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Screen critics pick the best documentaries of 2016

Ten Screen International critics select the docs that wowed them this year.

Fionnuala Halligan, chief film critic

OJ: Made in America

OJ: Made In America
Dir
Ezra Edelman

This is documentary film-making par excellence. Edelman sets the OJ Simpson case in the roiling sea of racial politics at its combustive intersection with celebrity culture, telling this extraordinary story with care and unparalleled craft. Editing is monumental. Never less than compulsive viewing over its 476 minutes, this is ground-breaking work.

CONTACT ESPN jayjay.nesheim@espn.com

Read more:
‘Toni Erdmann’ tops Screen critics’ best films of 2016
Screen critics pick their hidden gems of 2016

Wendy Ide

Notes on Blindness

Notes On Blindness
Dirs
Peter Middleton, James Spinney

Middleton and Spinney’s creative approach to the subject of sight loss makes this documentary, constructed around the audio diaries of blind theologian John Hull, a genuinely visionary experience. Like its subject, the film is wise, profound and spiritual; Hull’s beautifully articulated insights into his condition are explored with persuasive dramatic recreations.

CONTACT Cinephil philippa@cinephil.com

Lisa Nesselson

Midnight Return: The Story Of Billy Hayes And Turkey

Midnight Return: The Story Of Billy Hayes And Turkey
Dir
Sally Sussman

A riveting case study of how a mere movie — in this case, Alan Parker’s Midnight Express —  can create long-lasting fallout. Splendid structure gives us crucial information in precisely the right order. Food for thought since the tag “Based on a True Story” is not going away any time soon.

CONTACT The Film Sales Company  contact@filmsalescorp.com

Jonathan Romney

Austerlitz
Dir
Sergei Loznitsa

The Maidan film-maker offers a contemplative study of crowds at the former concentration camp Sachsenhausen, a panorama of everyday humanity at rest and play that yields troubling insights into the culture of tourism and its ability to alienate us from the painful realities of history. 

CONTACT Imperativ Film info@loznitsa.com

Lee Marshall

Fire at Sea

Fire At Sea
Dir
Gianfranco Rosi

This year’s Berlin Golden Bear winner is a magnificently human and humane work about islands real and metaphorical. For most of us, the tragic Mediterranean migrant crisis is happening elsewhere. Not so for the inhabitants of the Italian island of Lampedusa; yet Rosi shows with masterful tact and poetry how insulation and empathy coexist even here.

CONTACT Doc&Film International sales@docandfilm.com

Allan Hunter

Notes On Blindness
Dirs
Peter Middleton, James Spinney

An immensely moving portrait of academic John Hull, who lost his sight in the 1980s. The documentary immerses you in his world and his philosophical approach to what was happening to him. Having actors lip-sync to Hull’s audio diaries creates an intimate, heartbreaking connection.

Sarah Ward

Cameraperson

Cameraperson
Dir
Kirsten Johnson

Crafting her cine-memoir from unused footage compiled across her cinematography career, Johnson demonstrates that what doesn’t initially make the cut is often more enlightening than what does. Cameraperson blends personal reflection with a portrait of observational documentary film-making in practice, one striking image and revealing interview at a time.

CONTACT Cat & Docs cat@catndocs.com

Charles Gant

Tickled

Tickled
Dirs
David Farrier, Dylan Reeve

New Zealand TV journalist Farrier’s exploration into the world of competitive tickling builds into a gripping game of cat and mouse, as the film-maker closes in on the evidently damaged individual behind this alleged sport. As the rich, and thus powerful, string-puller hits him with a flurry of legal threats, Tickled offers a neat skewering of our post-truth times.

CONTACT MPI Media nicola@mpimedia.com

Dan Fainaru

A Journey Through French Cinema

A Journey Through French Cinema
Dir
Bertrand Tavernier

Tavernier’s affection for the cinema of his country resonates in this 190-minute voyage through acknowledged classics and forgotten masterpieces. Less like a lesson, more like a guided tour, and always keeping in mind that behind every director there are actors, musicians and set designers who should never be ignored.

CONTACT Pathe Distribution aurelien.icovic@pathe.com

Tim Grierson, Senior US critic

OJ: Made In America
Dir
Ezra Edelman

Recasting the life of football superstar OJ Simpson as a gripping catalogue of American obsessions (celebrity, sports, scandal), Edelman explores the country’s fraught racial and sexual politics. Spanning eight hours, the film sketches a fall from grace that’s nearly Shakespearean in its grandeur.

Read more:
Charles Gant’s best films of 2016
Tim Grierson’s best films of 2016

 

 

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