Top sporting documentaries to see out lockdown

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By Charlie Wilbraham, Second Year Politics and International Relations

We’re finally on the home stretch, and after a year of being stuck indoors you’ve probably rinsed streaming services of their content. For that reason, Epigram is providing a definitive guide to what are widely seen as the best sports documentaries since 2010, as well as how you can find them.

Diego Maradona (2019)

Directed by Asif Kapadia

When I learned of Diego’s passing, my thoughts immediately went to this film and the portrait of his legendary, yet infamous spell at Napoli. The filmmaker – Oscar winning director of Amy, Asif Kapadia – effortlessly paints this picture using solely archive footage without talking heads or a voice over. The result is two hours of rich storytelling presenting the duality of Diego, the working-class boy from a shanty town near Buenos Aires, and Maradona, the icon of modern football whose actions on and off the field created a god-like aura – a figure to be worshipped rather than a man to be understood.

Available now on Prime.

Free Solo (2018)

Directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin

One that many will have seen but worth mentioning nonetheless, as this Oscar winning documentary is just as nerve-shredding and intimate on re-watch. This film captures the blunt and unassuming yet truly inspirational climber Alex Honnold on his quest to fulfil a lifelong obsession and climb Yosemite’s 3,000 feet high ‘El Capitan’. As the name suggests, however, he is doing it in the ‘Free Solo’ style of climbing – alone and without ropes, harnesses, or any other protective equipment. The husband-and-wife team of filmmakers are friends with Honnold, and so provide us with an honest and emotionally charged look at a true athletic wonder.

Available now on Disney Plus.

Hillsborough (2012)

Directed by Daniel Gordon

Originally made as part of ESPN’s excellent 30 for 30 documentary series, the film was only aired in the UK following the 2016 inquest which exonerated Liverpool fans of blame on the day of Hillsborough. The footage is shocking and emotional, presented alongside interviews from those affected including survivors, victim’s families and even Police who were there on the day – themselves victims of arrogant and inept leadership. Hillsborough is an important watch with contemporary relevance to be found in the examination of useless leadership blaming a less powerful group for their mistakes, whilst a sensationalist media happily perpetuates their lies.

Available all over the internet.

The Last Dance (2020)

Directed by Jason Hehir

One of the only good things to come out of 2020 was the period in which everyone seemed to be watching and talking about Netflix and ESPN’s Emmy-winning docuseries The Last Dance. The series focuses on Michael Jordan’s final season of a legendary time with the Chicago Bulls in which they won six NBA Championships in eight years with Jordan as MVP for all six. It draws on brilliant access-all-areas footage of one of the most iconic sports teams to ever exist. An incredible 10-part drama which encapsulates the chaotic storm of emotion, athleticism, fandom, and hyper-commercialisation that characterises elite American sports.

Available now on Netflix.

Pele (2021)

Directed by David Tryhorn and Ben Nicholas

This new documentary on a figure once seen as more global than football itself follows the well-worn story of his rise at Santos and iconic escapades in the 1958, 1962 and 1970 World Cups.More intruiging, however, is the examination of Pele’s indifference during Brazil’s military dictatorship, as well as questions over how secure hislegacy is. Especially given that, to many modern fans, he exists solely within folklore.

Available now on Netflix.

Six Dreams (2018)

Directed by David Cabrera, Jordi Call and Justin Webster

Spanish-made documentary Six Dreams is a series that chronicles a La Liga season through the eyes of six people involved. Recognisable figures such as Saúl Ñíguez and Iñaki Williams give us insight into the players’ lives. Elswhere, lesser-known individuals like President of SD Eibar Amaia Gorostiza offer a look into the inner workings of one of football’s great leagues. The docuseries, now filming a second season (including ex-Gunner, Santi Cazorla), offers a more personal and less stale experience than the similar series All or Nothing.

Available now on Prime.

Icarus (2018)

Directed by Bryan Fogel

What begins as a cyclist obsessive (Director, Bryan Fogel) seeing how far he can push his body with PEDs turns into a worldwide headline. The film takes a shocking turn as he stumbles into becoming the confidant and supporter of renegade Russian scientist Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov – whistle-blower for the Russian Olympic doping scandal. What follows is a conspiracy drama captured as it happened, with the pair dodging Putin’s goons as they attempt to expose the truth. A wonderful and compassionately made documentary, as much a life-affirming tale of unlikely friendship as it is a thrilling sports drama.

Available now on Prime.

The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats its Young (2014)

Directed by Annika Iltis and Timothy James Kane

A warm and comforting tale of the Tennessee footrace that measures approximately 100 miles in length. It depicts the course’s various quirks and obstacles inspired by the attempted escape of MLK’s assassin nearby, along with the man who created and oversees the event - Gary "Lazarus Lake" Cantrell. The documentary contemplates the value of the suffering that endurance athletes subject themselves to, as well as the human connections which are formed through it.

Available on YouTube.

Featured image: IMDB | The Last Dance

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