Documentaries are now the most powerful form of investigative journalism according to Robert Redford. Musing on the decline in moral standards of the newspaper industry, Redford maintained that the documentary had come to the fore and taken the lead in delivering hard-hitting, agenda setting change. Fortuitously perhaps, Redford’s comments came in the same week as three very different documentaries received their bows at the UK box office. Iran’s This is Not a Film, Werner Herzog’s death row opus Into the Abyss and Jon Shenk’s The Island President are an eclectic credit to the genre and a timely reminder that the documentary has never been more important. Away from real life we’re treated to a claymation piratic Hugh Grant, a 3D dance off and titans wrathing it to the max.
Werner Herzog is not one to shy away from difficult situations. This is after all the man who was shot during an interview with Mark Kermode. It’s no surprise therefore that his latest work, Into the Abyss, is a chilling insight into life on death row. Focusing on convicted murderer Michael Perry, Herzog’s pic poses questions on the human fallout of bloody crime and the way the US choose to mete out justice.
Revered Iranian director Jafar Panahi’s This is Not a Film is a stark insight into the challenges facing filmmaking in his country. Shot in secret, in part on an iPhone, and smuggled to France on a flash drive inside a cake, Panahi’s “film” documents his contemplation on the potential end of his career. Under house arrest and facing prison and a 20 year ban from filmmaking, Panahi muses on his plight and reflects upon the wider challenges facing Iranian artists. A thoughtful, powerful, provocative and absolutely essential piece of work.
Our triumvirate of docs is rounded off by Shenk’s The Island President, an insight into the Maldives’ main man Mohamed Nasheed’s attempts to tackle climate change which poses the greatest threat to the low-lying country’s future. This is a rare glimpse into politics in action and the ever-evolving challenges that face political minnows at the global top table. The fact that Nasheed has since been deposed in a coup adds some intriguing context.
Sticking to the high seas, it’s onto The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!, Aardman’s first foray in claymation since 2005’s Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Boasting an esteemed voice cast which includes the likes of our Hugh, Salma Hayek, Jeremy Piven and David Tennant, Pirates sets sail on said adventures, encountering Charles Darwin, a dodo and Queen Victoria. Buckles will inevitably be swashed.
Two superfluous sequels see us out this week. Piggybacking on the nonsensical global dance craze, Streetdance 2 slowly tapdances its way to the DVD bargin bin via cinemas this week. Predictable dance battles abound and only dance aficionados need apply. This leaves Wrath of the Titans, in which Sam Worthington’s Perseus must save the world from lava monster god Kronos. Surely this can’t suck quite as bad as 2010’s Clash of the Titans can it?
So, considered, hard hitting film making or escapist, populist nonsense? The choice, as they say, is yours…