8 Short but Insightful Documentaries Covering International Issues

I often find myself watching short documentaries during my spare time to learn more about current events and issues around the world. The following are some of my favorite documentaries from this past year. Some are inspiring, some are infuriating, and many are both. All are around 20 minutes long (or less) and available to watch for free on YouTube.

Disclaimer: Every reporter and reporting agency has at least some bias, including those in this list. I chose to include documentaries that I feel are fairly comprehensive and come from a variety of different sources. I believe that sometimes even “one-sided” documentaries can be valued for their point of view, as long as they are not the only point of view that is accessible in the media. Please comment what you think of these documentaries (especially if you see any inconsistencies or biases!) and let me know if there are others you recommend.


1. Walking to America with the Migrant Caravan by VICE News (HBO)

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZWq0v4ucav0

This short documentary follows some of the members of the “migrant caravan” traveling from Central America and through Mexico to the United States. The filmmakers explore the reasons that many of these people are traveling (most are seeking asylum), the means that they are using to travel and the attitudes, both negative and positive, that they experience from those they encounter along the way.

2. Inside North Korea’s bubble in Japan by Vox

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qBfyIQbxXPs

This video is a part of Vox’s “Borders” series, which I love for its willingness to explore borders that are both physical and metaphorical. Many Korean people were living in Japan before Korea was split into North and South, and when the split happened, they had to choose to pledge allegiance to one of these two new countries that they had never known. The filmmakers of this documentary explore the complexities of life inside the North Korean community living in Japan today.


3. India’s Love Commandos: Saviours from honour killings by Al Jazeera English

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gILGNk6Vx8M

This documentary follows members of the Love Commandos, a grassroots rescue team that aims to help young people in danger of becoming victims of “honor killings” in India. The people featured in this video discuss many diverse points of view on marriage, honor and culture in India.


4. We surprised a Korean grandma living on $2 a day by Asian Boss

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_xcvPRBIqmM

This piece explores the issue of poverty among the elderly in South Korea through the daily life of one 82-year-old woman living in Seoul on $2.00 a day. The filmmakers explore the circumstances of this woman’s life as well as the events that brought her to these circumstances. They also surprise her with some monetary assistance.


5. Harvesting Glaciers with the Last Ice Merchant by Great Big Story

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z2eLl_WA7CQ

This very short documentary follows “the last ice merchant” on his journeys to collect glacial ice from the tallest mountain in Ecuador. Collecting ice from this region is a waning tradition that has lasted hundreds of years. The ice merchant’s task is not easy, but his rewards are sometimes sweet (literally)


6. Toxic Masculinity in the Congo by The Atlantic

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4MYXT1yQzQM

This piece examines current attitudes towards masculinity in the Congo and how these attitudes are changing. It presents an interesting perspective on a sensitive cultural topic. I personally appreciated the way that the filmmakers and those featured in the film focus on discussion and understanding the reasons behind the issue.

7. In LA, poverty on Skid Row defies US’ humane reputation by PBS News Hour

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vc7-w4szWoQ

As an American, this report was especially eye-opening for me. This piece documents “third-world style poverty in our first-world country” on the streets of Los Angeles, California. It chronicles the lives of people living on Skid Row in LA, as well as the efforts of government and non-profit agencies that are attempting to improve the situation.


8. Trailblazers: “I use my scars and pain to help others” by BBC News

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1uSm7m1LW7c

This short documentary follows the life of a young Russian woman, Svetlana Alekseeva, who is living with scars from a traumatic childhood accident. It is part of BBC’s larger series on women’s rights activists around the world, Trailblazers. The piece explores Alekseeva’s personal journey towards self-acceptance, as well as the broader issue of female body positivity in Russia.


I hope you find these documentaries as interesting as I did. Please leave a comment with your thoughts!


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