“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” is a famous quote from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities that refers to the social climate of 18th century Paris and London. It’s a quote that can also be easily applied to today’s world.

While there seems to be no end in sight for mankind’s obsession with war and destruction on Earth, there are also many extraordinary individuals dedicated to making the world a better place. This year’s fine crop of documentary films offers a vivid reflection of this juxtaposition within humanity, drawing our attention to some of the most urgent social issues and inspiring people. From the crises in Syria to the work of activists like Jane Goodall, the subjects covered by this year’s non-fiction filmmakers were diverse and unforgettable. They prove that the medium is as important and impactful as ever.

With an increasing number of documentaries being produced each year, it’s almost impossible to watch all the films worthy of consideration. But based on my own efforts, here are my recommendations for 2017’s best in non-fiction film.