Best of Fests

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    Striking documentary films from the international festival circuit are central to Best of Fests. The program showcases the prize-winners, public favorites, and high-profile titles from the past year.

    Items in this selection

    143 Sahara Street

    • Hassen Ferhani
    • 2019

    In the middle of the Algerian Sahara, Malika runs a simple shop for truck drivers, fortune seekers and adventurers. A multilayered portrait gradually emerges of an independent woman in a world that seems to exist outside of time.

    Advocate

    • Rachel Leah Jones, Philippe Bellaiche
    • 2019

    Vilified and praised in equal measure, the Israeli human rights lawyer Lea Tsemel has spent the last 50 years fighting against her country’s discriminatory legal system, primarily by defending Palestinians accused of violent acts of resistance.

    African Mirror

    • Mischa Hedinger
    • 2019

    Admiration and destruction are two sides of the same coin in this collage of archive footage that reveals how, since the 1950s, Europeans have projected their own idealized images onto Africa and destroyed original cultures.

    Again

    • Mario Pfeifer
    • 2019

    Actors reenact a violent incident in an East German supermarket, involving a troubled migrant and brisk action from bystanders. On camera, audience members give their opinion: was this a justified intervention by concerned citizens or an act of vigilantism?

    The Amazing Johnathan Documentary

    • Ben Berman
    • 2019

    The Amazing Johnathan is a famous illusionist who’s both extreme and terminally ill. Not surprisingly, director Ben Berman isn’t the only person interested in filming him. He uses this fact to provide a surprising look behind the scenes of his own documentary.

    All Cats Are Grey in the Dark

    • Lasse Linder
    • 2019

    A tragicomic portrait of a Swiss man who’s so utterly devoted to his two beloved pedigree cats that they can justifiably be described as his life partners. Now one of them is expecting kittens, turning this unconventional household upside down.

    The Australian Dream

    • Daniel Gordon
    • 2019

    Australian rules football player Adam Goodes was a national hero, but got booed in the stadium when as an Aboriginal he spoke out against racism. A powerful film about a country with its own distinct but recognizable racism debate.

    Born in Evin

    • Maryam Zaree
    • 2019

    The German actress Maryam Zaree fled the Iranian regime as a small child with her mother. She knows she was born in prison, but nobody ever talks about it. Now she wants to know why.

    The Brink

    • Alison Klayman
    • 2019

    Trump’s ex-strategist Steve Bannon is mobilizing leading European politicians for his populist movement. This subtle portrait dissects the method behind his mission, which he fearlessly pursues despite loss and vilification.

    Buddha in Africa

    • Nicole Schafer
    • 2019

    Fifteen-year-old Enock and other African orphans get a strict Buddhist education at the Chinese boarding school in Malawi. Now he’s faced with a choice: should he go study in faraway Taiwan or return to his home village?

    The Cave

    • Feras Fayyad
    • 2019

    How do you run an underground hospital in a besieged area in Syria that’s under constant bombardment? As if that wasn’t challenging enough, the manager and her female colleagues also have to deal with deep-rooted sexism.

    Carne

    • Camila Kater
    • 2019

    Five women talk about about their relationship with their own body and how they experience the gaze of others. Their stories are strikingly visualized with the aid of various animation techniques.

    Collective

    • Alexander Nanau
    • 2019

    The consequences of a serious fire in the Colectiv nightclub in Bucharest were made even worse by the failures of the Romanian health care system, which like the rest of the country is plagued by deep-seated corruption.

    Cunningham

    • Alla Kovgan
    • 2019

    This inventive 3D documentary pays tribute to the radical dance innovator Merce Cunningham, who was inextricably linked with composer John Cage in life, love and work.

    The Euphoria of Being

    • Réka Szabó
    • 2019

    During the making of a dance theater piece, a special friendship develops between director Réka Szabó and her two leads: the young dancer Emese Cuhorka and the elderly writer and activist Éva Fahidi.

    Fabulous

    • Audrey Jean-Baptiste
    • 2019

    The queer dancer Lasseindra gives a voguing masterclass in her native French Guiana. Conversations with participants give an impression of the Caribbean macho culture, but during the lessons they show their most feminine side.

    For Sama

    • Waad al-Kateab, Edward Watts
    • 2019

    The 26-year-old citizen journalist Waad al-Kataeb films her life in besieged Aleppo, Syria. In the form of a letter to her newborn daughter Sama, the film captures the reality of war and an uncertain future.

    Hi, AI

    • Isa Willinger
    • 2019

    A laconic, humorous and thought-provoking look at artificial intelligence. An elderly woman and a lonely man interact with their robot buddies, revealing a deep need for human contact.

    Honeyland

    • Ljubomir Stefanov, Tamara Kotevska
    • 2019

    In a deserted mountain village, Europe’s last female wild-beekeeper lives with her elderly mother. A stunningly filmed, intimate portrait of their peaceful existence—and how it is rudely disturbed by newcomers.

    Hunting for Hedonia

    • Pernille Rose Grønkjær
    • 2019

    A fascinating look at deep brain stimulation and its history, effects, impact and ethical implications. From Robert Heath’s first controversial experiments in the 1960s and 1970s to modern-day applications.

    Hydebank

    • Ross McClean
    • 2019

    An effective, understated story about the young Ryan, who is in Hydebank Wood Prison just outside Belfast. Within the prison walls, he tends a small flock of sheep and talks about his life.

    Ibrahim: A Fate to Define

    • Lina Al Abed
    • 2019

    The Palestinian filmmaker Lina Al Abed investigates the 1987 disappearance of her father, and the impact this had on the lives of those he left behind. Family members never talk about it, but she breaks the silence.

    In Mansourah, You Separated Us

    • Dorothee Myriam Kellou
    • 2019

    For the first time since the Algerian War of Independence, witnesses talk about the rural resettlement camps, shedding light on an appalling and neglected episode in history. Why have people kept silent for all these years?

    Jawline

    • Liza Mandelup
    • 2019

    An eye-opening and entertaining impression of influencer culture that reveals the reality behind social media stardom. Austyn is worshiped in the online world. A fortune lies in store for him, as long as he keeps selling his charm.

    Khartoum Offside

    • Marwa Zein
    • 2019

    A portrait of female soccer players in Khartoum, as they struggle for a place both on the field and in Sudan’s conservative society—with humor, perseverance and irrepressible optimism.

    The Kingmaker

    • Lauren Greenfield
    • 2019

    There’s great poverty in the Philippines, but the Marcos family is awash with money. Former First Lady Imelda Marcos proudly talks about her patriotism, but the main thing that strikes us is the deep-rooted, inexhaustible corruption.

    Girl Alone

    • Javier Ávila
    • 2019

    Nineteen-year-old Cintia is dead, murdered in her own home by a relative. Captured in images that resemble still lifes, her sister and mother explain how their lives have also been marked by violent relationships and Mexican macho culture.

    Balolé, the Golden Wolf

    • Aïcha Chloé Boro
    • 2019

    The laborers at a quarry in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso live and work in appalling conditions. Nevertheless, this is a film full of hope: driven by optimism and solidarity, the miners unite to negotiate a better salary.

    Immortal

    • Ksenia Okhapkina
    • 2019

    Their forebears were exiles under Stalin, and now they are little cogs in a totalitarian system passed down from generation to generation. This unemotional study of life in an Arctic mining town shows how indoctrination works.

    L.A. Tea Time

    • Sophie Bédard Marcotte
    • 2019

    Two Canadian filmmakers travel to Los Angeles to have tea with multitalented director and artist Miranda July. A quest for a framework in life undertaken with imagination and humor, with Chantal Akerman as spiritual and cinematic guide.

    Landless

    • Camila Freitas
    • 2019

    Over the course of four years we follow a group of members of the Landless Workers’ Movement in Brazil, as they fight for agricultural land so they can build a better future for local people.

    Lemebel

    • Joanna Reposi Garibaldi
    • 2019

    Chilean writer and artist Pedro Lemebel (1952-2015) became famous in the 1980s—while Pinochet was in power—for his controversial writings and performances on subjects such as homosexuality and human rights.

    Lil’ Buck: Real Swan

    • Louis Wallecan
    • 2019

    A glowing example of the power of dance as a form of expression and social life buoy. Lil’ Buck combines classical ballet with jookin, the hip-hop dance style he grew up with. His version of The Dying Swan became a sensation.

    Mars, Oman

    • Vanessa Del Campo
    • 2019

    From European astronauts to Omani Bedouins, it seems there’s something everyone has in common: a sense of wonder at the universe and our place within it. This heartwarming short film transcends global differences in language and culture.

    Marshawn Lynch: A History

    • David Shields
    • 2019

    This unconventional portrait of the popular and rebellious American football player Marshawn Lynch consists of over 700 image fragments. What’s the deeper meaning behind his refusal to talk with the media?

    Midnight Family

    • Luke Lorentzen
    • 2019

    There are just 45 public-run ambulances operating in Mexico City. Private ambulances, such as the one run by the Ochoa family, offer a lifeline for this huge metropolis. We closely follow the family over a series of intense, nerve-wracking nights.

    Midnight Traveler

    • Hassan Fazili
    • 2019

    Under the threat of being killed by the Taliban, an Afghan family of filmmakers attempts to travel to Europe illegally. They document the dangerous journey with their cell phones.

    Movements of a Nearby Mountain

    • Sebastian Brameshuber
    • 2019

    On an abandoned industrial site in the Austrian Alps, a lone mechanic prepares used cars for export to his home country of Nigeria. A serene portrait of a person who seems to find peace within himself, without resigning himself to his fate.

    No Gold for Kalsaka

    • Michel K. Zongo
    • 2019

    Burkina Faso becomes a Wild West as a British multinational promises the people of Kalsaka heaps of gold, but in reality only robs them of their livelihoods. Left with nothing but an environmental disaster, they seek justice.

    Norie

    • Yuki Kawamura
    • 2019

    In this sensitive portrait, Yuki Kawamura searches for memories of his mother, who died young. He and his father visit places and friends from the past, bringing moments of heartbreak and liberation.

    Once Aurora

    • Benjamin Langeland, Stian Servoss
    • 2019

    A dynamic portrait of the Norwegian pop idol Aurora, who was discovered at the age of 16 and has been playing to packed houses all over the world ever since. A film about creative freedom and the price of fame.

    Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band

    • Daniel Roher
    • 2019

    Now 76 years old, Robbie Robertson—guitarist, songwriter and former member of The Band—takes stock of his life and the legendary rock group. A gift for their many fans.

    One Child Nation

    • Nanfu Wang, Jialing Zhang
    • 2019

    Filmmaker Nanfu Wang was born in the days of China’s one-child policy. This revealing documentary shows the barbaric and deeply tragic consequences of this law. How is it possible that an entire country could resign itself to such inhuman regulations?

    Our Time Machine

    • Yang Sun, S. Leo Chiang
    • 2019

    The Chinese artist Maleonn and his father are working on an autobiographical puppet theater piece. The latter of the two men is suffering from dementia. This account of the complex creative process includes moving vignettes of their personal lives.

    Overseas

    • Sung-A Yoon
    • 2019

    How do you protect yourself against sexual harassment? How do you react to an abusive boss? In the Philippines, prospective housekeepers participate in role-playing games to learn how to deal with their wealthy and demanding future employers.

    Ridge

    • John Skoog
    • 2019

    Consummately composed docufiction about rural southern Sweden, where local teenagers and migrant workers compete with nature. The peripheral takes center stage in this sensorial, free-associative narrative.

    Scheme Birds

    • Ellen Fiske, Ellinor Hallin
    • 2019

    There are few prospects for young people in the Scottish town of Motherwell, which has never recovered from the closure of the steelworks in 1997—the year Gemma was born. In a candid coming-of-age documentary, we see the town through her eyes.

    Selfie

    • Agostino Ferrente
    • 2019

    Director Agostino Ferrente gave underprivileged teenagers a phone to film their own lives in whatever way they liked. The result brings us movingly close to the grim reality of life in Naples.

    Searching Eva

    • Pia Hellenthal
    • 2019

    An unconventional inside view of the equally unconventional life of Eva: sex worker, writer, musician, model, blogger, anarchist and feminist. And much more, because Eva can’t be pinned down.

    Talking About Trees

    • Suhaib Gasmelbari
    • 2019

    In Sudan, cinema is a thing of the past, but four directors and lifelong friends refuse to accept it. Although film is clearly out of favor with the current regime, the four men remain determined, hopeful and touchingly funny.

    That Which Does Not Kill

    • Alexe Poukine
    • 2019

    Ada was 19. He was someone she knew, and she didn’t resist. Ada’s testimony is central to this film, but many share her history. The sensitive narrative style creates space for the universality of this story.

    Tiny Souls

    • Dina Naser
    • 2019

    The camera follows three Syrian children over the course of four years in a refugee camp in Jordan. Despite traumatic memories and primitive living conditions, they remain resilient and high-spirited.

    The Tough

    • Marcin Polar
    • 2019

    A visually stunning, claustrophobic short film exploring a cave system in the Polish Tatra Mountains, accompanying the speleologist who discovered it. In these eerie caves, we experience how it must feel to descend into the unknown darkness.

    Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am

    • Timothy Greenfield-Sanders
    • 2019

    A film portrait of Toni Morrison (1931-2019), the great American teacher, editor, and above all author and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. She gave entirely new meaning to the idea of “black literature.”

    When the Persimmons Grew

    • Hilal Baydarov
    • 2019

    An intimate and poetic portrait of the filmmaker Hilal Baydarov’s mother, who is waiting in her village in Azerbaijan for her son to return for the annual harvest festival. The family reunion that follows is blissful, but all too brief.

    Where We Belong

    • Jacqueline Zünd
    • 2019

    Five children from different families look back on their parents’ separation and talk in detail about how they experienced it and what it taught them.

    XY Chelsea

    • Tim Travers Hawkins
    • 2019

    An intimate investigative portrait of transgender whistleblower Chelsea Manning, who was pardoned by President Barack Obama in 2017. Only now that she’s free can Manning fully experience and give shape to her new gender identity.