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10 ‘Vice’ Documentaries That Will Change The Way You See The World

Michael Joseph


We have previously covered some eye-opening documentaries made by Vice. What many people fail to realize about Vice is the sheer number of high-quality documentaries they’re constantly producing. Shane Smith and his team of correspondents take their guerrilla-style investigative journalism all over the world, chasing the kinds of stories mainstream media outlets rarely cover.

10The Vice Guide To Congo

Have you ever wondered what kind of high-tech materials the super awesome, incredibly expensive smartphone you constantly obsess over is actually made of? Odds are you probably haven’t. This documentary may very well alter the way you view the current state of technological advancements in Western society and its adverse impact on the people who mine the minerals that are ultimately used to tell the world what we ate for lunch.

Vice co-founder Suroosh Alvi travels to the Democratic Republic of Congo to figure out where the minerals in your iPhone are initially mined and extracted. For $3 a day, men and young boys spend sunrise to sunset hacking at the ground for the minerals that giant tech corporations use in the construction of phones, tablets, computers, gaming consoles, televisions, and everything in between.

The glaring juxtaposition of multibillion-dollar technology corporations exploiting the labor of individuals in one of the poorest countries on the face of the planet is something you won’t be able to forget after watching this.


9Surviving Alone In Alaska (aka Heimo’s Arctic Refuge)

Over 240 kilometers (150 mi) north of the Arctic Circle, a man by the name of Heimo Korth and his wife Edna brave the harsh and unforgiving Alaskan landscape. They live in total isolation from the outside world, trapping and killing wild animals for food and fur. In this utterly fascinating glimpse into a lifestyle entirely devoid of all the raw necessities that make civilized life possible (like electricity and running water), it’s hard not to realize just how many essential resources we take for granted on a daily basis.

And yet, despite living in the Alaskan wilderness, Heimo and Edna have managed to establish a remarkably domestic way of life. They have a cozy log cabin, complete with a variety of cooking amenities, a radio for the upcoming weather reports, and even a DVD player. Watching them, it’s shockingly easy to forget just how harsh and hostile living among wild animals can be. But the documentary does a good job of reminding you about these risks when their encampment is threatened by a hungry grizzly bear in the dead of night.

The documentary takes a sudden and heartbreaking turn when Heimo and Edna recount the tragic day their infant daughter was swept away by the current of the Coleen River. The story serves as an unforgettable reminder of just how cruel life can be in the unforgiving and often unpredictable Arctic terrain. Heimo’s Arctic Refuge is one of the most fascinating, captivating, and heartrending examinations of life in the Arctic you’ll find on the Internet. It’s a thorough study of the sacrifices that must be made when you choose to abandon the monotony of modern civilization for something far more admirable.

8Guantanamo: Blacked Out Bay

Perhaps the most eye-opening aspect of this documentary is not what it reveals about the inner workings of the day-to-day operations of Guantanamo Bay but rather how little the United States government wants you to know about it. Nearly 1,000 suspected terrorists have been detained at Guantanamo Bay since it was established 12 years ago. And although President Obama issued an executive order to cease operations at the prison in 2009, nearly 150 individuals remain there. Due to the high level of confidentiality regarding the circumstances by which these individuals are being imprisoned, it’s made very clear in the documentary that the US government can’t risk disclosing too much information to the media.

In an effort to try and gain some insight as to what actually goes on at Guantanamo Bay, Vice correspondents leave the facility and track down former detainees to get a firsthand account of their experience. The resulting interviews provide an unsettling glance into the state of the most well-known military prison no one knows that much about. Regardless of your political ideology or personal philosophy, this documentary is worth the watch.



7The War On Kids

The story of Jesse Snodgrass will make you angry. And it should. It involves an innocent, lonely high school kid with Asperger’s syndrome and a local police force that went to great lengths to trick him into selling his medication to an undercover officer Jesse believed to be his only friend, so they could convict him for it. It was called “Operation Glasshouse.” It epitomizes the sad state of the war on drugs in the US and how the federal government incentivizes cops to target the most vulnerable.

Jesse had a tough time making friends, and understandably so. So when he’d finally made one in his senior year of high school, his parents felt a profound sense of relief and happiness . . . until their son’s new and only friend ultimately guilted and harassed Jesse into purchasing a minuscule amount of marijuana for him, effectively entrapping Jesse in order to charge him with a felony. In addition to Jesse, 21 other unsuspecting students were tricked in a similar manner. It will come as no surprise that these kinds of operations are not just incredibly effective but also very lucrative for local police forces. To put it simply, instead of spending funds and manpower busting real criminals, they create new ones and reap the federal grants that come along with dishing out charges.

This story deserves as much attention as possible. Watch it. Share it with your friends. Share it with strangers. This is one of those very rare opportunities where social media can have a positive impact on shaping public policy.

6The Cannibal Warlords Of Liberia

Liberia is one of the most turbulent, chaotic, violent, and downright frightening countries in the world. It is believed that nearly 500,000 people have died as a result of Liberia’s 14-year-long civil war. Of those “lucky” enough to still be alive, 85 percent continue to live below the international poverty line. This documentary provides an unparalleled insight into the state of utter lawlessness of the country and how dangerous it still is.

Things take a turn for the surreal when we discover the fact that a large majority of warlords—and even your average Liberian citizens—openly admit to practicing cannibalism. In fact, at a certain point in the documentary, Shane Smith is traveling with a former warlord turned preacher, who went by the name “General Butt Naked.” He earned this nickname by charging into battle completely naked. Why would anyone decide to go to war without clothes on, you ask? Good question. General Butt Naked, and many of his comrades, believed that so long as they consumed the heart of an innocent child, they were invincible in battle.

5The Mexican Mormon War

Most people know who Mitt Romney is. What you likely don’t know is that many of his family members, who are also Mormon, have been at war with the drug cartels of Juarez, Mexico for many years. It is strange that something this downright bizarre wasn’t at the very least mentioned throughout Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, neither by his opponents nor the mainstream media. Romney’s Mormon relatives likely relocated out of the United States and headed to Mexico to be able to freely and openly practice the Mormon church’s polygamist way of life without the threat of arrest. What they got instead was the threat of violence.

This documentary is a fascinating glimpse into the brutally violent conflict between the Mexican drug cartels and the remaining members of Mitt Romney’s family that still reside there. It also sheds some much needed light on the two-way trafficking of guns into Mexico and drugs back into the US.



4North Korean Labor Camps

The “Hermit Kingdom” and the many odd aspects of this fantastic country were covered by Vice in the past. If you’re unfamiliar with it, check out Inside North Korea.

In North Korean Labor Camps, Shane Smith and freelance correspondent Simon Ostrovsky set out to find secret North Korean labor camps hidden in the depths of Siberia. In keeping with the sheer strangeness of anything that relates to North Korea, this documentary is no exception.

What we learn very quickly is that North Korea outsources labor to miniature replicas of North Korean villages that have been constructed in the middle of the Siberian forests, far away from any other towns or villages. These villages are meant to mimic North Korean culture in every conceivable way. The architecture, the music, the news, everything is specifically designed to give the North Korean laborers the illusion that they’re still in North Korea. It’s absolutely surreal and definitely worth the watch.

3Garbage Island: An Ocean Full Of Plastic

Every year, 3.2 billion kilograms (7 billion lb) of non-recyclable plastics are produced throughout the world. That’s 3.2 billion kilograms of non-recyclable material we don’t have any conceivable method for getting rid of. More often than not, these non-recyclable materials find their way into the environment. This documentary follows Vice correspondent Thomas Morton, producers Jake and Meredith, and a team of professional environmentalists as they spend seven straight days at sea in search of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a mythical island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean made entirely of non-biodegradable plastics.

[SPOILERS AHEAD] Although they don’t find any mythical island made entirely of Coca-Cola bottles and peanut butter jars, what they do find is far more unsettling. Captain Moore, the voyage’s leader and environmental researcher, suggests there is likely over 100 million tons of garbage currently spread throughout the world’s oceans. For a lot of people, it’s incredibly difficult to truly conceive the scope of this man-made environmental epidemic. But a good place to start is this documentary.

2Hunting The Radioactive Beasts Of Chernobyl

Said to be nearly 600 times worse than Hiroshima, the Chernobyl disaster is widely considered the single most catastrophic nuclear accident in human history. In April 1986, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Ukraine (then officially under the jurisdiction of the Soviet Union) inexplicably erupted. The resulting fallout of this tragic and unforeseen engineering mishap resulted in substantial amounts of radioactive particles spreading throughout much of Western USSR, as well as Europe.

Although 31 people died as a direct result of the initial explosion, the long-term effects of radioactive exposure on humans and wildlife around Europe are practically incalculable. And yet, despite the scope of this shocking catastrophe, a large number of people reading these words may have never even heard of it. For those in need of catching up, there’s this throwback Vice documentary.

The video follows Shane Smith on his travels throughout Eastern Europe, drinking on trains and shooting assault rifles at “radioactive beasts” lurking in the forest. To be fair, they never actually capture any of these beasts on camera, but that doesn’t mean the beasts don’t exist. Ultimately, the significance of this documentary lies within the post-apocalyptic state of Chernobyl and how the radioactive fallout is still devastating the area’s inhabitants over 20 years later.

1The Islamic State (ISIS)

The Islamic State, a jihadist rebel group with former ties to Al-Qaeda, has claimed large swathes of Iraq and Syria, and they don’t intend on slowing down anytime soon. With the recent news of yet another US journalist being executed at the hands of the Islamic State, it’s quickly becoming one of the most crucially important international news stories of the 21st century. Vice correspondent Medyan Dairieh spent a total of three full weeks embedded with the Islamic State, gaining unprecedented insight into the group’s inner workings, the likes of which no other news media outlet has been able to get.

What follows is a terrifying glimpse into the turbulent state of Iraq and Syria and how the Islamic State inexplicably reigns free throughout the region, seemingly uncontested. The Islamic State isn’t just a group of rebel fighters armed with homemade assault rifles and a death wish. They are an organized, determined, and heavily armed group of Muslims, flush with cash and seized US weapons, slowly taking control of a massive expanse of the Middle East. This documentary isn’t just an entertaining way to expand your knowledge of the world. It’s a look at arguably the most critically significant threat facing America today, and it should be seen by as many people as possible.

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