25 Documentaries That Tell the Truth About How Government Really Works
And 6 that show how people are responding.
25 Documentaries That Tell the Truth About How Government Really Works
By Tim Hjersted / filmsforaction.org

How does government really operate behind the scenes? Beyond all the slogans about freedom and democracy, how does our political system really work?

Pretty much everyone is aware to some extent how corrupt and dysfunctional the US political system has become. "Has become" is a bit misleading though. As several of these films will show, there was no true 'golden age' of American politics. Those who "want to make America great again" will find that the true history of America doesn't exactly offer shining models to go back to. And those who are generally aware of the troubling aspects of our past and present will be shocked to discover just how bad and crazy it gets. It's the depths and the degree that most people still aren't aware of.  

We all see the surface level, the shiny sheen as prevented on TV, but the hard-hitting, behind-the-scenes investigative reports somehow never make it on the air, or curiously, into the classroom textbooks. It's no coincidence that most of the films below have never been aired on primetime television, and are accessible today only thanks to the decentralized and open internet.

As I reviewed Films For Action's library of films to make this list, it made me reflect on my own journey to discover this knowledge. I was in my early twenties when I started discovering documentaries like these on the internet, exposing me to a world of information that had never been shown to me by my school, parents, friends, local news or the corporate media. Like most kids growing up in the US, my exposure to 'the boring' news was limited to what I saw on network television and what my teachers brought up in school.

What I discovered as I started to watch many of these films is that 'the news,' especially political news, is anything but boring - I just needed to tap into media that told the truth and wasn't whitewashed, commercialized and sanitized into oblivion. 

It was pretty thrilling coming across these films for the first time. It felt like coming across some undiscovered treasure. Back then (2002-2005), youtube didn't exist yet, and documentaries were just starting to show up on google video. Buying DVDs was still the most accessible option. It took a lot of time to just find information like this at all, and it was usually scattered across the internet on obscure websites made by individuals who just really gave a damn.

The difficulty in scouring the internet for quality 'films for action' was one of the primary reasons a few friends and I launched the Films For Action website back in 2007. We wanted to create a library that put all of the best social change documentaries in one place. Accessibility was key. Our goal was to save people the hundreds of hours we were spending reviewing films so that we could present a high-quality library that people could dive into with ease, whether they were young and new to the info like we once were, or pretty knowledgeable but looking to go deeper. There's always more to learn.

Today, social change films have surged in popularity and accessibility.  There are over 800 on this website alone, hand-picked among thousands, all mostly free to watch, with a handful that are PPV.

Now, beyond accessibility, filtering 'the best of the best' has become its own challenge. In the age of unprecedented knowledge (both superficial and deep), curating the best of what's on this website is what I've started to focus more of my time on.

I hope you find this collection of films to be valuable in your pursuit of understanding the world and the way our political system really works. I can only imagine how amazing it would have been to come across this list when I was 21 - to have at my fingertips in minutes what took me hundreds of hours to discover on my own. Perhaps there's some benefit to having had to 'do it the hard way,' wading through vast expanses of videos to find really quality information, but, probably not.

For those who are interested in that, there's always the rest of this site (with a minimum quality standard, of course).

And who knows, maybe some day, this information won't be so hard to come by. Maybe, with your help, we'll start seeing this information showing up in our school curriculum, on TV, in magazines, and in more and more websites whose profits aren't threatened by telling the truth.

Golden Rule: The Investment Theory of Politics (2009)
87 min · The definitive documentary explaining the influence of money on politics by Jonathan Shockley. If you like it, consider buying the high quality DVD or donating a few $ at...
The Power Principle: Corporate Empire and the Rise of the National Security State (2012)
95 min · "A gripping, deeply informative account of the plunder, hypocrisy, and mass violence of plutocracy and empire; insightful, historically grounded and highly relevant to the...
Lifting the Veil:  Obama and the Failure of Capitalist Democracy (2011)
114 min · This film explores the historical role of the Democratic Party as the "graveyard of social movements", the massive influence of corporate finance in elections, the absurd...
Oliver Stone: The Untold History Of The United States (2012)
570 min · There is a classified America we were never meant to see. From Academy Award®-winning writer/director Oliver Stone, this ten-part documentary series looks back at human events...
War Made Easy (2007)
70 min · War Made Easy reaches into the Orwellian memory hole to expose a 50-year pattern of government deception and media spin that has dragged the United States into one war after...
BBC:  The Power of Nightmares (2004)
180 min · The Power of Nightmares is a BBC documentary 3-part film series. The films compare the rise of the Neo-Conservative movement in the United States and the radical Islamist...
The Canary Effect: Kill the Indian, Save the Man (2006)
63 min · From multi-award winning directors Robin Davey and  Yellow Thunder Woman, comes this 'Illuminating Documentary' (Time Out). Delving deeply into the often misunderstood and...
Counter-Intelligence: Shining a Light on Black Operations (2013)
360 min · An extraordinary work by a gifted filmmaker, "Counter-Intelligence" shines sunlight into the darkest crevices of empire run amok. The film vividly exposes a monstrous and...
Hillary Clinton's Business of Corporate Shilling & War Making (2016)
27 min · Digging deep into Hillary's connections to Wall Street, Abby Martin reveals how the Clinton's multi-million-dollar political machine operates.  This episode chronicles the...
What I've Learned About U.S. Foreign Policy (2000)
118 min · This is a powerful 10-part compilation that (in important ways) pulls aside the veil of Official myths and Lies about "freedom", "democracy", Human Rights, etc., being the...
Plutocracy: Political Repression In The U.S.A. (2015)
109 min · Plutocracy is the first documentary to comprehensively examine early American history through the lens of class. A multi-part series by filmmaker Scott Noble, Part I focuses on...
A Very Heavy Agenda Part 1: A Catalyzing Event (2015)
94 min · "A Very Heavy Agenda is a behind-the-scenes look at the neocon thinkers that fuel America's endless wars. The film is a chillingly honest account of how the neocons behind both...
HEIST: Who Stole the American Dream? (2012)
76 min · HEIST: Who Stole the American Dream? is stunning audiences across the globe, as it exposes the real truth behind the worldwide economic collapse, tracing its origins to a 1971...
Koch Brothers EXPOSED (2014)
56 min · Billionaires David and Charles Koch have been handed the ability to buy our democracy in the form of giant checks to the House, Senate, and soon, possibly even the...
War By Other Means (1992)
52 min · John Pilger travels to many third world countries to investigate the devastating results of loans from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF). This film shows...
Bitter Lake (2015)
136 min · Adam Curtis: Politicians used to have the confidence to tell us stories that made sense of the chaos of world events. But now there are no big stories and politicians react...
The War On Democracy (2007)
94 min · 'The War On Democracy' (2007) was John Pilger's first for cinema. It explores the current and past relationship of Washington with Latin American countries such as Venezuela...
The Shock Doctrine (2009)
79 min · An investigation of "disaster capitalism", based on Naomi Klein's proposition that neo-liberal capitalism feeds on natural disasters, war and terror to establish its dominance.
The Secret Government: The Constitution in Crisis (1987)
86 min · In this documentary Bill Moyers exposes the inner workings of the secret government. Though originally broadcast in 1987, it is even more relevant today. Interviews with...
Who Rules America? (2012)
150 min · Welcome to Wall Street – the epicenter of financial power in America, perhaps the money capital of the world. The globally oriented financial firms, based in the New York...
Spin: Footage You Were Never Supposed to See (1995)
57 min · Artist Brian Springer spent a year scouring the airwaves with a satellite dish grabbing back channel news feeds not intended for public consumption. The result of his research...
Uncounted: The New Math of American Elections (2008)
80 min · UNCOUNTED is an explosive new documentary that shows how the election fraud that changed the outcome of the 2004 election led to even greater fraud in 2006 - and now looms as...
Outrage (2009)
89 min · Outrage is a 2009 American documentary film written and directed by Kirby Dick. The film presents a narrative discussing the hypocrisy of individuals purported in the...
The Billionaires' Tea Party (2011)
52 min · The Tea Party movement has taken American politics by storm. But is this truly a populist uprising or one of the greatest feats of propaganda ever seen? Seeking to find out...
The Choice Is Ours (2016)
98 min · This film series explores many aspects of our society. To rethink what is possible in our world, we need to consider what kind of world we want to live in. Although we refer to...

The last 6 offer a glimpse of how people in other countries are mobilizing to take back control of their governments, their lives, and make 'democracy' mean something again. 

 

Beyond Elections: Redefining Democracy in the Americas (2008)
95 min · From Venezuela's Communal Councils, to Brazil's Participatory Budgeting; from Constitutional Assemblies to grassroots movements, recuperated factories to cooperatives across...
Pots, Pans and Other Solutions (2012)
90 min · In Iceland, the first European country to wake up to an economic crash, people became aware that they could and should intervene in society and started demanding more...
Legalize Democracy (2014)
30 min · Legalize Democracy is a documentary film by Dennis Trainor, Jr. about a movement to amend the U.S. Constitution so that Corporations are not considered people, and money is not...
Occupy Love (2013)
85 min · Join acclaimed director Velcrow Ripper on a journey deep inside the global revolution of the heart that is erupting around the planet. Humanity is waking up to the fact that...
Another World (2013)
91 min · "Another World" is a film about the grassroots initiatives in Greece that form another world right here and now, away from the crisis and beyond capitalism (Greek narration...
Freedom Ahead (2012)
60 min · Never before in known history have so many people relied on so few for the basic essentials of life. In our present-day democracies, freedom is slowly being commodified. We...

4.5 ·
3
What's Next
Trending Today
10 Provocative Quotes from Ivan Illich's "Deschooling Society"
Daniel Lattier · 13,096 views today · Ivan Illich’s groundbreaking book Deschooling Society (1971) offers a radical critique of the institutionalization of education within modern societies. Illich believed that we...
11 Traits of People With High Emotional Intelligence
Raven Fon · 9,540 views today · Lately, new ways to describe human interactions, social behaviours, and many facets of psychology have emerged on the social network scene. One of those descriptions is “high...
Welcome to Marinaleda: The Spanish Anti-Capitalist Town With Equal Wage Full Employment and $19 Housing
Jade Small · 7,431 views today · With virtually no police, crime or unemployment, meet the Spanish town described as a democratic, socialist utopia. Unemployment is non-existent in Marinaleda, an Andalusian...
When You Kill Ten Million Africans You Aren't Called 'Hitler'
Liam O'Ceallaigh · 6,192 views today · Take a look at this picture. Do you know who it is? Most people haven’t heard of him. But you should have. When you see his face or hear his name you should get as sick in...
Who Are You? Watching This Breathtaking Video Could Be the Moment You Change Your Life
2 min · 5,664 views today · "Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work, driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for, in order to get to a job that you need so you can...
Superblocks: How Barcelona Is Taking City Streets Back From Cars
5 min · 5,613 views today · Modern cities are designed for cars. But the city of Barcelona is testing out an urban design trick that can give cities back to pedestrians.
Fighting Trump - Residents Opposing Donald Trump's Scottish Golf Resort
14 min · 4,439 views today · Documentary on the residents protesting against Donald Trump's golf development on the Menie Estate in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Directed and Presented by James Trosh.
Real Change in Democracy Comes Not in the Voting Booth but Activism at the Grass-Roots
Ilze Peterson · 4,325 views today · Many years ago, the late Judy Guay, a low-income woman from Bangor, founded the Maine Association of Interdependent Neighborhoods in order to advocate for the neediest in our...
How a Trump Presidency Would Unleash a Torrent of Racist Violence-And Devastate the Left
Arun Gupta · 4,259 views today · The Left should take the Trump threat very seriously.
Doctors Response to Daily Mail Bigotry is Beautiful
Neil Tiwari · 3,825 views today · A poetic open letter to the Daily Mail newspaper from Dr. Neil Tiwari, in response to a bigoted attack on his colleagues, is going viral and it's beautiful.
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 3,395 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
Maya Angelou's 3-Word Secret to Living Your Best Life
3 min · 3,062 views today · Dr. Maya Angelou says that in order to be the best human being you can be, you must follow one simple directive: "Just do right." Watch as Dr. Angelou reveals how you can never...
Forest Man
16 min · 2,994 views today · Since the 1970's Majuli islander Jadav Payeng has been planting trees in order to save his island. To date he has single handedly planted a forest larger than Central Park NYC...
Throw (2016)
10 min · 2,761 views today · The first installment of Invisible Thread, an ongoing ELM passion project series, Throw tells the story of an outsider from East Baltimore, an area challenged by gang violence...
What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic
Asam Ahmad · 2,129 views today · Call-out culture refers to the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and...
How to Criticize with Kindness: Philosopher Daniel Dennett on the Four Steps to Arguing Intelligently
Maria Popova · 1,888 views today · “Just how charitable are you supposed to be when criticizing the views of an opponent?”
93 Documentaries to Expand Your Consciousness
Films For Action · 1,805 views today · There are over 800 documentaries now cataloged in our library of social change films. That's probably way too many for any mortal to ever watch in a lifetime, let alone a few...
Alan Watts: What If Money Was No Object?
3 min · 1,554 views today · How do you like to spend your life? What do you desire? What if money didn't matter? What if money was no object? What would you like to do if money were no object? Spoken...
What It Really Means to Hold Space for Someone
Heather Plett · 1,545 views today · How to be there for the people who need you most
Ten Ways We Misunderstand Children
Jan Hunt · 1,280 views today · 1. We expect children to be able to do things before they are ready. We ask an infant to keep quiet. We ask a 2-year-old to sit still. We ask a 3-year-old to clean his room...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
25 Documentaries That Tell the Truth About How Government Really Works