If you discover a quotation that you love, chances are it was conceived by Mark Twain. It was Twain, of course, who stated that “truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn't.”
The following documentaries prove Twain’s theory… and then some. They tell stories that have to be seen to be believed - for better and, sadly, sometimes for worse.
Ryan White knows a good story when he sees one and, whether he is investigating the unsolved murder of a young nun in Baltimore or exploring the life of Dr Ruth Westheimer, America’s most famous sex therapist, he certainly knows how to construct a gripping tale.
Assassins is no different. The documentary tells the story of two young women - Siti Aisyah from Indonesia and Doan Thi Huong from Vietnam. In 2017, they assassinated Kim Jong-nam - the half-brother of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un - in the departures hall of Malaysia’s international airport.
In full view of the airport’s security cameras, Siti and Doan can be seen approaching Jong-nam from behind. Doan covers his eyes with her hands before both women run off. An hour later, Jong-nam was dead - killed following exposure to VX, the most lethal nerve gas on earth.
The murder - and its blatant nature - stunned the world. However, this was only the beginning of a bizarre and increasingly disturbing story. After their arrest, both Siti and Doan claimed that they had been hired to pull a video prank. They were mere pawns, they said, and had no idea what they were actually doing.
Class Action Park
During the 1980s and 1990s, New Jersey’s Action Park earned a reputation as the craziest, most dangerous amusement park that had ever existed. Run by teenagers and fuelled by alcohol, the rides defied physics and common sense. Safety was far from guaranteed.
Seth Porges and Chris Charles Scott’s brilliantly entertaining documentary, Class Action Park, explores the history and legacy of Action Park - a place, we discover, where “death was tolerated” and a variety of crimes were committed.
Action Park was the brainchild of Gene Mulvihill. He is described in the documentary as a mix of (brace yourself) P.T. Barnum, Donald Trump and Gordan Gekko - with a dash of Jordan Belfort thrown in for good measure.
When Mulvihill was thrown off Wall Street (for selling his customers worthless stocks) he decided to buy two ski resorts in up and coming Vernon, New Jersey. During the “downtime” summer months, Mulvihill decided to develop one of the first modern water parks in the country.
Action Park’s rides were often developed “on the fly” by people (including Mulvihill) who had no engineering expertise. Some rides worked, others didn’t. One of the park’s most infamous attractions was the Cannonball Loop - a terrifying enclosed tube water slide. The ride really has to be seen to be believed and the stories behind its development are horrifying.
Tell Me Who I Am
In 1982, Alex Lewis’s life changed forever. He was involved in a near-fatal motorcycle accident - an accident that left him in a coma. When he awoke, he was relieved to find his identical twin brother, Marcus, by his side.
However, Marcus was the only person that Alex remembered from his life before the accident. He didn’t remember his mother or his stepfather. He didn’t remember his girlfriend, his friends or his childhood home. He didn’t even remember who he was.
It fell to Marcus to provide Alex with his missing memories - teaching him about everyday objects and informing him about the complicated rules that had to be followed in their family home.
As Marcus recreated Alex’s life, he decided to repress some aspects of the past. Secrets that remained in place for almost 15 years. Secrets that threatened to shatter Alex’s reality all over again. Incredible, unthinkable secrets that refused to remain buried.
Three Identical Strangers
Three strangers are reunited by astonishing coincidence after being born identical triplets, separated at birth, and adopted by three different families.
Their jaw-dropping, feel-good story instantly becomes a global sensation complete with fame and celebrity. However, the fairytale reunion sets in motion a series of events that unearth an unimaginable secret - a secret with radical repercussions for us all.
Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened?
Chris Smith’s gripping documentary, Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened takes us behind the scenes at the infamous unraveling of the Fyre music festival. Created by Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule, Fyre was promoted as a luxury music festival on a private island in the Bahamas featuring bikini-clad supermodels, A-List musical performances and posh amenities. Guests arrived to discover the reality was far from the promises.
The very worst of humanity is on display here, alongside a nightmarish level of mismanagement, disorganisation and sheer chaos. It makes me feel uncomfortable just thinking about the shocking and disgraceful events that took place.
When the mummified leg of amputee John Wood was found in a barbecue grill purchased at an auction by flea marketer Shannon Whisnant, no one could guess just how bizarre events were about to become.
Who could have imagined that Whisnant would sue John in a custody battle over the leg? Who could have thought that this would be just the start of the story?
On 13 June 1994 in San Antonio, Texas, 13 year old Nicholas Barclay was out playing basketball with friends. He called home and asked his older brother Jason to wake his mother to ask her to collect him. Jason refused and told Nicholas to walk back.
Nicholas never returned home... or did he?
Three years later, the Barclay family received some truly unexpected news. Nicholas had been found at a youth shelter in Linares, Spain. He was physically well but traumatised following years of sexual and emotional abuse.
Nicholas’s sister, Carey, flew over to collect him. And so began one of the most bizarre true crime stories ever recorded.
Dreams Of A Life
Surrounded by the Christmas presents that she was wrapping, Joyce Vincent died in her bedsit in North London in 2003. She was 38 years old.
Joyce's body was not discovered for three years.
Carol Morely's heartbreaking and unsettling documentary, Dreams Of A Life, investigates Joyce’s life and interviews those people who knew her best but who did not realise that she was gone.
Journalist David Farrier stumbles upon a mysterious tickling competition online. As he delves deeper he comes up against fierce resistance, but that doesn’t stop him getting to the bottom of a story stranger than fiction.
The Inventor: Out For Blood In Silicon Valley
In 2004, Elizabeth Holmes dropped out of Stanford to start a company that was going to revolutionise healthcare. In 2014, that company - called Theranos - was valued at $9 billion, making Holmes - touted as “the next Steve Jobs" - the youngest self-made female billionaire in the world.
Just two years later, however, Theranos was cited as a “massive fraud” by the SEC, and its value was less than zero. Using archive footage and interviews with Theranos employees and investors, Gibney explores an unbelievable tale of deception.