An incredible number of excellent documentaries came out in 2017, so we've asked our Director of Documentary Programs, Jose Rodriguez to share his top 10.
No easy task, but here it goes...
10. The Force (dir. Peter Nicks) *Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund Grantee 2015*
Filmmaker Peter Nicks masterfully examined the complicated health care system in the U.S. with The Waiting Room, and his latest - The Force - tackles the festering wave of corruption within the Oakland Police Department. The access that Nicks secures within the OPD is remarkable, placing the viewer squarely in the middle of sometimes ethically-dubious scenarios - or making the viewer a part of volatile situations between the police force and the citizens that they are meant to protect and serve. The film crackles with energy, and shows the toxicity that can run rampant when it is not effectively addressed.
9. Machines (dir. Rahul Jain)
Immersive and stark, Rahul Jain's Machines dissects the hierarchical structure of a textile factory in Gujarat India, from the low-level workers to the executives that reap the benefits of the overwhelmingly grueling, almost 24/7 work. There's a simplicity to the storytelling that enables the viewer to acclimatize to this punishing environment - but in the process, the humanity of these workers ends up shining brightly. Jain delivers a character portrait that is mature, revealing and sobering.
8. Lots of Kids, A Monkey and a Castle (dir. Gustavo Salmeron)
Filmmaker Gustavo Salmeron, using personal home movies that he shot over 16 years ago, dissects the eccentricities of his Spanish family as they deal with financial setbacks while trying to sell off their family estate. The story ends up being humorously anchored by Gustavo's mother - the tough matriarch of the family - who has a big personality and an even bigger opinion about practically any topic. I have never laughed as much watching a documentary, as I did with this one.
7. Spettacolo (dir. Jeff Malmberg) *TFI Doc Fund Grantee 2012/2013, IWC Filmmaker Award Winner 2013*
The latest film from Jeff Malmberg (Marwencol) is an Italian neorealist story in the guise of a documentary. Malmberg drops us into a small town in Tuscany where the townspeople gather together every year to perform a play about their lives - from their traumatic circumstances during WWII to their current economic misfortunes. The townspeople aim to persevere and keep the tradition alive, but the younger generation in the town are hesitant to assume the mantle. Malmberg's fly-on-the-wall approach enriches our viewing experience, and makes us root for this Tuscan town’s success.
6. Dina (dir. Dan Sickles & Antonio Santini)
One of the most heartfelt stories I have seen in years, Dan Sickles' & Antonio Santini's DINA brings us into the lives of a romantic couple with autism and their courtship as they plan their wedding and go through all of the ups & downs that go hand-in-hand with a life of long-term commitment. The filmmakers cleverly avoid stereotypes throughout the story, and the observational nature of their filmmaking is visually rich and truly impressive. It's thoughtful and funny, with an undercurrent of pathos.
5. The Reagan Show (dir. Pacho Velez & Sierra Pettengill) *TAA 2015 Grantee*
Comprised entirely of material from President Ronald Reagan's White House archives, this incisive documentary showcases how a president used the media to sell a specific image of himself. Filmmakers Pacho Velez and Sierra Pettengill use razor-sharp wit in revealing the tactics that an administration implemented to present a specific kind of narrative to the American people.
4. Bobbi Jene (dir. Elvira Lind)
Filmmaker Elvira Lind presents a sensual and turbulent romance between a world-renowned American dancer and her younger Israeli dance instructor, as they struggle to keep their relationship alive while she fervently pursues her blossoming career and an intense solo performance. Documentaries are rarely sexy - but this one sure is an exception.
3. One Of Us (dir. Rachel Grady & Heidi Ewing)
Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing have done it again. After exploring controversial or tumultuous environments in Jesus Camp and Detropia, they bring us into a deeply private and closed-off Hassidic community in One Of Us, where we learn of several individuals' hardships as they undergo a life of their own outside of their constricted neighborhood. Intimate and powerful storytelling.
2. The Departure (dir. Lana Wilson) *TAA 2015 Grantee*
Filmmaker Lana Wilson immerses the viewer in a mature examination of depression and the afterlife via an enigmatic, soulful yet afflicted Buddhist priest who is trying to balance his home life with the fragile emotional state of the people he treats. Poignant at its most understated, with beautiful cinematography.
1. Quest (dir. Jonathan Olshefski)
With precision and patience, QUEST uncovers deep truths about contemporary America through an 8-year span of an African American family living in North Philadelphia. It is verite filmmaking at its finest, and a masterwork in documentary film editing.