In my younger days (I’m 32, so those days aren’t too far behind me) I thought that success meant having many irons in the fire. After several years of multi-tasking, I’ve learned how true the old adage is: “he who chases two rabbits catches neither.” So, this year I’m resolving to do less. MUCH less. In fact, if I can help it, I’m only going to focus on one project.

I, like many of you I’m sure, need lots and lots of encouragement, inspiration, and butt-kicking. And I, hopefully like many of you, draw all those things from a good documentary. Here are three of the most moving docs I came across in 2012, each challenging in their own way.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

At the age of 85, Michelin-star-decorated sushi master Jiro Ono says he still has much to learn. Jiro has been making sushi his entire life, mostly at his tiny subway-stall restaurant. With no plans to retire, Jiro spends his every waking moment perfecting and honing his craft. Having been declared a Japanese national treasure, his sons linger in his shadow, wondering if they’ll ever be able to become successful chefs in their own right.

In our age of instant gratification, instant results, and instant Mac-n-Cheese, a story of a man dedicating his life to perfecting a skill is striking. I know too many young filmmakers fresh out of film school (and some who never bothered going) that are bitter because they haven’t achieved international fame in their 20’s.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a study in patience and passion for excellence. That may sound drab, but Jiro’s sushi sells for $300 a plate, and you have to book your reservation months in advance.


In contrast to Jiro’s exacting patience is F1 legend Aryton Senna’s unbridled passion for racing. Nothing could dampen Senna’s spirits so long as he was behind the wheel. Nothing that is, except for the politics, back-stabbing, and poor-sportsmanship simmering below F1’s gleaming façade.

You don’t have to be a motorsport fan to be inspired by Senna’s life. He was a man who knew exactly who he was created to be. His meteoric rise and staggering racing skills were an inspiration to an impoverished Brazil. Not even danger, and eventually death, could keep Senna off the track.

Senna gives permission to that crazy part of you that wants to push the limits and smash through barriers, even at great personal risk.

Indie Game: The Movie

This doc is very near and dear to my heart. Indie Game follows three independent video game developers, each at different points in their career. Each fight against obstacles, both personal and external. Each struggle with doubts and self-criticism. But despite tremendous odds, each press on, even when pressing on is painful.

What sounds initially like an exposé on obsessive nerds quickly becomes a manifesto of what it means to be a truly independent artist. Developer Jon Blow says it best:

“[A] lot of people come into indie games trying to be like a big company. What those game companies do is create a highly polished game that serve as large of an audience as possible. The way that you do that is by filing off all the bumps on something, if there’s a sharp corner you make sure that’s not going to hurt anybody if they bump into it or whatever. That creation of a highly glossy commercial product is the opposite of making something personal. Things that are personal have flaws, they have vulnerabilities. If you don’t see a vulnerability in somebody you’re probably not relating with them on a very personal level. So, it’s the same with a game design, you know, making it was about–let me take my deepest flaws and vulnerabilities and put them in the game, and lets see what happens.”

Indie Game: The Movie exposes a raw nerve inside all of us, that part of us that craves connection with our neighbor, yet hides for fear of rejection. It’s that vulnerability, however, that when exposed, allows something magical into the world.

What documentaries get you up and on your feet?

Dan Baker

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Dan works out his social anxieties by producing and directing films. He's a proud New Mexican, and prefers green over red.

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