Watch and learn

4 documentaries that totally count as studying for AP exams


by Zoe Kelton, Staff

AP Psychology

“You don’t ever have to do anything spectacular in order for people to love you” -Fred Rogers, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” 

This documentary explores the life and career of Fred Rogers, writer, producer, and host of “Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood,” an educational children’s series first broadcast in 1968. Comprising old footage and new interviews, the film feels both nostalgic and personal. If there’s one thing I can say about this documentary, it’s that it’s nice. 

Simultaneously a sentimental blast from the past and a serious look at child developmental research, the makers of this documentary have managed to capture a vulnerability and kindness that’s hard to find in modern media. 

AP Economics

“Sour Grapes” uncovers con artist Rudy Kurniawan’s wine fraud scam as he attended wine auctions and drove up prices, then sold fake bottles for insane prices. Likely, I was meant to cheer when he was arrested, but honestly, I was totally unable to empathize with the people who fell for it. Most in this documentary are unimaginably rich–I’m talking secret vaulted cellars, bronze statues, and wine that belonged to Thomas Jefferson. Maybe this documentary was intended to reveal Kurniawan’s crime, but the real crime was the despicable accumulation of wealth by his scam’s victims. What started as a look at competitive economic markets and the crime that grows between supply and demand, transforms into a cutting exposé of America’s wealthy elite.

AP Environmental Science

“Chasing Coral” follows a group of researchers on their journey to map the death of an ecosystem through coral bleaching. This documentary is emotionally arduous, in the way most climate change documentaries are, and visually spectacular in the same fashion.This documentary was made great not just by beautiful sweeping drone shots and fluorescently alien ecosystems but also by the researchers’ attempt and total failure to remain impersonal. And they weren’t the only ones– I cried. I was caught breathless more than once at the beautiful seascapes. 

And for every depressing truth about climate change and its effect on our oceans, revealed by this documentary, there was a moment of unbridled joy and curiosity for the world around us.

AP US History

“Riotsville, USA” is ostensibly about the US police force in the 1960s. It calls itself a documentary, but I respectfully disagree– it’s too strange for that. This is a movie I have to recommend solely for how weird it is. The experience was more like watching a film major’s second draft than a research project. It’s uninformative and confusing, but certainly interesting in its presentation– while I didn’t necessarily disagree with the themes of this anarchist ASMR, I spent the entire hour and a half talking over the hypnotically repetitive string music, asking wait, what’s going on? Regardless of the dreamlike, epilepsy-triggering, philosophically meandering nature of this movie, I can certainly say it’s a great (and VERY productive) break from the textbook-talk of high school history classes.