23 Films to Bond Over this Holiday Break

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I get super giddy when I sit down and write about films that I have loved to watch with my family. My kids would say that I only suggest documentaries when we have family movie night—but that is not true! Okay, it is 90% true, but to prove them wrong, today I am adding a few fiction films to these documentary suggestions below. All these films can inspire meaningful conversations with teens and a few of the suggestions are appropriate for younger kids.

My suggestion is that before watching the film with your kids, let them know you will gladly watch one with them that they pick in the near future (it is really hard for me to watch a film that is not my genre, but fair is fair.) Also, set the stage by saying that you want undivided time with them, so phones and other devices need to go away for the movie.

Let me add that I feel lucky to have been able to raise my kids on a healthy dose of documentaries. I got exposed as a young girl to the power of real-life stories in film while growing up with my mom and having renters in our small house. One was a documentary editor and she would take me to screenings. In high school one of the jobs I loved was working in an art house movie theater, something I later did in college at Cornell Cinema. It was during college that I began officially studying film and in my spare time reading books about Hitchcock, Truffaut and many others.  

** For questions regarding exact age appropriateness, please read more about each film online. Many of these films have mature themes and are for mature teens. None of these, however, are sensational or overly disturbing. Also, a couple of them are not streamable but require ordering the DVD, such as Truffaut’s Small Change.

DOCUMENTARY SUGGESTIONS

DRAMA OF ONE TEAM AND ONE CAPTAIN
The Heart of the Game
This acclaimed documentary was shot over five years at the public high school in Seattle where my daughter, Tessa, goes now. It will lead to many interesting conversations—especially for anybody who has ever been on a team.

THE FILM THAT INSPIRED EVERY DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKER I HAVE EVER MET
The Thin Blue Line

PEOPLE IN POLITICS
RBG
The timely story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The War Room
It does not matter what political stance you hold, this film is great to show youth behind-the-scenes of a campaign.

THE BUSINESS OF FOOD
Just the other night a mom told me how her 14-year-old son saw Super Size Me last year and since then he refuses to eat at McDonald's. He will eat other fast food, but just not that one. The point is documentaries have the power to do that, and more. I would say that while Super Size Me, along with King Corn, are great films to watch with kids– there is a really good chance they will see them in school, so watching some of the others might be a safer bet.

More Than Honey (for any age)  
This documentary focuses on the relationship between honeybees and small family beekeepers as well as commercial beekeepers from Australia, China, Switzerland, and America. It’s a bit long, so perhaps watch over two sittings.  Honey bees fascinate me immensely. I feel fortunate that we have had had two active beehives in our home in the heart of bustling Seattle. Now we only have one but hope to have another soon.

MUSIC
20 Feet from Stardom:
This movie won the Oscar, as you probably already know.

LIVING LIFE AT THE EDGES
Antarctica: A Year on Ice
Beautiful, stunning and a peek into a place very few people see.

Crash Reel
My friend, who helped shoot my first major documentary about my father, Unlisted: A Story of Schizophrenia, shot this powerful film by Lucy Walker.

Blindsight (for any age)
Another intriguing film by  Lucy Walker is about six blind Tibetan teenagers who climb the Lhakpa-Ri peak of Mount Everest, led by seven-summit blind mountain-climber Erik Weihenmayer.

Free Solo (for any age)
I just drove out of town to see it with my son because it was no longer playing in Seattle but my son was dying to see it. An exploration of inner drive and outer risk.

WHEN A PASSION TAKES YOU TOO FAR
The Internet’s Own Boy (please note right away you learn that this young man took his own life).

RACE, CULTURE, RELIGION
Little White Lie (Not to be confused with Big Little Lies)
Eric Dugger who brilliantly helped me edit Screenagers was the editor on this really amazing documentary about a girl who realizes she is half black when she applies to college.

The Tribe is by a filmmaker I really admire, Tiffany Shlain. Short and creative, just click on the link and you can start watching it. Tiffany calls it “an unorthodox, unauthorized, history of the Jewish people and the Barbie doll.”

FICTION FILM SUGGESTIONS

FOREIGN FILMS THAT CHANGED MY VIEW OF THE WORLD
There are so many but I am putting two here that are wonderful to watch with tweens and teens.

Small Change by Truffaut
When I saw this film at age 11 it literally changed my life. I decided during the film that I wanted to be French. I started working to save money and at age 16 I planned a trip and paid my way to go and live in a little town in France with a family. Talk about a powerful reaction to a film. My teens and I still talk and laugh about this film together when we think of some of the classic scenes like Gregory goes boom and keys in a fishbowl.

My Life As A Dog  
This is an awesome film—intense, funny and poignant—told from the point of view of a young boy trying to make sense of the world. I have seen it many times and love it each time.

FRIENDSHIPS  (gone awry)
All About Eve
Just a few months ago I was so jazzed that my teen Tessa watched this with me—probably my third time seeing it. It brought up many good discussions about what clues do we have about people’s real intentions.

THE PROBLEM WITH POWER
Citizen Kane
One of my favorite gifts I ever gave my son is the collector's edition of the DVD to this all-time classic.

COMING OF AGE
Almost Famous
This is a smartly done movie from Cameron Crowe— he did the cult classic Fast Times at Ridgemont High. It was after he did the very successful Jerry Maguire that he had free reign to pick his next film and decided to do this coming of age story based on his life.

The Great Debaters
This is the true story of a professor in a small town in Texas in 1935 who helped students start their school's first debate team, which went on to challenge Harvard in a national championship.

A FUTURE  WORLD (dystopia)
Gattaca
This is a sci-fi thriller about a man obsessed with genetic perfection. So brilliant and intense in parts but now with CRISPR, it’s more relevant than ever. There are only a handful of films that I will watch for a second time but this is one of them.

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If you liked this list here are a few blogs you might also enjoy:
10 Documentaries to Enjoy with your Family
10 Great Documentaries to Watch as a Family