4 Must-Watch Documentaries | Real Reels

These must-see documentaries offer something for everyone, from a feel-good story about letters to Santa to a coming-of-age sport documentary about hockey in Minnesota. There's even a roller-coaster, rags-to-riches tale about a PEZ candy outlaw.

Dear Santa. 83 min. IFC Films. 2020. DVD UPC 1438114831. $27.99.

Each year, hundreds of thousands of letters are delivered to the North Pole for Santa Claus from children all across the United States. The century-old “Operation Santa” program of the U.S. Postal Service attempts to facilitate getting as many letters as possible to volunteer elves to make kids’ dreams a reality. Dana Nachman’s film is full of cute kids and kind-hearted adults, imparting the ultimate lesson that kindness feels good. In this complicated, topsy-turvy world, it is nice to see altruism, empathy, and giving for no reason other than the warmth that Santa and his thousands of elves and mini-elves provide each year through Operation Santa. VERDICT Only the hardiest of Scrooges will not fall under the spell of this uplifting dose of holiday spirit.

Hockeyland. 109 min. Greenwich Entertainment. 2021. Blu-ray UPC 3832926050. $19.99.

In some parts of the United States, the sport of choice might be football, but in Minnesota, it’s hockey. No state puts more hockey players in the NHL than Minnesota, and director Tommy Haines follows two teams in small towns that dream big while pursuing state titles alongside their best friends. The film doesn’t break new ground in the coming-of-age sports doc genre, but it doesn’t need to—it’s all about locker room speeches, practices, games against the neighboring archrivals, and the stories of teens on the precipice of adulthood. Think Friday Night Lights but with less drama and on ice. VERDICT Sports documentary fans will find familiar ground here.

Making Black America: Through the Grapevine. 240 min. PBS. 2022. DVD UPC 4188704566. $29.99.

Booker T. Washington used the term “grapevines” to describe organizations and social networks that lifted “the veil” of Black life in the United States, hence the name of this terrific four-part PBS series. Host Henry Louis Gates Jr. adroitly leads direct, open conversations with scholars, politicians, and cultural leaders about the social organizations created by and for Black Americans. Intermingled with these discussions, the series branches into Black history, delving into the illuminating tapestry of the centuries-long struggle for equality, from 18th-century Masons to the current BLM movement. The best thing about the series is just how all-encompassing it is, publicizing these individual and group efforts to sow seeds of empowerment in all walks of life. VERDICT A thorough and enlightening examination of many facets of the Black experience in the United States.

The Pez Outlaw. 87 min. Gravitas Ventures. 2021. DVD UPC 1009777266. $20.99.

The world of collectibles can be a strange, unpredictable place. Take PEZ candy dispensers: In the 1990s, those cheap and colorful objects became much sought after by the Pez Head community (that’s what devotees of PEZ call themselves) and now could be worth thousands of dollars. Enter Steve Glew, a factory worker in Michigan who began to illegally smuggle PEZ dispensers into the U.S. from Central Europe and made incredible amounts of money. This documentary is a nonstop blast—equal parts crime story, spy tale, and quirky subculture history, blessed with a charming, genuinely eccentric lead character who is easy to root for. It’s hard to believe this bizarre film is not fiction. VERDICT A fun, roller-coaster rags-to-riches story thanks to PEZ mania.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing