There’s only so much jogging, hiking and canoing a person can do. Rhode Islanders have flocked to the state’s trails and streets to get their fill of exercise and sports during this worldwide pandemic. Even with a generous allotment of exercise time, that still leaves you with a lot of free time on your hands.
ESPN’s “The Last Dance” – a documentary series on Michael Jordan and the 1990 Chicago Bulls – just wrapped up its 10-hour run this past Sunday. The doc was a huge hit, captivating audiences and helping to fill quite a lot of that free time I mentioned above.
I won’t browbeat you over the head, telling you to go watch the series. You either saw it or you didn’t at this point. Here are five documentaries to explore further if you’re still jonesing after some sports.
Director: Asif Kapadia
Available for Rent on Amazon ($2.99)
I watched this one way back when it first came out a decade ago. I went in cold, not really knowing who Ayrton Senna was and having never watched a Formula 1 race in my entire. Senna was a Brazilian driver who won the Driver’s Championship three times before having his life cut tragically short at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.
Director Kapadia does a wonderful job of letting visuals do most of the heavy lifting. Interviews with those who knew Senna are provided as voice-over narration over contemporaneous clips from Senna’s whirlwind F1 career. This doc was so good it shifted me from a racing snob to a F1 fanatic.
Directors: Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro
Available to Stream on Amazon Prime
Nominated for an Academy Award, Murderball became an unlikely critical darling upon release 15 years ago. The doc follows the Canadian and U.S. wheelchair rugby teams in the lead-up to the 2004 Paralympic Games.
To say the two teams hate each other would be an understatement. This one has it all: a sport that many have never even heard of, inspiring stories of paraplegics overcoming all sorts of odds to compete in international events, and a coach betraying his team (and country!).
Happy Valley (2014) Director: Amir Bar-Lev
Available for Rent on Amazon ($2.99)
I’ll never forget following the Jerry Sandusky story and eventual trial while I was still a student at URI. I was gobsmacked by the evil nature of the crimes and the institutional failures that allowed them to continually occur.
“Happy Valley” goes deep into the culture of the Penn State campus and surrounding towns, showing how a fervent love for Nittany Lions football has blinded many to things much more important than athletics.
This Magic Moment (2016)
Directors: Erin Leyden and Gentry Kirby
Available On Demand Through ESPN
A great companion piece to “The Last Dance”, “This Magic Moment” chronicles the mid-’90s Orlando Magic.
At the time, I was too young to follow the events of MJ and his Bulls or Penny Hardaway and Shaquille O’Neal’s Magic. This documentary allowed me to live through Nick Anderson’s four consecutive missed free throws in the 1995 NBA Finals as if I were experiencing them for the first time (which, really, I was).
Team Foxcatcher (2016) Director: Jon Greenhalgh
Available to Stream on Netflix
The staggering story of John du Pont caught the public’s attention back in 2014 when the drama Foxcatcher hit theaters. This documentary takes on the real events, and shows them through real footage shot by du Pont.
An eccentric billionaire, du Pont became a major patron of US wrestling. He turned his property into a sprawling training center for the US Olympic Wrestling Team, but his odd behavior eventually ends in tragedy. The footage in this documentary is stunning and utterly captivating.