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Watch: TIME’s Best Short Documentaries of 2021

3 minute read

This year, many of us turned to film to be transported outside the confines of our homes. With that in mind, at TIME we commissioned documentaries that took viewers on journeys—whether inside the mind of a beloved pet, along for a day at an unusual job or behind the scenes as forensic analysis is used to reunite long-lost family members. We also tried to shine a light on under-reported issues, from overlooked cases of police misconduct to the invisible work done by mothers inside the walls of the U.S. Capitol.

Now as the year comes to an end, we look back at some of TIME’s most powerful works of film.


Filmmakers Kaitlyn Schwalje and Alex Wolf Lewis decided to make a movie about Snowy the pet turtle after spending Thanksgiving with him one year. Their short documentary is both an investigation into animal happiness and an intervention to improve one turtle’s life.

Milk Factory

A short film by director Corinne Botz goes inside the lactation room of the U.S. Capitol, and reveals the hidden labor of working mothers. The title Milk Factory underlines that lactation is a form of labor, even if federal law conceptualizes it as a break from work, as Mathilde Cohen writes for TIME.

My Name Is Mookie

Director Francesca Trianni joined with TIME’s Karl Vick and Josiah Bates to examine the story of Terrance Franklin, who was killed by Minneapolis police in 2013. Soon after Franklin’s death, the Minneapolis Police Department investigated its own officers and cleared them of any wrongdoing. But a piece of audio suggested a different story, and TIME’s reporting helped spur new movement in the case.

Eighty Years After Pearl Harbor, Two Brothers Are Identified By DNA

The DPAA is an obscure unit inside the Pentagon that scours the globe for the remains of long-lost service members who vanished in the air, on land or at sea during combat. This short documentary from TIME takes viewers along as the DPAA utilizes DNA and forensic analysis to identify the Trapp brothers, presumed killed at Pearl Harbor, and ultimately bring them home to their family.

The Pool Cleaner

On the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, filmmaker Joshua Charow focused on a critical caretaker of the 9/11 Memorial: James Maroon, who cleans the massive reflecting pools at the 9/11 Memorial every night.

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