Ten Innovative Documentaries You Won't Want to Miss in 2018

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Studio 54
Studio 54(Film still) Courtesy of CPH:DOX

As this year’s CPH:DOX comes to a close, we pick the films to add to your diary over the year ahead

On the docks of the scenic Nyhavn canal, CPH:DOX drew together documentary filmmakers, industry veterans, and emerging creators. One of the genre’s most respected festivals, the Copenhagen-based showcase is known for its international program and openness to experimental formats, showcasing work by traditional video journalists and interactive artists alike. After a week spent viewing film and chatting with filmmakers, we gathered together a list of our favourite documentaries to look out for this year.

1. Studio 54 (above)

New York’s legendary Studio 54 – the ultra-hedonistic yet ultra-tolerant night club that attracted Andy Warhol, Liza Minelli, and Mick Jagger et al – was the epitome of downtown cool in the 1970s. Director Matt Tyranauer tells the story of the world’s most famous party spot, filled with celebrities, legal drama, and drug scandals.

2. Unsettling

Leftist Tel Avivian director Iris Zaki does what too many of us are afraid to: engage in conversation with fellow countrymen on the opposite end of the political spectrum. She visits Tekoa, an artsy colony for Israeli settlers on the West Bank an hour from Tel Aviv. She sits at a pizza place and speaks to settlers about their political views and how they see their role in the ongoing conflict.

3. Our New President

It’s clear who Russia wanted to win the US elections, and we all know what the result was. What remains unclear is: what exactly happened? Maxim Pozdorovkin adds to the conversation with his new documentary Our New President, in which he presents Trump’s election exclusively through Russian propaganda footage. This well-edited film is at once a satire and a journalistic deep dive into the system of fake news and misinformation that led to the current administration.

4. Welcome to Sodom

What happens to our laptops, televisions, and phones when we throw them away? Austrian filmmakers Christian Krones and Florian Weigensamer traveled to a Ghana to find out. Over 250,000 tons of used electronics are shipped each year to be recycled, creating a vast, apocalyptic landscape of trash where thousands of locals work on disassembling unwanted hardware. The film is an urgent call to action, urging viewers to consider: whose life is made more comfortable by technology? Is the internet as immaterial as we often think?

5. Extinction

Portugese director Salomé Lamas’ Extinction is a hypnotic black and white film set in modern day Moldova, a former USSR territory filled with utopian Soviet architecture that could feel equally at home in an art gallery or in a cinema. She follows Kolya, a young man from Moldova who declares his loyalty to Transnistria, a country that does not officially exist – at least not for the international community – and is deeply rooted in Communist ideology.

6. América

Set in Mexico, América follows three brothers who come together to take care of their ageing grandmother. Without their father present, these three very different brothers take care of the 97-year-old matriarch, whose influence changes them for the better. This poignant, intimate film captures the power of family ties and collective responsibility.

7. Central Airport THF

Berlin’s enormous Flughafen Tempelhof (Tempelhof Airport), built by Hitler and once a cornerstone of the Third Reich, was left abandoned from 2008 until 2015, when thousands of asylum seekers arrived in Germany to forge a new life. Karim Aïnouz’s new film follows the life of 18-year-old Ibrahim, one of the many refugees living in temporary housing at the airport, struggling to navigate a complicated German bureaucracy and language.

8. Lost Warrior

Shot in Somalia and in London, Lost Warrior follows the life of Mohamed and his wife Fathi. Mohamed was just three years old when he was sent to London, without his family, to start a better life. After a stint in prison in the UK, he is recruited by terrorist Al-Shabab, who promises him a sense of belonging in Somalia. After working with them in Somalia, he realises he wants no part of the organisation and leaves. Eager to get back to his young wife and a baby son in London, his status as a previous terror group member makes it nearly impossible to return. The film follows the young couple’s struggles as they struggle to navigate early adulthood in the midst of political tensions.

9. Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist

Fashion icon Vivenne Westwood has never run out of new ideas. Crowned Britain’s fashion punk queen after designing outfits for the Sex Pistols in the 1970s, the documentary invites the viewer into her world, where she shares her memories and thoughts about the many characters she’s dressed and her fierce activism. If you’re looking for a shot of creative energy and confidence, be sure to catch this film.

10. Laila at the Bridge

Winner of this year’s F:ACT Award, Elissa and Gulistan Mirzaei’s film follows the story of Laila, a charismatic Afghani woman sick of the country’s opium crisis and the corrupt government inaction that enables it. She establishes her own rehab center, where addicts take ice-cold baths, pray together, and receive motherly reprimands. When the Taliban arrive in Kabul and threaten the restaurant she uses to finance the centre, Laila doesn’t back down. Her willpower is incredible; she threatens politicians in their marble offices, shoots the mob in her own house, and takes care of the drug-addled men under the bridge.