Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer
The companion piece to Joshua Oppenheimer’s last documentary The Act of Killing, Silence is yet another piece of brave, harrowing filmmaking that not only manages to be engaging, but ultimately finds itself in the elusive category of being a real document of human history. It’s a difficult film to stomach, but necessary viewing to perhaps understand the world a bit more, to see the effects of fear, hate, authority and rejection of responsibility that led to a genocide of more than a million civilians in Indonesia. No one sees themselves as an evil person, as the film argues, but anyone can assert that same evil onto their neighbours. Can we forgive those that have committed atrocities, that have murdered, and tortured, under the pretence that they were simply following orders, not knowing any better? Can we forgive ourselves for continuing our lives, not doing anything about it? Can we really resolve ourselves of guilt, and if so, at what cost? This is not simply a film about evil, but a film about being human. It’s a part of all of us, and it’s only up to us to be able to open our eyes and face up to our actions past, present and future.
Directed by Crystal Moselle
Almost certain to find a residual place in film culture history, The Wolfpack examines the result of a life lived indoors, with the only window out being that of a movie screen. A twisted Plato’s cave of sorts, we see the unsettling effects of a sheltered world, with the escapism of cinema taken quite literally. As a directorial effort, the sound design works well to emphasise the discordant nature of the subjects’ situation, but to a degree, I feel as though we’re always kept distanced from the family of subjects, as opposed to understanding them a bit more by the end, thus our characters still remain portrayed as not much more than “subjects”, like a special feature on The Discovery Channel. The Wolfpack ultimately has a devastatingly interesting story to tell, but to maintain an air of mystery and voyeurism, we’re forced to stay stagnant, trapped inside the first act.
Directed by Ethan Hawke
Peering into the life of Seymour Bernstein, an extraordinarily talented New York concert pianist, Seymour: An Introduction serves as a honorary tribute to a man that decided to carve his own path. Citing extreme anxiety, Bernstein embraced his reclusive nature despite his talents, holing up in a small New York apartment to become a piano teacher. Instead of the typical rags-to-riches or mental downfall stories which are synonymous with these kinds of documentaries, we are instead treated to a story of a man that made absolutely sure that he could continue doing what he loved, who places his love for music above fame and above money. You may not be enthralled to see someone who has simply found happiness in their life, but by god is it refreshing.
Directed by Asif Kapadia
Easily the most heartbreaking cinema-going experience of the year, Amy is a film made with a masterfully delicate touch, using exclusively archival footage and voiceover to transcendent effect. By the end of the film’s running time, I felt absolutely devastated by her story, simultaneously enraged, guilty and helpless by the tragic, true events that unfolded on screen. Amy doesn’t overdramatise Amy Winehouse’s death, but pays tribute to an artist, succumbing to the pressures of her relationships and the people around her. A beautifully rendered story about the destructive need for love, and a clear-eyed indictment on the way we treat others.
Directed by Steve James
Roger Ebert is easily one of the most celebrated people in cinema’s history. He was responsible in helping launch the careers of so many unspoken filmmakers, his praises tasting sweeter than the elixir of life; his negative comments hurting more than a pitchfork in the eye. This documentary, directed by Steve James, shows the man behind the computer: behind the television. And it shows that just like everyone, he wasn’t perfect. But for one reason or another, it was film that gave him a reason to live. The documentary never tried to be flashy, dramatic or really set itself apart stylistically – but it did what James does so well: tell the truth.
Directed by Tom Berninger
Now, I might be incredibly biased because The National is one of my favourite bands. That said, this is still a wonderfully made documentary and a very interesting insight into sibling relationships, expectations, identity and responsibility. It’s a reminder that good art can, at its core, be simple as well.