The Documentary Edge Festival returns to Auckland this month with their 2013 programme, which boasts an extraordinary selection of international documentaries on a diverse range of subjects. Opening with a climate change wake-up call (The Island President) and closing with a rock’n’roll celebration (Muscle Shoals), the line-up promises something for everyone — be it politics (The World According to Dick Cheney), studies of America’s failing infrastructure (Detropia, The Waiting Room), the environment (Trashed), portraits of youth (Only the Young, Brooklyn Castle), or sporting profiles (China Heavyweight) — not to mention two acclaimed Oscar-nominated features (The Invisible War, How to Survive a Plague), a pair of Oscar-winning shorts (Inocente, Saving Face), and a rare world premiere (Tales from the Organ Trade). You can check out my top ten picks of the programme below, and be sure to lookout for reviews and giveaways throughout the festival.
For more information, including screening times and ticketing details, visit the Documentary Edge website.
1. HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE
The crowd-pleasing Searching For Sugar Man took out the Academy Award for Best Documentary this year, but many critics convincingly argued that David France’s How to Survive a Plague was a far more deserving contender. This moving story follows two New York City coalitions in the 1980s whose activism and innovation turned AIDS from a death sentence into a manageable condition. Heralded as “one of the most important documentaries in years or decades” (Andrew O’Hehir, Salon), France’s film utilises never-before-seen archival footage and present-day interviews to tell an inspirational story of, in the filmmaker’s own words, “disenfranchised outsiders faced with a terrible challenge who find a way to surmount the insurmountable”.
Watch the trailer for How to Survive a Plague below.
2. THE INVISIBLE WAR
Director Kirby Dick has earned himself a reputation as one of America’s foremost documentary muckrakers in the past decade, fearlessly investigating abuse in the catholic church (Twist of Faith), the MPAA’s rating system (This Film is Not Yet Rated), and closeted politicians who promote anti-gay legislation (Outrage). In the Oscar-nominated The Invisible War, Kirby turns his attention to the United States military’s shocking rape culture and exposes their shameful history of systemic cover-ups. This is the rare documentary that not only breaks an important story, but also inspires real change — U.S. military officials have recently begun screening it to raise sexual assault awareness — which is a remarkable achievement.
Watch the trailer for The Invisible War below.
3. THE ISLAND PRESIDENT
After bringing democracy to the Maldives following 30 years of dictatorship, President Mohamed Nasheed faced an even greater problem: the imminent threat of global warming. A mere three-foot rise in sea level would be enough to submerge much of the low-lying islands his people inhabit, so the charismatic Nasheed set about trying to convince the developing world that this also concerns them, culminating in his trip to the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit. Accompanied by a Radiohead score, The Island President looks to be a classic David and Goliath tale as well as an urgent wake-up call to those still dragging their feet over climate change.
Watch the trailer for The Island President below.
Watch former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed discuss climate change and his country’s future on The Daily Show in an enlightening two-part interview below.
4. BROOKLYN CASTLE
Brooklyn Castle tells the remarkable and improbable story of a Williamsburg public school where the cool kids are the chess team — and the highest ranked junior high team in the nation to boot. Kate Dellamaggiore’s documentary follows five poverty-stricken but passionate students who each have their own reasons for representing the school, and this promises to be an inspiring and uplifting journey.
Watch the trailer for Brooklyn Castle below.
Watch director Katie Dellamaggiore and star Pobo Efekoro discuss Brooklyn Castle on The Daily Show below.
5. THE WAITING ROOM
The dire state of America’s health care is hardly news at this point — from Michael Moore’s 2007 film Sicko to the never-ending ObamaCare debates, it has been well-documented — but The Waiting Room offers a much more intimate, behind-the-scenes look at the issue from the perspective of one struggling Californian public hospital. Director Peter Nicks — using a blend of cinéma vérité and characters’ voiceovers — follows the stories of several patients, and the ER staff who care for them, over the course of 24 hours as they attempt to cope with the complex public health system.
Watch the trailer for The Waiting Room below.
The latest documentary from Oscar-nominated Jesus Camp filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady is Detropia, a fascinating portrait of the once great city of Detroit. Perhaps no other city was harder hit by the recession, and this once iconic manufacturing haven has now lost 25% of its population and is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. Artfully observing the death of the American dream, the film looks beautifully-shot and hauntingly-scored, and it seems to offer a troubling post-apocalyptic vision for the rest of America should the status quo remain unchanged.
Watch the trailer for Detropia below.
7. ONLY THE YOUNG
First-time filmmakers Elizabeth Mims and Jason Tippet set out to capture a snapshot of adolescence with Only the Young, which follows the lives of three teenagers in a small Southern California desert town. The bored kids kill time by skating and exploring the foreclosed homes, as well as the opposite sex, over the course of one summer. Described as “an important document of life in today’s downscaling America” (Variety), the film looks to be an evocative and refreshingly unique coming-of-age story.
Watch the trailer for Only the Young below.
Revered actor Jeremy Irons fronts this urgent look into our trash crisis, travelling the globe to witness and discuss the devastating effects of rubbish and pollution on our environment. Scored by Vangelis and featuring prominent scientists and politicians, Trashed strives to be the next An Inconvenient Truth, and this key issue surely deserves the same level of attention and awareness.
Watch the trailer for Trashed below.
9. MUSCLE SHOALS
Fresh from its recent Sundance premiere and SXSW showcase, Muscle Shoals will provide fans of enlightening music documentaries such as Standing in the Shadows of Motown with some toe-tapping entertainment. Focussing on the titular small town located in northwest Alabama, the film reveals how a group of talented locals came together and ended up recording such iconic hits as ‘Mustang Sally’, ‘When a Man Loves a Woman’ and ‘Wild Horses’. Featuring such rock’n’roll and soul dignitaries as Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Gregg Allman, Etta James, Clarence Carter, Percy Sledge, Steve Winwood and Jimmy Cliff, this is a must-see for serious music lovers.
Watch the trailer for Muscle Shoals below.
Watch a clip below of the Rolling Stones’ classic ‘Wild Horses’, recorded at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama, 1969.
10. TALES FROM THE ORGAN TRADE
New Zealand audiences will be among the very first in the world to see the Canadian documentary Tales From the Organ Trade, which promises a look into the underground world of trafficking human body parts. In a darkly appropriate move, this disturbing subject will be narrated by legendary body horror director David Cronenberg (Videodrome, The Fly).
Watch the trailer for Tales From the Organ Trade below.