BIFF 2017: Ten Documentaries You Have To Watch

This is the second in a two-part series where we highlight a handful of movies from BIFF’s 2017 program. In this part, you’ll find documentaries, while in Part 1 — which you can read here — we look at narrative features. 

Earlier this week we took a look at ten narrative feature films we are excited to see at the Bergen International Film Festival later this month (26th of September to the 4th of October), and today our focus is ten documentaries. Like last time, it was a difficult task to select only ten, but I wanted (and tried) to highlight a wide variety of themes and ideas in this list. There is space exploration and in-depth movie analysis; UK politics and explorations on grief. There are about 100 other documentaries in the full program, so there is plenty more to choose from.

78/52

Director: Alexandre O. Philippe 

Movies about movies are always special, whether it is fiction or documentaries, and 78/52 is just this. In this 90-minute documentary, Alexandre O. Philippe takes a look at one massively iconic and equally influential scene from cinema history; the shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.

It is without a doubt a scene one can dedicate a lot of time to, and O. Philippe has brought in people like Guillermo del Toro, Danny Elfman, Bret Easton Ellis and Jamie lee Curtis to dissect and analyze it. It sounds like a spiritual follow-up to Room 237, in which Rodney Ascher fell into the rabbit hole of interpretations and ideas about Stanley Kubrick’s The Shinning. Let’s hope 78/52 is equally fun and passionate, but maybe a teeny-tiny bit more focused as well.

ALL THIS PANIC

Director: Jenny Gage 

All This Panic is an immensely poetic and beautiful documentary, which follows the lives of a group of teenage girls as they come of age in Brooklyn. Director Jenny Gage followed them for three years, and the bond of trust and love that must have been built between the observer and the observed is palpable. Gage gets so close to each and every one of these girls that you feel like

Gage’s camera is forever present, and she captures moments of heartbreak, frustration, love, aspirations, and loss. Her sensibilities behind the camera are reminiscent of Sofia Coppola’s dreamy aesthetics, and these vivid and ethereal pictures are beautifully composed in the real-world revelations of these girls.

HOW TO MEET A MERMAID

Director: Coco Schrijber 

The IMDB synopsis of Coco Schrijber’s How to Meet a Mermaid is aptly inconspicuous and laconic. Lex, Rebecca and Miguel all seek different things underneath the surface of the waters – what that is, or who they are, we do not know. BIFF is more explicit, and their pieces of information hint at a documentary that is an essential existentialist documentary about loss and grief.

Described as a lyrical meditation on the sea, my thoughts are immediately sent to the underwater museum off of Lanzarote. The sunken statues carry more weight than one initially thinks, as they collectively walk to (or from) their destination.

BREXITANNIA

Director: Timothy Geroge Kelly

It has been just over a year since the historic referendum in the UK, in which the people voted to leave the European Union. Since then, a lot has happened within the British government – David Cameron stepped down and Theresa May took his spot as Prime Minister, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage split, and many more key members of Parliament have stepped down – yet very little seems to have happened in the negotiations with the EU council.

In Brexitannia, Timothy George Kelly lets the people of England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland express their opinions and views on the referendum. He also contextualizes it within a bigger historic and sociopolitical picture in interviews with Noam Chomsky. It looks at the powerful and confused emotions that pre-exceeded the referendum and has since followed it.

A GERMAN LIFE

Director: Christian Krönes, Olaf S. Müller, Roland Schrotthofer, Florian Weigensamer

In A German Life, we meet Brunhilde Pomsel, a woman who survived two world wars, described herself as apolitical and as someone who stood on the sidelines in the Second World War. She was also Goebbels’ secretary and stenographer.

The documentary is built around in-depth interviews with Pomsel, where the tough questions she faced are also asked for us to reflect upon; what would we have done in her shoes? Should she have followed her moral compass and tossed aside her career? It is not only an extremely relevant documentary about our own choices and how we can close our eyes – or never open them at all – but also a movie that allows us a different anchor point in the story of Goebbels’ and the German propaganda machine. Pomsel passed away this year. She was 106 years old.

THE FARTHEST

Director: Emer Reynolds

In 1977 NASA launched Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 to study the planetary systems of Jupiter and Saturn – they have since continued onward into the blackness of space. 12 billion miles away, it’s the first human-made object to leave our solar system.

Equipped with the infamous golden records, in which our history is surmised in music, greetings and schematic drawings, the Voyagers will continue deep into the unexplored void, sending information back to us. In The Farthest, Emer Reynolds talks to the women and men that built the Voyager-probes, as they tell us about their experiences and discoveries from day 1.  It shows us just how small earth is in the grand scheme of the universe, and the cinematography of our perspectives compliments this beautifully.

LA 92

Director: Daniel Lindsay, T.J. Martin 

LA 92 seems like a spiritual successor to last year’s documentary highlights, in Ava DuVernay’s 13th, Ezra Edelman’s O.J.: Made in America, and Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro. As the title suggests, LA 92 takes us back to the verdict of the Rodney King trial, which sparked several days of protests and violence in Los Angeles.

It’s a raw account of what happened and how it went down. There’s no voiceover or narration here, rather, the archive footage – from news reels, home videos etc. – gets to tell us the story. And it is a story everyone needs to know, especially in today’s climate.

NOTHINGWOOD

Director: Sonia Kronlund

Salim Shaheen is an Afghan filmmaker that has (to date) made 111 movies. This in a country where the film industry is all but non-existent, while civil wars and religious taboos continue to rage on. Shaheen doesn’t let this get in the way of his enthusiasm, and it is this director Sonia Kronlund seems to capture in Nothingwood.

It has been described as an affectionate, amusing and charming documentary, and it seems these descriptors are equally applicable to its subject. Shaheen’s unrelenting quest to make movies under circumstances most of us can’t even imagine is a wonderful remedy for the political climate of today.

STRANGERS IN PARADISE

Director: Guido Hendrikx 

Guido Hendrikx’s Strangers in Paradise tackles the migration crisis and European immigration politics in a different way than most. It’s part documentary and part fiction, in which the one actor in the movie sits down with real recently arrived refugees. In three different acts the actor alternates between right wing conservatism, humanism and legal regulations for immigration.  It is sure to provoke, and that’s important – especially relevant for the current government of Norway (which may or may not be re-elected this coming Monday the 11th). Just as it will present us with different viewpoints and perspectives, it will surely make us reflect on our own. It’s also said to be “delivered with a style that might make you think you’re watching a Lars von Trier film.”

UNREST

Director: Jennifer Brea

Jennifer Brea’s Unrest has already won 6 awards (out of 8 nominations) so far this year, which includes the Special Jury Price at Sundance. In her first feature length documentary, Brea shines the spotlight on chronic fatigue syndrome, a disease modern medicine still doesn’t take seriously, and which Brea herself was diagnosed with at the age of 28.

In Unrest, Brea highlights this disease. When she was bed-ridden she learned that there are millions of people who suffer from the same disease, and in this documentary, she highlights how she and four other people cope with it. It’s a movie that everyone should watch, to better understand our fellow citizens.


Like I said initially, there is a lot more to look forward to and to pick only ten is bound to leave out some equally interesting and important documentaries. So please take a look at the festivals entire program on their website, and find the ones that speak to you – be it nutritional, political, historical, musical, or any other topic. For as long as I’ve gone to BIFF (7 years in a row), their documentary selection has always delivered food for thought and debate. They’ve always put important topics on the agenda that otherwise would not find a large audience in Bergen, and for that, they remain the absolute most important and influential film festival in the country.

Please let us know which ones you look forward to, and don’t forget to check out our list of narrative features that interest us here.

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Per Morten Mjolkeraaen

Uses words from time to time. Equally inspired and confused by metamodernism.

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