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22 Documentaries That Tell the Truth About How Government Really Works

And 6 that show how people are responding.
By Tim Hjersted /
Jun 16, 2016
4.9 ·
22 Documentaries That Tell the Truth About How Government Really Works

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.

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 that at the time went under reported, but that crucially...
The Power Principle: Corporate Empire and the Rise of the National Security State (2012)
264 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 events of today." - Michael Parenti, Historian, Author The Face...
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 disparities of wealth in the United States, the continuity and...
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 This film is based...
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 another from Vietnam to Iraq. Narrated by actor and activist...
Counter-Intelligence: Shining a Light on Black Operations (2013)
360 min · "Scott Noble may have outdone himself with Counter Intelligence. The Psywar filmmaker amassed a tour de force of power elite and deep state scholars weighing in and synthesizing decades of research. From the rise of the national...
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 basis of U.S. foreign policy.   SEGMENT 1 1. Martin Luther...
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 frequently overlooked historic realities of the American Indian...
Plutocracy: Political Repression In The U.S.A. (2019)
560 min · Plutocracy, by filmmaker Scott Noble, is the first documentary series to comprehensively examine early American history through the lens of class. "Absolutely brilliant on numerous levels, Scott Noble’s Plutocracy is the story of 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 how many wars today are not carried out at the barrel of a gun...
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 movement, making comparisons on their origins and claiming...
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 Bush and Obama's foreign policy have shaped the 'new...
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 secret memo entitled Attack on American Free Enterprise...
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 Presidency.  The last time we exposed the Koch Brothers' dealings to...
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, Bolivia and Chile. Using archive footage sourced by...
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.
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 randomly to every new crisis - leaving us bewildered and...
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 respected, top military, intelligence, and government insiders...
Who Rules America? (2012)
150 min · Who Rules America? takes a comprehensive look into the governing system of the United States of America and reveals the behind-the-scene powers that rule the nation. There are two Americas; one in which people have freedom in choosing...
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 is SPIN, one of the most insightful films ever made about...
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, Australian filmmaker Taki Oldham embeds himself in the Tea...
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 it as civilization, it is anything but civilized. Visions...


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 the hemisphere -- this documentary is a journey, which takes...
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 democratic participation. The payment of bank debts by citizens went...
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 considered speech. For more information about Move To...
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 the dominant system of power is failing to provide us with...
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, English subtitles in captions). We live in an upside...
Freedom Ahead: Democracy Does Not Offer Freedom, Nature Does (2012)
60 min · Never before in 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 have been giving our democratic governments more and more freedom...

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Films For Action is a digital library for people who want to change the world.


Our mission is to provide citizens with the knowledge and perspectives essential to creating a more beautiful, just, sustainable, and democratic society.

Films For Action was founded in 2006 by a few friends in Lawrence, Kansas, after realizing how essential a healthy media is to a healthy democracy.

Today, with the help of our members (who can add content directly to our site), we've curated over 5,000 of the best documentaries, short films, and videos that can be watched for free online plus several dozen pay-per-view documentaries, sorted into 34 subjects related to changing the world.

And, since there's still so much to learn about that isn't featured in a film, we've also curated over 4,000 articles.

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