose subject matter couldn’t be more tragic or sad, yet leaves us feeling comforted, even uplifted by the time it’s over. You’ve heard that classic one-liner (attributed to George Washington), “Dying is easy, living is harder.” Instead, what seems to emerge as the thesis statement of End Game (and why this little film should be curriculum for all palliative care-givers) is just the opposite. It’s telling us that the fight for life is a valiant one. Yet even as we stare into the gaping abyss, we can still feel the warm embrace of life until that very moment when it transforms itself, becoming an even warmer embrace of death. And that no matter the journey, we are still very much ourselves, here and now.’ –  normasstreamingpicks.com

3. Period. End of Sentence

Indian women fight the stigma surrounding menstruation and begin manufacturing sanitary pads.

For generations, these women didn’t have access to pads, which lead to health problems and girls missing school or dropping out entirely. But when a sanitary pad machine is installed in the village, the women learn to manufacture and market their own pads, empowering the women of their community.

“I can’t believe a film about menstruation just won an Oscar!” 25-year-old filmmaker Rayka Zehtabchi said as she accepted the award.

4. The C Word

Just after she helped produce Michael Moore’s award-winning health documentary Sicko, film producer Meghan LaFrance O’Hara was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. In The C Word, O’Hara and French physician Steven Servan-Schreiber, MD, examine the connection among nutrition, stress, toxins, and cancer, drawing from her own experience.

‘On first look, the Servan-Schreiber program doesn’t sound like rocket science: eat well, exercise, avoid stress, eliminate toxins. But people in the film testify that it works, and they say that the reason no one has followed up on this “trite but revolutionary” (Servan-Schreiber’s words) regimen is that it doesn’t involve expensive drugs or machinery that will earn more money for the multibillion-dollar anti- cancer industry.

“Nor are his rules easy to follow in a culture that pushes excess consumption, allows toxic ingredients in products, and engenders stress. But what makes it all seem plausible is the example of Servan- Schreiber himself: 20 years cancer-free, with the drive and charisma to pursue his dream of a world where the disease is preventable.’ – The Boston Globe

5. Sustainable

Sustainable is a film about the land, the people who work it and what must be done to sustain it for future generations. The narrative of the film focuses on Marty Travis, a seventh-generation farmer in central Illinois who watched his land and community fall victim to the pressures of big agribusiness.

‘A vital investigation of the economic and environmental instability of America’s food system, from the agricultural issues we face – soil loss, water depletion, climate change, pesticide use – to the community of leaders who are determined to fix it. Sustainable is a film about the land, the people who work it and what must be done to sustain it for future generations. The narrative of the film focuses on Marty Travis, a seventh-generation farmer in central Illinois who watched his land and community fall victim to the pressures of big agribusiness. Determined to create a proud legacy for his son, Marty transforms his profitless wasteland and pioneers the sustainable food movement in Chicago. Sustainable travels the country seeking leadership and wisdom from some of the most forward thinking farmers like Bill Niman, Klaas Martens and John Kempf – heroes who challenge the ethical decisions behind industrial agriculture. It is a story of hope and transformation, about passion for the land and a promise that it can be restored to once again sustain us.’ Matt Wechsler

6. Cooked

Explored through the lenses of the four natural elements – fire, water, air and earth – COOKED is an enlightening and compelling look at the evolution of what food means to us through the history of food preparation and its universal ability to connect us.

Highlighting our primal human need to cook, the series urges a return to the kitchen to reclaim our lost traditions and to forge a deeper, more meaningful connection to the ingredients and cooking techniques that we use to nourish ourselves.

7. The Waiting Room

Go behind the doors of an American public hospital struggling to care for a community of largely uninsured patients.

‘The Waiting Room is a character-driven documentary film that uses extraordinary access to go behind the doors of an American public hospital struggling to care for a community of largely uninsured patients. The film – using a blend of cinema verité and characters’ voice over – offers a raw, intimate, and even uplifting look at how patients, executive staff and caregivers each cope with disease, bureaucracy and hard choices. It is a film about fighting for survival when the odds are stacked against you.’ – imdb

8. Code Black

Code Black is an American documentary that follows the physicians working at Los Angeles County Hospital (USA’s busiest emergency room), and how they deal and face with healthcare treatment in the modern world. The documentary centres heavily both in doctors and the patients.

‘The title “Code Black” refers to a specific medical condition: a patient in cardiopulmonary arrest whose suffering is so great that alleviating it requires a whole team of providers. This documentary by Ryan McGarry, a physician and filmmaker who shot “Code Black” while he was a resident at LA County General, tells us of another definition. It was created to describe the condition of the emergency room’s waiting area in terms of color-coding. Code Black means things are as bad as they can get. It means the “system” that is the county hospital is overwhelmed, as a body is overwhelmed during a heart attack, and may in fact be on the edge of death. As this bleak but sadly illuminating movie shows us, the whole U.S. healthcare system is in Code Black. The advent of limited socialized medicine hasn’t begun to ease the misery.’ – Matt Zoller Seitz

9. The Body in Question

A classic documentary hosted by Jonathan Miller, who considers the functioning of the body as a subject of private experience. He explores our attitudes towards our bodies, our ignorance of them, and our inability to read our body’s signals.

The first episode starts with vox populi asking where various organs in the body are located. By the final episode we are left in no doubt, as the show became the first in television history to depict the dissection of a human cadaver (i.e. post-mortem examination or autopsy).

Taking as his starting point the experience of pain, Dr. Miller analyses the elaborate social process of “falling ill”, considers the physical foundations of “disease” and looks at the types of individuals humankind has historically attributed with the power of healing. The series was nominated for two 1979 BAFTAs: Best Factual Television Series and Most Original Programme/Series.

10. Bikes vs Cars

Bikes vs Cars depicts a global crisis that we all deep down know we need to talk about: Climate, earth’s resources, cities where the entire surface is consumed by the car. An ever-growing, dirty, noisy traffic chaos. The bike is a great tool for change, but the powerful interests who gain from the private car invest billions each year on lobbying and advertising to protect their business. In the film we meet activists and thinkers who are fighting for better cities, who refuse to stop riding despite the increasing number killed in traffic

‘Fredrik Gertten‘s Bikes vs Cars rarely focuses directly on health, but instead chooses to highlight the bicycle and biking as a tool and an exercise for change. Cities and private car companies choose to enact policies that stifle those who commute via bicycle because there is little interest or profit in supporting a bike-safe city. There is profit in cars, but cars cause far more problems then bicycles. The world is currently facing the fact that irreversible climate change has already occurred on Earth and will only get worse unless a change is enacted. Switching from cars to bike may seem like a small change, but sometimes a small change can act as a gateway for larger, more meaningful change.

But what does this film have to do with human health? Well, if climate change is not combatted, then humankind will not have to worry about their health because there will be no Earth for humans to call home, and if more commuters and the cities they live in choose to bike and enact policies for bikers, then people would be engaging in a healthy exercise just in their daily commute. Not everyone has the time nor the luxury to exercise or go to the gym, so if exercise just became part of one’s daily routine, then that would be a start to a healthier lifestyle for a wide range of individuals.’ – nonfics.com

Susie Quddus

Marketing Manager at TEN


Susie Quddus

Marketing Manager at TEN


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