What’s up doc?: This year’s documentaries we’re most excited to see
Admit it – like all of us, you glaze over slightly when the Academy is handing out awards to documentary filmmakers you probably haven’t heard of.
It’s a sad truth that documentaries don’t get enough love, but the right subject can still illicit a powerful response from an invested audience. If anything, a good documentary has an edge over fiction. A film that deals with true events can be more immediate and demand our investment more than your average blockbuster, and there have been some truly stunning examples in recent years.
Over in the UK we’re still obsessed with Louis Theroux (My Scientology Movie), but the untameable Michael Moore (Bowling for Columbine) continues to cause a stir with his political provocations, and, recently, Asif Kapadia has made a name for himself with his two stunning docs, Senna and Amy.
We’d also enthusiastically recommend two meditative films on race, I Am Not Your Negro and 13th, which definitely cemented the documentary format as making a recent resurgence in popularity. In fact, they’ve become so trendy, a foreign documentary has done the unheard thing and produced a sequel. The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence are an insane double bill, but watching them back-to-back is not for the faint-hearted.
But what’s on the slate for this year? We’ve taken a look at festival premieres and release schedules for upcoming docs so you know exactly what to keep your eye on.
King in the Wilderness
First up, here’s a doc you can watch right now if you’re itching in your seat for more chronicling of racial injustices and the civil rights movement. If David Oyelowo’s Selma was the definitive fictional portrayal of influential rights activist, Martin Luther King, King in the Wilderness could set out to become the definitive doc. Tracing King’s final years, the film sets to highlight previously ignored achievements in his last three years before his assassination.
I Am Evidence
I Am Evidence feels like the first of an inevitable stream of documentaries covering the pattern of sexual assault in the wake of last year’s fierce onslaught of allegations. This particular case looks at rape kits that remain untested and forgotten in police storage facilities, their value as evidence in sexual assault cases completely neglected. It should be seething, articulate and relevant and will hopefully inspire other filmmakers to tackle similar subjects. Keep ‘em coming.
It’s about time we took a critical look at the way trans men and women are treated in the US military. XY Chelsea focuses on Chelsea Manning, a trans woman sentenced to 35 years in an all-male prison for leaking secrets about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the closest thing the justice system has to a pop culture icon on the level of gangstas and superheroes, but her legacy still remains a mystery for some, despite being at the forefront for the rights of women in America. RBG aims to change this by launching her success further into the public eye and solidifying her as the legendary judge she truly is.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Sadly, it’s a little rare that a documentary comes along that, rather than staring you down with an uncomfortable truth or historic tragedy, just wants to make you smile. Surely, there’s no better subject for this endeavor than Mr Rogers, the nicest man on television. The host of Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood, Fred Rogers was the face of kids TV for over thirty years, and essentially invented the idea of educational shows for toddlers and pre-schoolers. Won’t You Be My Neighbor hopes to rekindle some of that same magic by charting his life and legacy.
One for fans of last year’s Faces Places. Like artist JR, Generation Wealth follows another photographer’s foray from the still image into motion pictures. Lauren Greenfield (The Queen of Versailles) has travelled the world with her camera, capturing a range of diverse locations and subjects, yet her work has never been able to avoid the vulgarity of wealth culture. Her new film points an accusing lens at capitalism and greed to explain how a doomed society has cultivated a culture of wealthy narcissists.
Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind
Definitely a weepy, and follows in the footsteps of I Am Heath Ledger as films that chronicle the lives of talented performers taken from the world too soon. Come Inside My Mind will let you do exactly that, as the film features intimate footage with Williams that has never been seen before.
Films about films are still all the rage, and nowhere is this more obvious than the documentary format, which has seen a recent slew of documentaries about the lives and works of filmmakers. David Lynch: The Art Life and De Palma have cast an eye over some more populist directors, but Hal gives some much needed attention to the underrated Hal Ashby. Known primarily for Harold and Maude, Ashby’s further work has largely been ignored within the scope of the American New Wave of the 1960s.
On Her Shoulders
An inspiring story of Nadia Murad, a young Yazidi woman who survived sexual slavery at the hands of ISIS. Although she became a strident voice for an oppressed people, the film tackles the problems that arise when an ordinary woman is forced into the international stage to attempt to represent an entire nation.
Crime + Punishment
Dramatized films about the exposing of government and industry secrets have proven incredibly popular, with both Spotlight and The Post earning considerable attention at the Oscars. Now it’s time for the documentary filmmakers to have their chance to dig deep and expose some dirt. Crime + Punishment recently caused a stir at Sundance, with a detailed expose on the corruption of the New York Police Department.
Minding the Gap
Skateboarding hasn’t really received its due diligence in the documentary world, other than some wicked tight demo reels from Tony Hawk (Lords of Dogtown) and the like. Bing Liu’s doc follows a group of skateboarders through their hometown of Rockford, Illinois, featuring insane tricks and terrifying stunts, but also touches on the developing friendships and the by-product of toxic masculinity.
Michael Moore’s new film is the most tentative entry in this list, as it’s not certain that the sequel to the highest grossing documentary of all time, Fahrenheit 9/11, is a dead cert for a 2018 release date. The Weinstein Company is insisting Moore repays the funding they provided before the company was fractured by the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, so the director is currently involved in an ongoing legal battle to regain control of the film. Let’s hope it ends in Moore’s favor, as we’re itching to see his scathing takes on the Donald Trump presidency.