Documentaries give us the chance to see the world through the eyes of another. In many ways they are the next best thing to travelling.
These are some of my favorites.
War Don Don (2010)
Set in the aftermath of the civil war in Sierra Leone, this was the film that first drew my interest to journalism. Following the war crimes trial of Issa Sesay, War Don Don paints a picture colored by poverty, violence and the ambiguity of truth. Sesay was an interim commander of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), a faction in the 11-year civil war accused of (among other things) enslavement, mass murder and sexual violence.
The first half focuses on his prosecution, the second covers his defense. This simple structure shows no bias for either side, and reveals one complicated truth: that even the most morally stark tales are woven by two sides of the same story.
I can think of no better film to accompany the long-awaited end of winter than this a bizarre piece from 1920’s Swedish Cinema. While I would struggle to call it a documentary by contemporary standards, this film nonetheless provides an informative overview of folk witchcraft beliefs from the medieval period.
Because of the era in which this film was made, there is no audio dialogue, using flash cards for narration instead. I must admit, the Swedish text couldn’t help but make me think of the opening credits of Monty Pythons Holy Grail (a m∅∅se once bit my sister), but that is where most of the lighthearted humour ends.
Done through a series of re-enactments, this film really shines through it’s mind-bending sets and bizarre costumes. Many of the actors cast as priests play the devils as well (possibly having blown the budget on paper-mâché tombstones and demon phalluses) but this fact nonetheless serves as a nice little piece of accidental social commentary.
In the end, that’s really what this film is: a piece of social commentary. By the 2nd half it becomes clear that the message about the horror of this period wasn’t necessarily about the fear of witches, but rather what the fear of witches drove human beings to do. Namely, to torture and execute lonely old women with dementia and other scary, degenerative illnesses.
You may want to call your Grandma after this one.
What can I say about a film with no dialogue? Well for starters, that in my opinion this may be one of the most important films ever made. Part 3 of the non-narrative, cinematography based series by Ron Fricke, Samsara is a breathtaking showcase of life on our planet, and I can think of no other film that says so much with so little.
Using time-lapse footage from supermarkets, slaughterhouses, cityscapes and ancient ruins, Samsara is a looking glass outside of history, and carries with it a deep sense of wonder, curiosity and profound sadness over the loss of our world.
This film deals examines the secretive online world of professional “tickle-fighting”. Sound like a lighthearted good time? Think again. This is a seriously bizarre examination of unfettered power, gang-stalking and dark money.
Centering on one journalists effort to investigate the curious “sport”, it quickly unravels into a ‘Catfish’ on steroids. If you’ve ever wondered what happens when a sociopathic millionaire collides with an extreme power-fetish, helped by the anonymity of the internet – (granted, you probably weren’t…) then look no further. Conspiracy theorists need apply, this is one of the most weirdest movies I’ve seen in years.
Winter On Fire (2015)
I briefly mentioned it in Episode 1 of Elsewhere, but this film absolutely demands further examination. Winter on Fire follows the story the 2014 ‘Euromaidan’ revolution in Ukraine. Started during a simple student protest, it quickly exploded into a nationwide revolution which played out as one of the most violent and filmed incidents in the 21st century.
The result is powerful, modern, and deeply human. Winter On Fire is a much watch for anyone with a heart to be inspired.
Bitter Lake (2015)
From renowned director Adam Curtis, “Bitter Lake” does the dirty, necessary work of examining the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia.
Detailing the twin rise of American imperialism and Saudi Whabbaism (the deeply conservative interpretation of Islam followed by ISIS and Al Qaeda), Bitter Lake paints a damning, realistic vision of how oil has funded terrorism since the 80’s, and led to the rise of some of the wealthiest, and most immoral empire(s) the world has ever seen.