Once considered by many as either high art, propaganda or educational videos, documentary film has developed into a popular and visible form of entertainment, sometimes breaking into the mainstream, and often having a greater effect on society. Every year it seems more and more docs are produced and thus not even our hard working staff can manage to get around to watching them all. But we try our best, and so every year we publish a list of the docs that received high praise from our team. This year, the films appearing range from poetic, semi-expository, strictly observational, participatory, reflexive and even groundbreaking. Here are the 20 best documentaries of 2012, list in alphabetical order, with one special mention. Enjoy!
5 Broken Cameras
Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi
5 Broken Cameras is a cinematic achievement, a homemade movie and an extraordinary work of political activism. Co-directed by Palestinian Emad Burnat and Israeli Guy Davidi, the film is a first-hand account of non-violent resistance in Bil’in, a West Bank village threatened by encroaching Israeli settlements. It follows one family’s evolution over five years of turmoil, and was shot almost entirely by the Palestinian farmer Burnat, who later gave the footage to Davidi to edit into a feature. 5 Broken Cameras presents a case of injustice on a massive scale and is a touching and telling piece of filmmaking. Regardless if it is one-sided, the film works as a fine example of how the camera has the power to become a weapon against oppression. As a result, the film works as a powerful personal testimony and direct experience of what it’s like to be on the receiving end of oppression. 5 Broken Cameras is a tough watch, but when the credits roll, the message felt is one of optimism.[/quote]
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
Directed by Alison Klayman
The Act of Killing
Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer
Directed by Denis Côté
At a mere 72 minute runtime and shot on a high-end HD camera this is probably one of Côté’s most accessible films. The tableau he paints leaves a lot of room for interpretation, the way he portrays the interaction between people and animals, between animals and their environment is sure to spurn discussion. We observe the beasts and they observe us; we delve into their world and they, as Werner Herzog might put it, stare into our souls… (read the full review)[/quote]
Between Two Rivers
Directed by Jacob Cartwright and Nick Jordan
Directed by Lee Hirsch
Camp 14 – Total Control Zone
Directed by Marc Wiese
The Central Park Five
Directed by Ken Burns and Sarah Burns
The Central Park Jogger case involved the assault and rape of Trisha Meili, a female jogger in New York City’s Central Park, on April 19, 1989. Five juvenile males—four black and one Hispanic—were unjustly tried and convicted for the crime. Thirteen years later, they were set free when a convicted rapist and murderer serving a life sentence confessed to committing the crime they were accused of.
Now, ten years after their release, co-directors Ken Burns, his daughter Sarah Burns, and her husband David McMahon allow the accused to finally tell their stories. Central Park Five is a movie about justice violated and denied. This is a gripping investigative documentary that meticulously re-creates what happened on that night and details how it all went so terribly wrong.
Directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady
From the directors of the Oscar nominated Jesus Camp comes Detropia, a film about the deconstruction of a great American city, the collapse of the economy and the fading American dream. Detropia is poetically shot, juxtaposing beautiful images against urban decay. Filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady desperately try to find signs of life as their cameras prowl the empty streets of Detroit Michigan, a city that overall resembles a post-apocalyptic nightmare. But putting aside the fine filmmaking, it is the men and women interviewed who bring the film to life. Detropia is a cautionary tell to the rest of the country and a warning that this is what the future may look like across the map. This surprisingly lyrical, sometimes horrifying and incredibly moving film is among the year’s best.[/quote]
Directed by Arnon Goldfinger
How to Survive a Plague
Directed by David France
[quote by=”Ricky D”]
How to Survive a Plague is a compelling look at LGBT protesters during the AIDS crisis in the 80’s and 90’s. The story follows two coalitions, ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group), whose activism and research turned AIDS from a death sentence into a liveable condition. Plague isn’t about the history of the disease, instead about the history of a movement. Despite having no scientific training, these self-made activists provided a template of how grassroots activism can temper societal and governmental prejudice. In challenging the pharmaceutical industry, these men and women helped discover promising new drugs, while fighting to move them from experimental trials and directly to patients in record time. First time filmmaker David France transports viewers right in the moment of the height of the crisis by using everything in his reach: interviews, broadcasts, news reports, home videos and more. When it’s over, this documentary lingers as a testament of extraordinary determination and the will to survive. How To Survive A Plague is impressionistic in its scope, extremely moving, astonishing, important and downright inspiring.
[/quote] [button align="right" color="red" caption="NEXT / PART 2" link="http://popoptiq.wpengine.com/best-documentaries-of-2012-part-two/"]