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Docs to watch: Creativity in confinement

Sunday 29 March, 2020

The range of entries to our competition A Creative Response to Self-Isolation has got us thinking about the way that different filmmakers have created work in confinement, whether self-imposed or under duress. Like so often in life, restriction can lead to new channels of creativity opening up, and a greater need than ever for self-expression.

It can be an act of defiance, a means of bearing witness, a form of self-therapy, and for some, it's the act of creating that keeps them going.

So, we hope this selection of recommended docs to watch online will give you ideas for your own creativity, whether you're entering our competition or not, as well as keep you utterly hooked and entertained.


THIS IS NOT A FILM Jafar Panahi & Mojtaba Mirtahmasb / 2011 / Iran / 76 mins

Provocative Cannes/Venice/Berlin-winning Iranian director Jafar Panahi spent 2010 being arrested, released, arrested again and finally sentenced to six years in jail and given a twenty year ban on filmmaking.

While under house arrest awaiting his appeal, he asks his friend and fellow filmmaker Mojtaba Mirtahmasb to film him reading aloud a screenplay he has written – this, he contends, is not the same as him making a film. Marking out his set in masking tape on the rug, Panahi tries to read his film, but eventually throws in the towel, deeply frustated with the futile project.

Of course there is more at stake here than an abandoned film project. Panahi's lawyers are telling him the only way to overturn his sentence would be some "very strong pressure" on the courts, and this is the message he was sending to the international film community when he smuggled This Is Not A Film to Cannes on a USB hidden inside a cake.

The film remains a gorgeously rich, moving work that is a warning flag of what will be lost if filmmakers like Panahi are silenced.

You can watch This Is Not A Film on Amazon Prime and Kanopy.


THE WOLFPACK Crystal Moselle / 2015 / USA / 80 mins

Meet the Angulo brothers. The six boys have spent their entire lives locked away from society in a run-down apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, home-schooled by their mother, under the watchful eye of their strict father.

Their only way to learn about the outside world is through the movies that they watch obsessively, while their wealth of creativity and energy is used faithfully re-enacting their favourite films with elaborate homemade props and costumes.

Startling and utterly compelling, The Wolfpack is an intimate study of life within the Angulo home, getting to know the boys on the cusp of the moment that the power balance in the household begins to shift and the outside world beckons.

You can watch The Wolfpack on Youtube, Google Play and Amazon Prime.


Arirang Kim Ki-Duk / 2011 / South Korea / 100 mins

Following an almost fatal incident on the set of his previous film, Dream, which left his lead actress hanging from a noose during a suicide scene, controversial Korean director Kim Ki-Duk suffered a breakdown. Three years later, he retreats to his remote cabin to re-live that experience, turning the camera on himself in a form of filmic self-therapy. 

He mulls on anecdotes from his 15 year career, considers mortality in the wake of Dreams, and sings over and over the Korean folksong which gives the film its name. 

Possibly a cathartic experience for Kim, Arirang is a surreal meditation on creativity, which Peter Bradshaw described as "the most extravagantly self-indulgent piece of pure loopiness imaginable" - yet also gave joint top prize to in the Un Certain Regard section of Cannes 2011.

You can watch Arirang on youtube here.


FIVE BROKEN CAMERAS Emad Burnat & Guy Davidi / 2011 / Netherlands, Israel, France, Palestine / 90 mins

We're widening the size of the confined area with this one, but the restrictions for Palestinians in the West Bank are felt no less keenly.

The story of a Palestinian village's resistance to encroaching Israeli settlements is brought to life through the footage from Emad Burnat's five bullet-ridden and broken cameras.

As he and his friends protest against the barrier being built across their land, bullets and grenades rain down, but despite daily arrests and night raids, the villagers will not back down. Without a voice, in the midst of a David-and-Goliath struggle, Emad's camera becomes a solace and a weapon, even as his wife, fearing for his life, pleads with him to stop filming.

An extraordinary work of both cinematic and political activism that won multiple awards.

You can watch Five Broken Cameras on the BFI Player, Amazon Prime and Kanopy.

Watch the DocHouse Q&A with Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi from 2012 here.


HOLIDAY IN MY BEDROOM Jamie Jay Johnson / 2003 / UK / 24 mins

Ending on a lighter note... A miniature Jamie Jay Johnson sees his world from a new perspective as he shrinks to 2 inches and takes a holiday in his bedroom - sight-seeing, exploring the terrain and hanging out with the locals.

You can watch Holiday in my Bedroom on vimeo here