The AmbassadorAnthony Macali
A journalist attains fakes diplomacy to infiltrate the Central African Republic and smuggle diamonds.
"The Ambassador" is a captivating documentary, daring to go where no one has gone before. The mission of the director is frankly quite mad, spending many thousands of dollars to sneak into the powerful (and political) circles of an African country rich in resources, and a history of rebellion and corruption. It's a journey of constant tension, and despite being confusing at times, remains a remarkable account, especially with the limited hidden footage and audio at hand. There are no rules.
The Art of FlightAndrew O'Dea
Two years in the making, this documentary gives iconic snowboarder Travis Rice and friends the opportunity to redefine what is possible in the mountains.
Quite simply the perfect balance between narrative and action, "The Art of Flight" contains some of the most spectacular live-action production values imaginable. The film's unbelievable camerawork is matched only by the grandeur of its cinematography. It enables the viewer to fully immerse themselves in the terrifying beauty of the mountains and the technical brilliance of the snowboarders that traverse them. Adventure is what you make it, so enjoy the ride!
The Greatest Movie Ever SoldAnthony Macali
A documentary about branding, advertising and product placement that is financed and made possible by brands, advertising and product placement.
The self-proclaimed "Greatest Movie Ever Sold" is far from it, though it does provide an interesting exposé into the unfamiliar advertising industry. The director/ documenter's lack of charisma is redeemed by his resourceful and determined displays, especially when forced to sell his idea to the advertising companies themselves with the aid of some amusing place cards. In the end, it's hard to tell if the financiers or film-makers come out on top, although as an audience, we're not 100% sold.
The Hollywood ComplexAnne Murphy
Spring heralds pilot season in Hollywood, and that means audition time as aspiring actors come to town with their Moms, desperately seeking that elusive call back from casting.
The scale of the 'wanna-be' industry is surprising, teeming with agents, drama-teachers and photographers, all fed by the sheer numbers of kids hoping to be discovered. While we can chuckle and scoff at the onscreen antics of the children and their parents, there is something very unsettling beneath the 'fun'. The opportunistic nature that all of the parties have in common suggests that many do not come away unscathed. Certainly no-one sings "Hooray for..."
The ImposterAnne Murphy
In 1994 a 13-year-old boy disappeared without a trace from San Antonio, Texas, three and a half years later he is found alive, in a village in southern Spain with a story of kidnap and torture.
Truth is often stranger than fiction as this jaw-dropping documentary proves. The story would be disconcerting as fiction, and it is cruel and heart-wrenching as the truth. There are as many twists and turns as in a suspense-thriller, and while watching the audience will have to remind themselves that no-one could possibly make up this improbable plot. The spoiler is in the title.
The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron SwartzAnne Murphy
The story of Aaron Schwartz, a programming prodigy and information activist, who was facing indictment under the very laws he was campaigning to change when he took his own life in 2013.
This is a must see documentary, be outraged, despair, and then promise to change the world in your own way. Who would guess that a story of technology and access to information could be so emotionally involving? If only we all had as much integrity around our ideals for a better society and the sharing of knowledge as this maligned but inspiring young man. All round brilliant.
The InterruptersAnne Murphy
The moving and surprising stories of three Violence Interrupters who try to protect their Chicago communities from the violence they once participated in.
This fly-on-wall style documentary was filmed over the course of a year. The camera lens is firmly fixed on the problem of street shootings and the community building interventions of the dedicated outreach group CeaseFire and their Violence Interrupters who confront the problem by talking directly with the kids in the war zone. Speaking of talking, it's helpful that some of the dialogue is subtitled, and there's no doubt about the authenticity of the content. Interrupting an epidemic.
The King of Kong: A Fistful of QuartersAnthony Macali
Diehard video game fans compete to break World Records on classic arcade games.
While the premise might not appeal to all, "The King of Kong" goes much further than exploring a simple video game; it's about competition at a world class level. It's arrogant Billy Mitchell, a messiah of the arcade world with many disciples - at his whim against Steve Wiebe, an innocent family man craving to be number one. It's this rivalry, unique characters and a welcome insight into the world of freaks and geeks that makes this a documentary of the highest level.
The LookAnne Murphy
A biographical study of legendary actress Charlotte Rampling.
It is interesting to imagine different actors starring in their own documentaries, and few would enchant and enthral like the central figure of "The Look". This documentary is produced in chapters, each a conversation with one of her collaborators. The result is as an intimate portrait of an enigmatic actor and a career that spans more than 40 years. Her intelligent musings about aging, love and death provide insight into a life lived on the big screen. This unconventional woman is worth a look.
The Queen of VersaillesAnne Murphy
Follows a billionaire couple as they begin construction on a mansion inspired by Versailles.
A riches-to-rags story unfolds as the economic downturn hits the US during the filming of this documentary. The business empire of one mogul and his trophy wife almost evapourates as the cameras roll. The director maintains a sympathetic eye making this compelling, if confronting, viewing. It must have been tempting to create more cynical expose, but the subjects are allowed some likeability. As it is "The Queen of Versailles" is a watchable, if somewhat appalling, peek into the American dream as it crumbles. Eating cake.
The Red ChapelAnthony Macali
Two Danish comics, one of them a spastic and both born in Korea, join the director on a trip to North Korea, where they have been allowed access under the pretext of wanting to perform an act.
"The Red Chapel" provides a rare glimpse into a hellish world. The hosts, who happen to police the crew on their visit, appear dutifully polite, but it becomes apparent their overstated hospitality is a mask of fearful obedience to the dictatorship. Our protagonists walk a fine line between injecting their comedy into the regime and heeding to the Great Leader, apprehensive in their attempts to salvage their show overtaken by propaganda. An eye-opening insight into a country of no humour.
The September IssueCourtney Slevison
A documentary chronicling Vogue Editor-in-chief Anna Wintour's preparations for the highly anticipated 2008 fall-fashion issue.
"The September Issue" is an engrossing look at the world of high fashion, with renowned ice queen Anna Wintour at its centre. As the issue begins to come together five months before its release, what makes this doco so entertaining is observing the inter-office bickering and Wintour's minions quivering under her inscrutable eye. Unexpectedly intriguing, this film is interesting viewing that anyone, despite their level of interest in fashion, can appreciate.
The Tall ManAnne Murphy
A documentary, set on Palm Island where on the day Cameron Doomadgee was arrested for swearing at a policeman and was found dead in a watch-house cell forty-five minutes later.
"The Tall Man" is a documentary that persuasively recreates a death in custody one statement at a time through interviews and first person accounts. As each witness account is carefully scrutinised, a grim and unsettling story emerges. Trials and inquests are revisited and accounts unravel. We may not be able to determine exactly what happened on that one night in 2004, but we can definitely draw our own conclusions. Short on truth.
The Topp Twins: Untouchable GirlsAnne Murphy
A profile of the world's only comedic, singing, dancing, lesbian twin sisters.
"Topp Twins" evokes the '100% Pure New Zealand' tourist campaign that showcases the pure hearts and honest lifestyles that are recognisably typical of our imaginings of life in nuclear-free New Zealand. This documentary chronicles the careers of two remarkable characters that are both subversively and overtly political, and the tone is musical and humorous. The movie is threaded with a cabaret performance, recent and archival footage cleverly edited to tell this down to earth, and at times quite moving, story. Topp viewing.
This Way of LifeAnne Murphy
A lionhearted father struggles valiantly to create a life of idyllic simplicity for his family.
The central character in this engrossing documentary tells us that he lives for a living and we learn that trying to lead a simple life is not so simple. Even so, the contentment revealed when idealistic parents speak from the heart touches a yearning for a different way of life. Creating interest are plenty of children and animals, not to mention the stormy New Zealand coastal setting, which is simply stunning. You mightn't choose this way of life, but don't let that stop you from watching it.
TT3D: Closer to the EdgeAnthony Macali
The Isle of Man Tourist Trophy is the greatest motorcycle road race in the world.
"TT3D" champions a truly unbelievable event, where riders risk their lives simply to win. The 3D may have been good in concept, but doesn't add a great deal to the buzz experienced when watching the terrifying speeds of the Tourist Trophy. At times it's almost sickening to watch, and the film thankfully shies away from some of the more confronting images in its long history of accidents. It allows us to explore the unrivalled passion of the participants and their remarkable attitude in the face of death. A race larger than life.
A mixture of original interviews and archival footage sheds light on the life of Mike Tyson.
This documentary is an extraordinary account of the life of Mike Tyson, told entirely by Tyson himself. No topic is off-limits, and Tyson had no say over what footage made the final cut. It is an astonishingly honest insight into a man often seen as simply a brute. He is surprisingly humble, astute, compassionate and endearingly unsophisticated. The boy from Brooklyn - child criminal, brilliant boxer, convicted rapist, recovering addict - hides nothing, takes responsibility for everything, and unexpectedly inspires admiration, empathy and emotion.
Valentine RoadAnne Murphy
On February 12, 2008, in Oxnard, California, eighth-grade student Brandon McInerney shot his classmate Larry King twice in the back of the head during class.
Hours after watching "Valentine Road" tears may very well still well up; this outstanding documentary is deeply affecting. The crime is horrifying, a fourteen year old boy murdered by his classmate. The director reveals layers of complexity as the surrounding influences are explored. Society needs to change, not just one little boy who draws swastikas, after all, no-one is born homophobic. Our hearts aren't yet big enough to allow others to be themselves, and it's heartbreaking.
A group of brave individuals risk their lives to save Virunga National Park in Congo.
"Virunga" is a vibrant national park full of life and, to much dismay, a place of death. This breathtaking parcel of land happens to fall on a large oil deposit, and the battle between preservation and money plays out extraordinarily on screen. It's a shocking juxtaposition that lets its characters share their messages, from the adorable keepers and their family of gorillas, to the faceless business men contracted to incite war. A fine example of fearless journalism and heartfelt conservation. Primeval.
Waste LandAnne Murphy
Contemporary artist Vik Muniz takes us on an emotional journey from the world's largest landfill on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro to an art auction in London.
Beauty is found by engaging with people who create livelihoods recycling garbage picked from a vast waste dump. In working with the artist, the director shows how truly awesome the human spirit is. They respect the subjects of the art project that is central to this documentary. The thoughtful approach and the time taken to encounter people through a lens of humanity, rather than stereotypes, is uplifting. A work of art.
We Have a PopeAnne Murphy
A story centered on the relationship between the newly elected Pope and his therapist.
The basis of the plot is intriguing and shows the potential human fragility of a man confronted with being elected into a daunting role. The story is potentially fascinating but a little underdeveloped. We don't get to know the characters sufficiently to empathise with any of them. Add to that the episodic character of some scenes which start unexpectedly and stop too suddenly to link coherently to the central thread of the story and the movie never quite realises it's potential. Do we have a Pope?
We Were HereAnne Murphy
A deep and reflective look at the arrival and impact of HIV/AIDS in San Francisco and how individuals rose to the occasion during the first years an unimaginable epidemic.
A profoundly moving documentary that revisits an extraordinary time in recent history for a close knit community. The use of personal recollections showcases the humanity in threaded through the stories of facing adversity. "We Were Here" is carefully edited, and never strays into over-sentimentality while exploring how individuals confronted difficult times without heroics but reliant on love, making it a powerful piece of film-making and compelling viewing. The past is present.
West of MemphisAnne Murphy
In 1993 three boys were murdered in West Memphis and three teenagers were convicted of the crime in an extraordinary failure of justice.
Holy snapping turtles, the story of attaining freedom for the men known as the 'West Memphis Three' makes a compelling documentary. The cause was picked up by so many people that this is regarded as the first case of crowd-sourced justice. The crime and the trial that followed are meticulously reviewed on the screen, stirring our values around fairness and integrity to a state of disbelief and outrage. Arkansas law enforcement stands accused of going west.
Yoga was brought to the west from India by a lineage of male teachers, now there's a generation of women who are leading the way and they're radically changing people's lives.
"Yogawoman" extols the benefits of the practice of yoga and it is a bit like watching a 90 minute infomercial as teacher after teacher talks about the improvements she has gained. The repetitive messages are not followed through with any in depth information about the foundations or philosophy of the art. Watching may confirm the beliefs of practitioners but it may struggle to engage others. Strike out a pose.
Young @ HeartAnthony Macali
A story of a group of senior citizens who perform contemporary and classic rock and pop songs.
Gimmicks are concepts to despise, and while such is the focus of this documentary, it is impossible to deny its warmth and charm. The elderly members of Young@Heart simply sing for passion and joy, as well as to keep brain cells working, all notions you must admire, irrelevant of your age. As frustrating as the early rehearsals might be, it's the final show we anticipate for the entirety, and it delivers on all accounts. Both a humorous and touching celebration, "Young@Heart " will renew your passions in life.