Best Documentaries of 2019 | Bertha DcHouse Cinema

BEST DOCUMENTARIES OF 2019: DOCHOUSE TEAM PICKS

Wednesday 11 December, 2019

We can't believe this year of great new docs is coming to an end already. Bertha DocHouse Team has picked the best documentaries of 2019 and their favourites. We hope you have enjoyed them as much as we did, here's to the next decade of documentaries.

 

A photo of the Bertha DocHouse team standing in the videotheque.

 

Elizabeth’s Picks

Director

It’s been a brilliant year for documentaries at DocHouse and hard to choose only a few, so I’ve selected four great docs where I felt the form of each film most perfectly expressed their subject.

For Sama 

Once in a while a documentary like this comes along to remind us of the sheer power of documentary making.

Shot by Syrian video-journalist, Waad al-Kateab in war-torn Aleppo and made entirely from her raw footage, the film is uninterrupted by any commentary or ‘talking heads’. It is framed around an intimate voice ‘letter’ to her daughter and completely immerses you in their world during the Assad Regime’s relentless bombardment.

The result is a profound film about the endurance and suffering of the Syrian people, made perhaps more emotionally powerful by being from a woman’s point of view. A masterpiece from Waad, her family, and the team who made this film.

Showing as part of our "Best of 2019" series.

 

 
Earth

A work of cool outrage from Nikolaus Geyrhalter made in his distinctive style. At once aesthetically impressive and deeply disturbing. The film is elegantly shot and structured in set tableaux, exposing the global scale of massive earth-moving projects that are destroying the earth’s eco-system.  The result is a wake-up call, confronting us with the impact on the planet’s geology made by vast mining and construction works in the search of ruthless profit.

Reason (Vivek)

I was proud to co-host this major work by Anand Patwardhan. At 4-hours long and structured in eight historic chapters, it required scheduling flexibility which we are pleased to be able to do at DocHouse.

It’s an astonishing work of dedication and, in my opinion, one of the most important documentaries to come from India recently. Patwardhan fearlessly examines the rise of the far right in India as it slides from secular democracy towards autocratic power, via caste and religion. The film has a global resonance for all democracies.

Los Reyes (The Kings)

This is a gloriously unconventional doc about two stray dogs living in the oldest skate park in Santiago, Chile. It is almost unbelievable that two feral dogs could hold the narrative of a feature length film with virtually no humans to speak of, but it succeeds brilliantly.

The outstanding camerawork and patience of the filmmakers pulls you into the dog’s world. Without any sentimentality you just laugh, hurt, cry and empathise. Los Reyes is a visual poem for all ‘underdogs’. A delightful allegorical tale for humans! 

 

Still from documentary Los Reyes.

 

Sean’s Picks

Tech Coordinator

Hale County This Morning, This Evening

RaMell Ross's film really is the kind of filmmaking I love. An anti-narrative doc, sweeping up lots of different themes - from the passage of time to the boredom and idleness of neglected people and places in Alabama's Black Belt.

Minding the Gap

This intergenerational psychological trauma had me gripped, as it explored through intimate first-hand accounts of three American skaters and nothing to do with boarding the tube.

Showing as part of our "Best of 2019" series.

 

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On the Inside of a Military Dictatorship

The exceptional access of this documentary to its contributors made it a powerful and complex insight into it's subject matter, and made you feel a lot more informed on the turbulent history of Myanmar's politics.

Honeyland

The business of keeping bees in the rural mountains of Macedonia proved to be a truly compelling allegorical narrative, highlighting the fragility of local ecosystems and the community that they support... or rather the divide between those two things.

Showing as part of our "Best of 2019" series.

 

A still from the documentary Honeyland.

 

Tom’s Picks

Marketing Manager

Apollo 11

Probably the only doc I could actually describe as an ‘out of this world’ experience, and that almost seem like a legitimate description. Seeing such a monumental moment of history close up like that was truly a great experience, that I wish I could go back and have it again from scratch.

Showing as part of our "Best of 2019" series.

 

 
For Sama 

The kind of documentary that makes such a lasting emotional impression, you almost feel saddened to let the moments it shared with you ever wear off. Such an important documentary to put the spotlight back on the things that Syrian civilians have experienced, and how sad it was/is to see their dreams smashed so brutally. The only doc I would be okay with seeing beat Apollo 11 for the Best Documentary Oscar.

Gaza 

One of those really great moments where a good cause, genuinely independent filmmaking and really exemplary artistic talent all converge. This documentary felt so important to give a platform to Palestinian civilians and was done with such an impressive lack of rancour that you could almost imagine seeing the roots of change whilst watching it.

Showing as part of our "Best of 2019" series.

 

An image from the documentary Gaza.

 
Last Stop Coney Island

Just such an inspiring and uplifting creative story, and such an incredible talent that I had no idea existed until I watched this doc. Another great example when independent filmmaking passion clearly converts into a very uplifting, heartfelt doc.

John McEnroe: The Realm of Perfection

I really loved the studiously French eccentricity of this doc. Such an amusing, and bizarre cross over between tennis and auteur filmmaking.

 

 

Jenny’s Picks

Associate Programmer

Irene's Ghost

This brave and beautiful personal exploration of hushed-up trauma in the director's early childhood utterly floored me. Perfectly paced and crafted, with some exquisitely used animation; the sense of this film hit me deeply and it has stayed with me ever since.

Blue Note Records

A schooling in the seminal be-bop jazz label, this film transcends its music doc structure with a sense of pure class. The pairing of Francis Wolff's black and white photography of the jazz greats accompanied by a soundtrack of their original recordings is an absolute joy. I suspect it should be consumed with some kind of stiff drink. 

 

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For Sama

In a sea of headlines, statistics, news fatigue and bias, For Sama conveys the lived experience of this Syrian family with such immediacy - in all its complex humanity - it's impossible not to feel their hopes and fears emphatically alongside them. Brilliant, devastating filmmaking - I can still feel it in my stomach. 

 

Nora’s picks

Marketing Assistant

Varda by Agnès

I had the pleasure to watch the Queen of French Cinema’s last film as my first on-duty documentary as part of the DocHouse team this summer. With a sentimental touch, it felt like a wise aunt telling you everything you have to know on your way into docs. Sit back with a cup of tea and just listen.

Showing as part of our "Best of 2019" series.

 

Poster image for documentary Varda by Agnes.

 
Seahorse

Transgender-man Freddie giving birth to his baby son definitely stirred up mixed opinions. However, his pragmatic approach, makes you wonder why you questioned his decision in the first place.

Being a part of such an intimate journey, makes you forget you are a part of a cinema audience and want to support Freddie on his way into the delivery room. This film teaches acceptance and provides an important educational aspect into a complex topic, which should be simple.

On The President’s Orders

The kind of documentary that brutally reminds us of how quickly political situations can change -  and that we should take care of our democracies. The thriller-styled documentary investigates the drug war of Philippine’s President Duterte and leaves you with goosebumps – the bad kind. 

 

A still from the documentary On the President's Orders.

 

Carol's Picks

Associate Programmer

Island of the Hungry Ghosts

This is a beautifully evocative, multilayered exploration of a place: Australia’s Christmas Island, which warehouses refugees for indeterminate lengths of time, in brutal conditions. Filmmaker Gabrielle Brady’s close friend from university is a trauma counsellor for the refugees - together they shine a compassionate light on the plight of the island’s disempowered inmates. 

 

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Children of the Snow Land

Many of the poorest children in the Himalayas are sent from their remote mountain homes to school in Kathmandu at a very young age. Zara Balfour and Marcus Stephenson’s multi-award winning film follows three teenagers as they make the arduous journey back to visit their families for the first time in twelve years. Stunning to look at with a powerful story at its heart, this is a cinematic treat. 

On the Inside of a Military Dictatorship

Jaw-dropping access lies at the heart of Karen Stokkendal Poulsen’s incisive and gripping dissection of Myanmar’s disastrous transition to democracy. Not only did she interview an enigmatic Aung Sun Suu Kyi, but a series of military leaders frankly detail how they went about opening up the country without ultimately losing control.

 

 

Best Documentaries 2019