This week’s watchlist is a testament to heroism, looking at three documentaries in which people of extraordinary courage find ways to stand up for something meaningful against overwhelming odds.
Friday – The White Helmets (Genre: Documentary)
This Netflix original follows the Syrian Civil Defence, a volunteer organisation of rescue workers who respond to emergencies in the place of non-existent public services. Former fire-fighters, teachers, labourers are the first to the scene when bombs land; to date they’ve saved more than 99,000 lives. The film is moving in the tenderness of its heroes, in the strength of their faith, in that overwhelming way when witnessing ordinary people performing extraordinary acts. It’s just 40 minutes long and is a powerful tribute to the selflessness and sacrifice of an incredible organisation: ‘To save a life is to save all of humanity’.
Saturday – Virunga (Genre: Documentary)
From the same production team behind the White Helmets, this chronicles the fight to maintain and protect the Virunga national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It’s home to the last mountain gorillas and the astonishing natural beauty of the park is exquisitely captured and revisited throughout the film with Franklin Dow’s cinematography. Against this backdrop Virunga tracks a narrative of violence and corruption by exposing the ties between oil company SOCO and the M23 rebel group, convincingly explored through secret filming by ranger Rodrigue Katembo and journalist Melanie Gouby. It plays at times almost like a thriller, tense and gripping, but balances this with intimate moments at the Gorilla Orphanage, where it’s hard not to be moved by the scale of caregiver Andre Bauma’s love for the animals. Emotionally engaging, heart wrenching and powerful.
Sunday – The Look of Silence (Genre: Documentary)
Essential – if you can only catch a single recommendation this weekend make it this one. It follows ‘Adi’, an optometrist, as he interviews key figures from the Indonesian mass killings of 1965. The film is a startling portrait of grief in all its forms, and the way people deal with the past. Adi, his parents, the families of the murderers, those who escaped and the killers themselves are all intertwined in an ensemble of incredible depth and variety, where the authenticity of every interaction rubs raw. The character study in evil that Adi performs is horrifying, but the camera and questions are both honest, and the viewer is left to make their own decisions about the apparently remorseless killers. Though the piece is grueling and upsetting, the incredible bravery behind Adi’s agenda is inspiring. How powerful to risk your life to look a killer in the eyes and ask them take responsibility for their actions. It’s a very difficult watch but undoubtedly one of the most affecting pieces of cinema I’ve ever seen.
(Image courtesy of Netflix)