About 15 years ago, I distinctly remember hearing a radio broadcast that was unlike anything I’d heard before. It wasn’t the usual talk show, news, sports, call-in, top 40 type show. It was engaging. It was a well-crafted story, yet non-fictional. It was refreshing in a landscape of RF wasteland. It was my “driveway moment” 1. It was This American Life.
This American Life, or “TAL”, as I like to abbreviate it, is a radio documentary program. It’s been on for a very long time now, and just gets better with age. That first day I heard it, I was hooked. Around the same time I discovered TAL, I was beginning to get into documentary film as well. So I was ripe for the brand of storytelling.
So much in fact, that documentaries have begun to take over my life. My reading habits have shifted from fiction to engaging first-person nonfiction over the past decade. Seriously. I have the hardest time staying engaged with novels these days. I am embarrassed to say that I have many books I’ve put back down after the first chapter because it doesn’t grab me the way an amazing nonfictional work will.
Recently, I have found Netflix to be a really great source of streaming documentary film. Here are some of the highlights in film in the past several years for me:
- Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control
- Dear Zachary
- Crazy Love
- Mr. Death
- The Up series
- The Devil and Daniel Johnston
- The Staircase
- My Architect
- Jesus Camp
- Inside Job
- The King of Kong
Some really great radio documentaries that I’ve enjoyed following are:
- This American Life
- Radio Lab
- Snap Judgment
- Hearing Voices
- 99% Invisible
- The Moth
Check out TAL’s Favorites section and give a listen. But I warn you, you might make the same mistake I did and find yourself derelict in an ocean of wonderful nonfiction for the next decade.
- Rather than turning the radio off, you stay in your parked car to hear the radio piece to the end. Source