“He is nearly 100, losing his hearing and plagued with labored breathing that is unnerving to behold,” Andy Webster wrote in reviewing the film for The New York Times when it had a modest theatrical release in 2016. “She is almost 90 and blessed with an unwavering spirit. Their bond is profound.”
“America ReFramed,” the World Channel series, also has an array of films that focus on small stories with resonance. “Night School” by Andrew Cohn, on Sept. 12, looks at three adults in Indiana trying to earn their high school diplomas, a seemingly mundane subject that says volumes about aspirations and obstacles. “Deej” by Robert Rooy, on Oct. 17, concerns a high school student named DJ Savarese who is nonverbal and determined to break down stereotypes and barriers.
“Reading and writing are rarely taught to nonverbal autistics,” he says, using a communication device. “Our silence makes some estimate us as incapable, and soon we are left out of anything meaningful.”
Inclusion and independence are also themes of Lara Stolman’s “Swim Team,” a film scheduled for Oct. 2 on “POV” that follows three members of the Hammerheads, a swim team in New Jersey for autistic athletes. It chronicles not only the trials and tribulations during competition, but the lives of the swimmers and their families out of the pool as they deal with navigating the day-to-day world and confront the future.
Another sort of inclusion gets attention in “Woman on Fire,” being shown Nov. 27 on Starz as part of its new Monday documentaries series. The film, by Julie Sokolow, profiles Brooke Guinan, New York City’s first transgender firefighter.
The documentary arm of CNN, CNN Films, marks its fifth anniversary with several films, including one on Nov. 12 that will be of special interest to foodies, “Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent.” The film, by Lydia Tenaglia, is an engaging look at the life and career of Mr. Tower, one of the first celebrity chef/restaurateurs in the United States, who among other things talks about being a young man during the tumultuous 1960s and not being quite as revolutionary as some of his friends.
“I was bailing them out of jail — painters, dancers, S.D.S.,” he says. “I’d bring them back to the apartment, and what do I do? I’d open champagne and eat smoked salmon. That was my revolution.”
Documentaries like these look inward, in a sense, but the fall also has an offering that looks about as outward as a camera can: “Death Dive to Saturn,” the opening episode of the new season of “Nova,” the PBS science program. It documents the final weeks of the Cassini-Huygens space mission, which launched an unmanned craft toward Saturn almost 20 years ago.
For its grand finale, the orbiter is being plunged into Saturn’s atmosphere in a dive that will destroy it. The program will chronicle the final weeks and follow the staff at NASA as the end of the mission nears. The final plunge is scheduled for Sept. 15. “NOVA” plans to cover it on social media and then update the program shown on Sept. 13 with the dramatic conclusion.
That’s just a sampling, of course. This fall you’ll also be able to find plenty of other good documentaries, about big subjects like global warming and smaller ones like immigrant carnival workers. Because sometimes understanding the world requires a wide lens, other times a close-up.