I know that at the end of the year there is an overwhelming
mass of ‘Best of’ lists to work through, so as I gradually work my way up to my
‘Best Films of 2018’ list, I thought I’d throw another select list onto the
pile. With over 500 films being released in Australia in 2018, it’s easy to
lose track of what films are worthwhile seeking out. That’s why I wrote up a ‘Best
Australian Films of 2018’ list, and why as the minutes tick down on 2018, I
want to shine a light on documentary films.
Over the past few years, the documentary genre has really
taken off with audiences around the world. In 2018 alone, four documentaries
jumped into the highest grossing documentaries of all time – Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, RBG, Three Identical Strangers, and Free Solo – taking in a combined effort
Sure, it’s not Black Panther numbers,
but it’s still a huge amount.
Over on Netflix,
the documentary format continues to thrive, with films like Shirkers, The Bleeding Edge, They’ll
Love Me When I’m Dead, and Quincy,
all proving that Netflix is one of the best places to dig into documentaries around
the world. Meanwhile, for those who want a slightly different fare than what Netflix offers, another subscription service
exists purely for the documentary format alone – DocPlay – where films like Living
the Change, My Year With Helen,
Jill Bilcock: Dancing the Invisible
and Mountain, can all safely be
discovered, alongside a huge wealth of other great documentaries from around
Closer to home, the Melbourne Documentary Film Festivalcelebrated
its third year with a truly phenomenal line-up of films. With sell out sessions
and a huge variety of content, there is clearly an appetite for documentaries,
and documentary focused festivals. Notable films screened at the 2018 festival
include Finding the Line, Big in Japan, Kangaroo:
A Love-Hate Story, and Black
I’d be remiss if I didn’t shout out Perth’s finest film
festival – the Revelation Film Festival–
for being the place where a lot of my favourite documentaries of the year have
come from. Everything from The Cleaners,
to A Woman Captured, to RocKabul, to I Used to Be Normal, to McQueen,
and many, many more, screened at this years Revelation Film Festival. Sure, it’s not easy to get to Perth just
for a film festival, so with that in mind, keep an eye on your local film
festivals throughout the year as that’s one way to catch documentaries that may
usually slip through the cracks.
All of those films mentioned are worthwhile seeking out, and
while I would love to do a top fifty documentaries list, I have to cut it off
somewhere. With that in mind, here is an additional handful of documentaries
worthwhile seeking out:
Over the years, I’ve been gradually keeping track of
documentaries that look at the creative process of filmmaking. In 2018 we were
fortunate enough to get a few films that looked at the filmmaking process – They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, and
notably, Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda. They’re
solid films, but for me the one that takes the cake is Jill Bilcock: Dancing the Invisible.
Axel Grigor’s documentary shines a light on the role of the
film editor – the person who helps turn the hours of footage into the feature
film. Grigor and subject Jill Bilcock help explain how important the role of
editing is by showcasing the most obvious presence of editing in cinema – Baz Luhrmann’s
filmography. Without Jill Bilcock, there would be no Baz Luhrmann. And, in
turn, we realise that without Sally Menke there would have been no Quentin
Tarantino, or without Thelma Schoonmaker there would be no Martin Scorsese.
Essentially stuff for film lovers.
On the surface, Pick
of the Litter looks like it’s going to be a simple, sweet flick about
puppies growing up. And, sure, it’s full of that kind of sweetness – it’s
positively dripping in it – but there’s a lot more going on in this wonderful
film. In short, Pick of the Litter is
about the amount of people who come together and work to make peoples lives
better and easier.
So, yes, there’s cute dogs, but these are cute dogs with a
job to do – they need to become guide dogs and be the eyes for vision impaired
people. And heck, if there’s one thing that we need at the end of 2018, it’s
more inspirational stories about people working to help other people. And dogs
8. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Director: Morgan Neville
Going into Won’t You
Be My Neighbor? I had no idea who Fred Rogers was. Growing up in Australia,
my diet of kids entertainment consisted of shows like Play School,
Mulligrubs (this is what Mulligrubs was, sorry you’re not
sleeping tonight), Lift Off, and The Raggy Dolls. While
they all had their benefits, it’s clear after watching this immensely beautiful
documentary that there was nobody like Fred Rogers in Australia, and possibly
anywhere else in the world. To have grown up with a figure like Fred Rogers
would have been a powerfully educational thing to have.
And, most importantly, it would have been a deeply necessary
thing for kids who felt alone, different, unique, or just ‘not right’, to have
a voice tell them that they were ok. While a documentary on Fred Rogers alone
would have been sweet and nice, what director Morgan Neville does is manage to
bring in the surrounding discussions and events of the era of Fred to provide
extra context as to why someone like Fred was important. On top of this, there’s
the criticism directed at the generation grew up with Fred’s voice guiding them.
Heading in, I thought this could be a slight, twee
documentary, but instead, I felt moved, and glad that there was a generation
that had the fortunate luck of knowing a voice like Fred Rogers and having him
guide their formative years. Genuinely one of the sweetest films of 2018.
Director: Sandi Tan
Sandi Tan’s film about a film is a fascinating dive into a
world of ‘what could have been’. I first came to know of Shirkers thanks to Dave White and Alonso Duralde on their podcast Linoleum
Knife (give that show a listen folks, you’ll find out about a lot of
great films on there). On
it, they hypothesised about what the world would have been like if Sandi
Tan’s original film, Shirkers (not
this documentary, but the film the documentary is about), had been completed
and released. They talk about the missed opportunities, about the careers cut
off before they even started, about the paths that lives take us down.
While we were robbed of a unique voice of Singaporean cinema
(of which the world knows so little about), Shirkers
manages to explore the resilience of friendships and family. Sure, Sandi Tan
and her friends are defeated, but they persist and push on with their interests
and their lives, given no other option but to do exactly that. While Shirkers is a film about filmmaking, it’s
also a film about the past and what memories can do to us. A Netflix film that
is definitely worth digging into – and one that you should go in knowing as
little as possible.
Privacy & Cookies Policy
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.