5 Documentary (Life) Podcast Recommendations While TDL on Break

As you know, after an amazing 100 episodes, back in December, we wrapped on our first season of TDL. 

After a lengthy stint in Cambodia working on our own current doc project, Elvis of Cambodia, we are now hard at work on Season Two.

We’ve a release date of Friday, April 26th for the first episode of the new season, but thought that we might provide you with some documentary podcast suggestions to tide you over until that time!

There are now a zillion podcasts out there covering just about every topic that you can possibly think of: from the appreciation of fountain pens to dudes sitting around playing dungeons & dragons to friends around a table espousing the finer aspects of Genesis albums.

Believe me, I listen to a lot of podcasts that I would be more than happy to recommend.  But I promise to do my best to keep this list as closely related to doc filmmaking or doc living as possible.

So with that – and in no order of preference – here are some podcasts you might check out.

We’ll see you in a few short weeks!


Ear Hustle

Ear Hustle is set in the always friendly confines of California’s infamous San Quentin State Prison.

The show is hosted by in-mates Earlonne Woods and Antwan Williams, and Nigel Poor, an artist and volunteer at the prison, each episode looking at a different facet of life behind bars.

This show somehow manages to put a very humanising face to an otherwise de-humanising environment.

It nothing else, it’ll have you breaking out your Johnny Cash At San Quentin album and thinking of its message in an even deeper way than you did before!



Crimetown is a podcast brought to you by the documentary filmmaking team of Marc Smerling (Capturing the Friedmans, Catfish, The Jinx) and Zac Stuart-Pontier (The Jinx).

I met Smerling – who is a bit of a doc filmmaking idol for me – at Podcast Movement 2018 in Philly and learned about Crimetown while there.

After listening to this doc film-turned-podcast about the culture of crime in towns like Providence, Rhode Island (Season One) and Detroit, Michigan (Season Two), I was not only hooked, but immediately reached out to have Smerling on a future episode of TDL.

At the time, he and his team agreed in principle, then had to pull back due to some litigation surrounding the podcast. Sigh.

Never fear, #doclifer, I will reach out again.  Persistence, right? I mean, Marc Smerling..!


Pure Nonfiction

Okay, I would actually be totally irresponsible if I didn’t have a podcast like Pure Nonfiction on this list of recommends.

Firstly, Thom Powers is an important name in documentary, not only for his docs that he made with PBS and HBO, but also because he just so happens to be the documentary programmer for Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), but also the found of one of the most well-known and established documentary film festivals around, DOCNYC.

And, oh yeah, he just so happens to be the voice behind a podcast that interviews some of the biggest names in doc. Werner Herzog? Barbara Kopple? Alex <bleeping> Gibney??  Yeah, Thom has access to ’em all.  And he does a great service to the doc filmmaking community by bringing his doc filmmaking sensibilities to both his festivals and his podcast.

(And if you don’t believe me, well Thom will be joining us on an upcoming episode of TDL Season Two, to discuss much of this!)


Sup Doc

So I’m not entirely sure how I came across Sup Doc.  Probably the same way many have found us… a Google search for ‘documentary film podcast‘.

Regardless, I can definitely tell you what initially drew me in.  An episode that discussed a documentary film about serial killer, Arthur Shawcross, a name that anyone who grew up in Rochester, New York (like I did) in the 80s knows.  I mean, this cat was (quite literally) finally apprehended with his pants down, mere miles from our home..!  During his reign of terror, there were a lot of scared teenagers like myself who were petrified that Shawcross was going to be somehow found hiding out in Dad’s backyard shed.

Anyhow, this was not intended to be about a deplorable human being.  No.  This is about two San Francisco-based comedians, Paco Romane (is that really his name?) and George Chen who decided back in 2015 to do a podcast about their love of the documentary film.  Comedians and documentary film. Yes, some hilarity ensues.  But also, a bit of thoughtful, heartfelt examination.  I really enjoy listening to these guys.  And following Paco Romane (is that really his name?) on Twitter. That’s also a special treat.


10% Happier Podcast with Dan Harris

Anyone, who is an avid listener of our show, knows that the technical aspects of doc filmmaking are really only half of the overall discussion on the show.

We pride ourselves on embracing lifestyle topics as well; what it means to live the life of a doc filmmaker (or otherwise creative).  And you would know that I often talk of the creative, reflective, and mindful benefits of a meditation practice.

So yes, this is at face value a podcast about meditation. But it’s much more than that.

For one, it’s led by well-known news anchorman, Dan Harris, who over the past decade announced his own struggles with drug dependency and being a workaholic and how the competitive field of network news nearly destroyed his life. And how meditation played a massive part in saving his life, career, and personal relationships. His vulnerability in an otherwise very ego-based field of journalistic work is a breath of fresh air.

And the conversations with guests..! About meditation and life and..!  So good.  I mean, Rivers Cuomo from Weezer? The Dalai Lama? Moby??  What’s not to like?


Aaaand, no list of this nature would be complete without an… HONORABLE MENTION!


How Not to Sail

Okay, you’re going to have to allow me one self indulgence here.  This podcast comes from friend filmmaker and podcaster, Bradford Rogers (aka The Multimedia Ninja), who we had on the show back in episode #43.

I’ve actually been waiting for this show for about a year, ever since he put his former podcast show on hiatus.  While I enjoyed hearing Bradford’s quirky humour and wisdom on all-things multimedia, it wasn’t until his last couple of shows where he really started to reel me in (pardon the pun).

He began employing more of a storytelling approach to his shows, really starting to use his voice (personality) and the sounds of things around him.  So I was genuinely happy and excited when he announced his lengthy hiatus to work on other projects, one of which included this new idea for what would become the How Not to Sail podcast.

I’ve never been sailing. I don’t spend much time at sea (although love whenever I’m near bodies of water).  But I’ve always been partial to a good sea tale (Moby Dick, Kon Tiki, The Long Way). And there is just something about the way Bradford shares his personal failures and successes that most anyone can relate to.  Boat or not boat.

Anyhow, it’s brand new.  Only three episodes at the time of this post.  And well worth a try.


I hope you find value in this list and consider checking out some of these shows. Let us know in the comments below if you listen to them and what your thoughts are!




Host and TDL Founder, Chris G Parkhurst

Chris is a documentary filmmaker and the founder and host of The Documentary Life, a platform which aims to inform and inspire documentary filmmakers from around the globe.

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