Five documentaries to improve your Spanish skills

You’ve most likely already browsed our lists of films and TV shows to learn Spanish, and here you are on our niche elearning blog, yearning for more ways to expand your knowledge of the Spanish-speaking world.

You deserve all the accolades that people are throwing your way.

Documentary films are entertaining and educational – a great tool in your language learning process. There’s no doubt about it: exposing yourself to the sounds of a language is an excellent way to train your ear,  and will improve your speaking skills.

Without further ado, here are five documentary films in Spanish to help you to level up your Spanish game.

Nostalgia de la luz, Patricio Guzmán (2010)

In the 2010 Franco-Chilean documentary Nostalgia de la luz (Nostalgia for the Light), earthly and celestial quests come together in the heart of the Atacama Desert. Astronomers scan the skies for new galaxies, archaeologists dig for ancient civilizations and women search for their lost loved ones. Through these stories, viewers are taken on a moving journey through space and time. The documentary addresses Chile’s painful past and the victims of Pinochet’s dictatorship.

Nostalgia de la luz was directed by Chilean film director Patricio Guzmán, and won Best Documentary at the 23rd ceremony of the European Film Awards. It is a powerful and inventive documentary leaving much food for thought.

Guzmán’s calm and soothing voice will help immerse yourself in the Spanish language, and the lighting and cinematography will leave you reeling with beautiful images of the desert and the stars.

Did you know? The Atacama Desert is the driest place on Earth, drier even than the driest martini.

Chavela Vargas, Catherine Gund and Daresha Kyi (2017)

Chavela Vargas, Aubin Pictures, 2017

I am Chavela Vargas. Don’t forget that.” The documentary Chavela was co-directed by producers Catherine Gund and Daresha Kyi in 2017, and puts pioneering Ranchera singer Chavela Vargas center stage.

Featuring never before seen video footage of Chavela and her closest friends and including interviews with Frida Khalo and Pedro Almodóvar, the documentary chronicles the fascinating details of the iconic singer’s life, from her early years in Costa Rica, to her career in Mexico City and beyond. In a timespan of 90 minutes, viewers get a sense of her vitality and vivaciousness, whilst training their ears to Spanish spoken in Mexico.

Did you know? Vargas was sometimes called La Dama del Poncho Rojo (The Lady with the Red Poncho) as she often wore one during her live performances.

El hombre y la Tierra, Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente (1974 – 1981)

El hombre y la Tierra (The Man and the Earth), presented by naturalist Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente, is a documentary television series produced by Spanish television network TVE. The documentary gained international recognition and is still considered one of Spain’s best documentaries.

Airing between 1974 and 1981, El hombre y la Tierra chronicles the lives of animals in their natural habitat. The series is divided into three parts:

  • The Iberian series (Serie Fauna Ibérica) shot in Spain;
  • The South American series (Serie Venezolana) shot in Venezuela;
  • The North American series (Serie canadiense) shot in Canada and Alaska

Across the 124 episodes, we see footage of wildlife filmed for the very first time. The soundtrack by Antón García Abril is compelling as well. Sadly, the show was canceled following the sudden death of Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente in Alaska during filming. The show remains a mesmerizing voyage, and the Spanish voice-over narration complements the images beautifully.

El silencio de otros, Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar (2018

The documentary El silencio de los otros (The Silence of Others) was produced in 2018 by film director Almudena Carracedo, producer Robert Bahar and with the participation of Pedro Almodóvar. The documentary reveals the long and epic struggle of the many victims of Spain’s 40-year dictatorship under General Francisco Franco. Combining the moving narratives of survivors of Francoism, exclusive footage and stunning cinematography, The Silence of Others gives a voice to Franco’s victims.

The Silence of Others is a painful and necessary documentary that focuses on the Amnesty Law (or “Pact of Forgetting”), a 1975 agreement that granted amnesty to officials from the Franco dictatorship.

Did you know? The documentary was filmed over the course of six years, and required one and a half years of editing. It won more than 40 awards including the 2019 Goya for Best Feature Documentary.

Impunity, Juan José Lozano, Hollman Morris (2010)

Impunity, Dolce Vita Films – Intermezzo Films (2010)

In 2005, the Colombian justice department began a trial against 40 paramilitary leaders for numerous crimes, including murder. During the trial, the Justice and Peace Law was passed, allowing paramilitary leaders to hand over their weapons in exchange for reduced sentences.

Impunity documents the last month of the historic trial in which the atrocities against citizens by military leaders are detailed excruciatingly, while 40,000 victims watch on projected screens.

Swiss director of Colombian origin Juan José Lozano and Colombian journalist Hollman Morris aim to denounce the hypocrisy of the ruling classes who support the paramilitaries’ impunity.

Did you know? Shooting this documentary was a very risky affair as the camera crew received death threats.


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