11 Globally-Focused Documentaries That Expand Our Horizons & Educate Us About The World

Learn More About The World We Live In

Sometimes it can feel as if we live in a world that is so focused on division, but it’s important to remember that, despite language barriers and cultural differences, we are all the same.

That’s why we love this list of inspiring films, as they document the wonderful, tragic, and important things happening all around the world. Some focus on natural beauty and preservation of our planet; others tell the story of history, fading cultures, and war-torn cities. Nonetheless, all of these documentaries and docu-series inspire community and connection. Each film encourages us to learn more about what’s happening outside of our own circles and to support our global neighbors when in need. 

So, to expand your knowledge and to learn more about the beautiful places and people in the world, here are 11 of our favorite globally-focused documentaries.


1. The Square

Directed and produced by female cinematographer and Egyptian native, Jehane Noujaim, The Square tells the story of the Egyptian Revolution, beginning in 2011, as it has happened behind the headlines. Through personal stories and dramatic imagery, this documentary—released in 2013 and nominated for an Academy Award—takes us straight into Tahrir Square where we gain a deeper understanding of Egypt’s recent history and the conflict between Egyptian activists and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Watch The Square


2. Life In A Day

After sending out a global request for people to film and send in videos of their day, producer Ridley Scott and Oscar-winning director Kevin MacDonald received over 80,000 clips from people across the globe. The result? A breathtaking and unifying documentary. A beautiful reminder of the life that is happening all around the world, this film inspires a sense of community and oneness.

Watch Life In A Day


3. The Look Of Silence

A tragic and haunting documentary, Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence showcases the painful aftermath of the 1965 and 1966 Indonesian Genocide through the lens of a surviving family. The film, nominated for an Academy Award and released in 2014, is important, educational, and a must-see to learn more about Indonesia and the effects of genocide on a society. 

Watch The Look Of Silence


4. Living On One Dollar

Over one billion people in the world are currently living on less than one US dollar per day. Set in rural Guatemala, this documentary follows four friends as they embark on a social experiment, attempting to live within the local community for 56 days—working, eating, and living solely on one dollar a day. An eye-opening and inspirational story, this film challenges us all to learn more about the impact of currency. 

Watch Living On One Dollar


5. Daughters Of Destiny

In India, children impacted by generational poverty are denied access to education, but The Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project has set out to change this. Directed by the Academy Award-winning filmmaker Vanessa Roth, Daughters of Destiny follows the journey of five girls as they strive for a brighter future at The Shanti Bhavan Boarding School. A 2017 Netflix Original docu-series, the story is told in four exciting episodes. You can also support the work of the Shanti Bhaven Children’s Project here. 

Watch Daughters of Destiny


6. Given

See the world through the eyes of a six-year-old boy as he travels from his home in Hawaii to 15 different countries with his family. His quest? To fulfill his ancestral calling of surfing, while learning about culture, nature, and the great big world. An absolutely breathtaking and brilliant film that reminds us how to see humanity through a child’s eyes. 

Watch Given


7. Tales By Light

Originally airing on National Geographic, Tales By Light is a docu-series following professional photographers from around the world as they seek to document vanishing cultures and the last great wildernesses on earth. Believing that photographs have the power to inspire change and that we can learn invaluable lessons from ancient people, this series is moving and educational. After a successful first season in 2015, Netflix released season two in 2016.

Watch Tales By Light


8. Human Planet

A six-part docu-series filmed over a period of two years, Human Planet highlights different regions and people groups from all around the world. Produced by Discovery Channel and BBC, this series serves as a reminder of how remarkable and resourceful human beings truly are.

Watch Human Planet


9. Sherpa

An important film about one of the world’s most dangerous endeavors, Sherpa explains the high risks involved in climbing Mount Everest, as told by the local community and mountain guides. A challenging and controversial film that everyone needs to see, this 2015 documentary explains the painful, and sometimes deadly, cost of Western tourism on the Himalayan communities. 

Watch Sherpa


10. Salam Neighbor

Salam Neighbor, meaning “Hello Neighbor,” takes viewers into Syrian refugee camps where the biggest humanitarian crisis of our era is currently happening. From the creators of Living On One Dollar, this timely documentary encourages us all to see and help one another as neighbors, no matter the political climate. 

Watch Salam Neighbor


11. Fire At Sea

Premiering in 2016, Fire At Sea is an Oscar-nominated Italian documentary that brilliantly showcases the European migrant crisis—specifically the dangerous boat journeys across the Mediterranean Sea. A haunting and impressionable film that juxtaposes the refugee disaster with everyday life on the Italian island of Lampedusa, this documentary is an intimate and heartbreaking portal of the present-day humanitarian emergency. 

Watch Fire At Sea


About The Author

Kayti Christian, a staff writer for The Good Trade, is a storyteller, creator, activist, and avid traveler hailing from Colorado, now living in London. With 30+ stamps in her passport, she is passionate about responsible tourism and is always looking for new ways to be a more conscious traveler. She is currently pursuing her MA in Creative Nonfiction Writing at City, University of London.