Docs of 2009

It would appear to be almost the end of the year and thus time for me to talk about the year’s documentary films. For those of you who read last years post on the subject, you may be pleased to know that Waltz with Bashir and Time and the City came to my local cinema and that I loved them both for very different reasons. Additionally I did manage to see screenings of another two documentaries over the last year, in the shape of a South-African film on astronomical traditions in different African cultures called Cosmic Africa and Rocking the Foundations which is an Australian film on the New South Wales building trade union joining up with community and environment groups to prevent the destruction of communities in 1960s and 70s Melbourne.

Unfortunately, although I’ve managed to see more documentaries in the cinema, I seem to have heard, if possible, even less about them than last year. This may be a tad pre-emptive as neither the Radio 4 or 5 Live film programme review of the year shows have yet run (yes, I’m aware that there may be an irony in favouring film review on radio over television, but bear in mind that I’m a sound designer who loves silent cinema) and they may remind me of a plethora of excellent documentaries that I never saw this year. At the moment all I can recall on the full-length documentary front is enthusiasm for Anvil and derision for Charles Dickens’ England. On the plus side, there does appear to have been a lot of enthusiasm and industry effort in the direction of short documentaries, with a variety of high profile short documentary competitions – mostly related to the recent Copenhagen Climate Talks. I even made a couple myself and helped to make a couple more.

I’ve discovered a couple of on-going documentary programmes, mainly through being on the Shooting People mailing list. First of all the 4docs project, which includes an open to the public competition (now closed, but you can watch the entries), a selection of 15 fascinating short documentaries of between 3 and 24 minutes long (I recommend the two Three Minute Wonders: Animated Minds and Pockets) and an informative and regularly updated blog that provides a lot of good information on documentary related news and competitions, alongside reports from various documentary film festivals. A more recent discovery has been the Media That Matters Film Festival, held every year in June in New York it seeks to celebrate short documentaries with important messages. Now in their ninth year, the latest selection can be viewed online at their website.

A couple that stood out for me were:

Knock, Knock, Who’s There

Vodpod videos no longer available.

A simple Public Service Announcement challenging the viewer about what they can do to help stop domestic abuse.

Bits and Pieces – A Short From Jordan

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Is an experimental piece told through the medium of traditional Jordanian mosaic artwork to present a aural collage of opinions and views from contemporary Jordanians, challenging the view of the Middle East as some homogenous mass.

The Secret Life of Paper

Vodpod videos no longer available.

A straight documentary piece this one, on the obscene amount of paper used and wasted in the USA. The story it tells is not a new one, one that I personally have heard dozens of times since I was a little kid watching Blue Peter, about the importance of recycling paper, not wasting paper and the difference buying recycled paper rather than paper made from virgin trees. However, the sheer size of the statistics they talk about is so daunting that clearly it is still a story that needs told.

The Next Wave

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Last but not least the story of the Carteret Islanders seeking a new home as their islands gradually disappear into the sea due to rising sea levels. The story of these people and their search, as one of the first groups of climate refugees is being expanded into a full-length film (Sun Come Up) and they’re currently trying to raise funds for post-production through DVD pre-sales.

On a side note, Sun Come Up is part-funded by Women Make Movies who, from the trailers on their youtube channel, seem to fund a lot of very interesting documentaries by women film-makers from all over the world.

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