Stream These Three Great Documentaries

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The proliferation of documentaries on streaming services makes it difficult to choose what to watch. Each month, we’ll choose three nonfiction films — classics, overlooked recent docs and more — that will reward your time.

Stream it on Amazon and Kanopy.

In a documentary that functions simultaneously as a detective thriller, a family portrait and a consideration of the nature of paranoia, the journalist Assia Boundaoui, who directed, tries to learn more about F.B.I. activity that took place in the 1990s in Bridgeview, Ill., the Chicago suburb where she was raised. At least as of the time of the film’s making, the reverberations of that activity — and suspicions of ongoing surveillance — continued to be felt throughout the neighborhood, which has a large Muslim community. “The Feeling of Being Watched” shows how Boundaoui’s push for more disclosure from the F.B.I. eventually took her into court, and there have been developments on the case since the movie had its premiere almost four years ago.

But the central questions the film poses haven’t lost their salience. Boundaoui presses a former assistant United States attorney on whether an investigation was “justified” and gets a qualified answer. The filmmaker, who at various points invokes Michel Foucault, also raises the possibility that an investigation might be an end in itself, because the fear of being watched can lead to a fear of speaking out, regardless of whether anyone is actually watching. “That gray area between paranoia and the truth is a dangerous place,” she says in voice-over, after sharing a story of a teenage friend who thought she was being followed. She assumed the girl was just paranoid in the way that so many of the people around Boundaoui were paranoid — until the girl received a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

And after taking a particularly rattling phone call with a figure from the past, the director acknowledges that there’s no way for her to separate the personal from the professional in telling this story. But it’s her story as much as anyone else’s, and it’s a chilling one.

Stream it on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play and Tubi.

The Oscars have now consolidated two categories that reputedly always confused voters, sound editing and sound mixing, into one award, best sound. But if you’re eager to learn more about the difference, “Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound,” the directorial debut of the longtime sound editor Midge Costin, spends its final third explaining how discrete phases of movie audio are constructed. Viewers will come away feeling like experts on ambience and Foley, on sound recording and on dialogue editing.

Who knew, for instance, that the quiet underneath the lines between Timothy Hutton and Judd Hirsch in “Ordinary People” was so difficult to achieve? The set for the psychiatrist’s office where their characters meet was located near an airport, and extraneous noise of planes and pops had to be manually removed. Jet sounds themselves, on the other hand, are “not that interesting,” according to Cece Hall, a supervising sound editor on “Top Gun.” For that movie, after deciding that planes she had listened to sounded “wimpy,” she says, she “created a library of mostly exotic animal roars” — the secret ingredient that makes Maverick’s maneuvers shriek.

“Making Waves” highlights three innovative, industry-changing sound designers — Ben Burtt (“Star Wars”), Walter Murch (“Apocalypse Now”) and Gary Rydstrom (“Saving Private Ryan”) — in what may be an oversimplified streamlining. (The history presented in the film tends to present developments as linear, treating stereo in movies, for instance, as a principally 1970s development, without mentioning complicating factors, like the use of stereophonic sound in the 1950s format Cinerama.) But you’ll gain a new appreciation for how the sounds in “Star Wars” were found and for the perspective issues posed by the Omaha Beach landing in “Saving Private Ryan.” Murch explains how the screeches of the subway that can be heard as Michael Corleone steels himself to shoot Sollozzo in “The Godfather” took inspiration from the work of John Cage. “What you’re actually listening to are Michael’s neurons clashing against each other as he’s making the decision to actually kill these people,” Murch says.

You won’t hear any of the movies discussed — or maybe any movies, period — the same way.

Stream it on the Criterion Channel.

Getting unnervingly close to its subjects even as it documents social problems in plain sight, the Oscar-nominated documentary “Streetwise” immerses viewers in the lives of Seattle teenagers on the margins, many of whom appear to congregate as a kind of makeshift family in the area around the city’s Pike Place Market. The film emerged from a Life magazine assignment, and Mary Ellen Mark, who took the still photographs for that 1983 article, and the article’s writer, Cheryl McCall, collaborated on the film with Martin Bell, Mark’s husband, who directed. It became a long-term project, leading to two books of photographs from Mark and follow-up documentaries of varying lengths, including the feature “Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell,” which checked in with Erin Blackwell, the most indelible subject from the original film, decades later.

Near the start of “Streetwise,” the 14-year-old Erin is seen matter-of-factly talking to an offscreen medical counselor about “dates” she has “turned” recently, along with a concern she has a sexually transmitted disease and her feelings on abortion. Erin can’t precisely be described as homeless or parentless. Her mother, who believes she can’t stop her “bullheaded” daughter from doing what she wants to do, works as a waitress, and the two of them live at someone else’s house, apparently because Erin’s mother and stepfather got kicked out of their apartment. As for her father, Erin says, “he could be a guy that’s really rich” or “he could be one of these bums on the street.” (“I could have dated him for all I know,” she adds, alarmingly.)

Another standout character is Erin’s friend Rat, who makes his home in an abandoned hotel and is mentored by an older man called Jack, who taught him how to jump trains and with whom he scrounges around as a team. (“Partners are always better,” so someone has your back, Rat explains.) In a moment that stands out for its relative levity in this harrowing, heartbreaking film, Rat demonstrates his technique for ordering pizzas that he never intends to pick up, so that he can be sure they will be in a dumpster in an hour or so, ready to eat.


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