Best of Fests

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    This year’s Best of Fests selection celebrates a year when, despite all challenges, festivals came back with a large slate of exceptional documentary films, and cinema triumphantly returned to the big screen. The program section takes a decidedly cinephile turn in 2021, honoring the year’s award winners, critics’ picks, and audience favorites. Explore the selected films below.

    Selected for Best of Fests

    1970

    • Tomasz Wolski
    • 2021

      Not the rebels, but the rulers are the “heroes” of this story about the Polish protests of 1970. Stop-motion animation and archive recordings of telephone conversations bring the machinations of the Communist crisis team to life.

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      All Light, Everywhere

      • Theo Anthony
      • 2021

        Blending styles and different points of view, this cinematic essay explores the shared histories of image technology, weapons, and policing—from the earliest photos and pigeons fitted with cameras to modern combat drones and bodycams.

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        All These Sons

        • Bing Liu, Joshua Altman
        • 2021

          On Chicago’s South and West sides, gun violence is destroying countless lives. Two men dedicate their lives educating, empowering and healing young Black men at high risk of becoming victims—or perpetrators—of shootings.

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          Anamnesis

          • Chris Wright, Stefan Kolbe
          • 2021

            An original portrait of a murderer during his last year in jail. The film confronts us with questions about the impact of our past and whether there is such a thing as “the truth.”

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            As I Want

            • Samaher Alqadi
            • 2021

              In January 2013, two years after the popular revolt on Tahrir Square, an explosion of sexual violence prompts rage and protests. What does it mean to be a woman in Egypt today? Filmmaker Samaher Alqadi exposes the ubiquitous sexism.

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              Bigger than Us

              • Flore Vasseur
              • 2021

                Young people all over the world are opposing inequality, climate disruption, and other injustices. Melati, an Indonesian activist combating plastic pollution, travels the world visiting courageous fellow activists of her own generation. What motivates them?

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                Constrain

                • Antoine Fontaine, Galdric Fleury
                • 2020

                  An experimental, politically charged animated film in which a voiceover confronts us with the restraints imposed on us on the basis of physical characteristics, nationality, and social conditions.

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                  Courage

                  • Aliaksei Paluyan
                  • 2021

                    Despite mass protests, in August 2020 Alexander Lukashenko was declared the winner of the Belarus presidential election. A portrait of the courage of the protesters, as seen through the eyes of three perceptive theater practitioners.

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                    Crotch Stories

                    • Myleine Guiard-Schmid
                    • 2021

                      An exuberant animation film in which Myleine Guiard-Schmid asks whether giving birth can also be enjoyable, and receives answers from both mothers and midwives. She discovers, among other things, that an orgasm can help the delivery.

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                      Cusp

                      • Clara Parker Hill, Isabel A Bethencourt
                      • 2021

                        A raw but empathetic account of a languid summer in Texas, where three teenage girls fill their days hanging out at parties fueled by drink and drugs. They talk candidly about relationships, sex and problematic interactions with parents.

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                        Delphine's Prayers

                        • Rosine Mbakam
                        • 2021

                          Delphine, now 30, tells the story of her life, which has been marked by sexual violence, starting when she was raped at the age of 13 and became pregnant. Intense and impressive testimony from a Cameroonian woman living in Belgium.

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                          Les Enfants terribles

                          • Ahmet Cupur
                          • 2021

                            An intimate and gripping account of fierce generational conflict in a Turkish village. The filmmaker’s young sister Zeynep is struggling with her parents and their traditional values. The film won the Special Jury Award at Visions du Réel.

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                            F@ck This Job

                            • Vera Krichevskaya
                            • 2021

                              In 2008, the Russian socialite Natasha Sindeeva embarked on an adventure with her well-to-do husband: she set up an independent TV channel. The Russian government proves to be less than pleased about this, and Natasha begins a long, exhausting battle.

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                              Flee

                              • Jonas Poher Rasmussen
                              • 2021

                                The story of Amin, a gay man who fled Afghanistan in the 1980s, is told mostly in animation. Flee shows the unforgiving environment in which he lived, and the scars that remain from living as a second-class citizen.

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                                Galb’Echaouf

                                • Abdessamad El Montassir
                                • 2021

                                  A tragedy took place on a sandy plain scattered with ruins. The people who experienced it don’t want to talk about it. They are as silent as the cacti and the stones—the eternal, mute witnesses to what occurred.

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                                  The Gig Is Up

                                  • Shannon Walsh
                                  • 2021

                                    A wide-ranging documentary about the gig economy, focusing on several self-employed people working for online platforms. Experts analyze how this system works. Have the limits been reached or breached?

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                                    God Has AIDS

                                    • Gustavo Vinagre, Fábio Leal
                                    • 2021

                                      Seven artists and an activist doctor—all HIV positive—fight against the invisibility of AIDS in Brazil. Prejudice is rampant, the infection rate is rising, and people are dying from a disease that doesn’t have to be fatal.

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                                      H6

                                      • Yé Yé
                                      • 2021

                                        Observational portrait capturing the goings-on in an immense hospital in Shanghai, focusing on four patients and their families. Alongside the affectionate care, H6 reveals an unyielding class-based society.

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                                        Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, a Journey, a Song

                                        • Dan Geller, Dayna Goldfine
                                        • 2021

                                          A portrait of legendary singer and poet Leonard Cohen, centering on his best-known and most-covered song, “Hallelujah.” Cohen worked on the song for seven years—like the singer himself, it needed time to blossom.

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                                          How to Kill a Cloud

                                          • Tuija Halttunen
                                          • 2021

                                            Finnish scientist Hannele Korhonen has received a research grant from the United Arab Emirates to develop a way to make it rain in the desert. But all her time is being swallowed up by presentations, conferences, and political agendas.

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                                            I’m So Sorry

                                            • Zhao Liang
                                            • 2021

                                              A prophetic panorama of nuclear power, with unexpectedly poetic moments. Moving encounters with returned residents offer a human counterweight to the silent threat of nuclear disaster areas.

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                                              In Flow of Words

                                              • Eliane Esther Bots
                                              • 2021

                                                What does translating gruesome court testimony do to you? Three interpreters at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague discuss the disconnect between professionalism and the intense emotion generated by their work.

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                                                Jagged

                                                • Alison Klayman
                                                • 2021

                                                  Alanis Morissette’s album Jagged Little Pill hit the charts in 1995 like a primal scream. Morissette looks back on her career in the music industry, the questionable men she encountered, and the battle she fought to forge her own path.

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                                                  Kalsubai

                                                  • Yudhajit Basu
                                                  • 2020

                                                    A visual poem on the legend of the Indian goddess Kalsu. Her story resonates in the contemporary lives of the women who live at the foot of Mount Kalsubai and still sing to her in the night.

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                                                    Last Days at Sea

                                                    • Venice Atienza
                                                    • 2021

                                                      Reyboy’s world in the Philippine fishing village Karihatag is one of water, rocks, and sky. This film is an attempt to capture the beauty of his childhood. Just one more summer, and then he leaves for the city, and high school.

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                                                      The Last Shelter

                                                      • Ousmane Samassekou
                                                      • 2021

                                                        At the southern edge of the Sahara, two brave teenage girls from Burkina Faso arrive at a stopping place for migrants on their way to Europe. Their dreams clash with the shocking stories of those who went before them and failed.

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                                                        Laurent Garnier: Off the Record

                                                        • Gabin Rivoire
                                                        • 2021

                                                          An energetic and atmospheric portrait of one of the godfathers of house music, Laurent Garnier, club scene DJ for more than 30 years. Packed with archive footage and contributions from living legends Jeff Mills, Carl Cox, Miss Kittin, and more.

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                                                          Listening to Kenny G

                                                          • Penny Lane
                                                          • 2021

                                                            Is he a musical mastermind or a soulless money machine? Opinions on Kenny G are sharply polarized. Both sides are represented, but the lovable artist himself is placed center stage. He’s charming, driven, and not averse to a bit of self-deprecating humor.

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                                                            Little Palestine, Diary of a Siege

                                                            • Abdallah Al Khatib
                                                            • 2021

                                                              This insider’s report shows how a Palestinian refugee camp in a district of Damascus withstands Assad’s siege. As well as hunger and stampedes for scarce aid packages, there is pride, singing, and children’s dreams.

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                                                              Looking for Horses

                                                              • Stefan Pavlovic
                                                              • 2021

                                                                In this personal experiment in film, Stefan Pavlović uses his camera to bridge the gaps between language, hearing, and verbal communication. A stutterer seeking connection, he befriends a deaf and nearly blind hermit in Bosnia.

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                                                                Love, Dad

                                                                • Diana Cam Van Nguyen
                                                                • 2021

                                                                  The discovery of letters written 15 years ago prompts Diana to renew contact with her absent father. Memory, recrimination, and yearning intertwine in this hybrid blend of animation and archive photography.

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                                                                  May God Be With You

                                                                  • Cléo Cohen
                                                                  • 2021

                                                                    As the granddaughter of Jewish Arabs from Tunisia and Algeria, filmmaker Cléo Cohen is on a quest for her own identity. She looks to her grandparents for answers in this intimate and personal debut film.

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                                                                    Mr. Bachmann and His Class

                                                                    • Maria Speth
                                                                    • 2021

                                                                      A monumental portrait of a teacher whose students learn far more than the standard curriculum: the capacity for self-reflection, how to build self-confidence, and the musical skills for a shaky but heartwarming rendition of “Knockin’ on Heaven's Door.”

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                                                                      A Night of Knowing Nothing

                                                                      • Payal Kapadia
                                                                      • 2021

                                                                        An Indian film student writes letters to her forbidden lover. Her pain, dreams, and observations about the changing political climate reflect those of many of her fellow students. Fact and fiction intertwine in this Cannes award-winning film.

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                                                                        Nũhũ yãg mũ yõg hãm: This Land Is Our Land!

                                                                        • Isael Maxakali, Sueli Maxakali, Carolina Canguçu, Roberto Romero
                                                                        • 2020

                                                                          A personal, first-hand account of the struggle of the Maxakali, a small group of indigenous people in Brazil. Although driven from their land, they keep the stories of their ancestors alive.

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                                                                          Ob Scene

                                                                          • Paloma Orlandini Castro
                                                                          • 2021

                                                                            Film student Paloma Orlandini Castro revisits the images and words that tell the history of her sexual awakening. Making her own pornographic drawings opens up space for experimentation and ambiguity.

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                                                                            On the Other Side

                                                                            • Iván Guarnizo
                                                                            • 2021

                                                                              How to bridge the gap between perpetrator and victim? Filmmaker Iván Guarnizo attempts to do just that in this harrowing reconstruction of his mother’s kidnapping by the Colombian guerrilla movement FARC.

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                                                                              Our Memory Belongs to Us

                                                                              • Rami Farah
                                                                              • 2021

                                                                                Nearly 10 years after the start of the Syrian revolution, three Syrian citizen journalists come together at a theatre in Paris. There they are confronted with their own videos from this period, bringing suppressed memories to the surface.

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                                                                                Reconciliation

                                                                                • Marija Zidar
                                                                                • 2021

                                                                                  An 18-year-old girl is shot dead in the remote highlands of Albania, the victim of a bitter family feud. Her grieving father is pressured from different sides to break the cycle of violence.

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                                                                                  Revolution of Our Times

                                                                                  • Kiwi Chow
                                                                                  • 2021

                                                                                    An in-depth visual reportage on mass protests escalating in Hong Kong. The increasingly embittered battle brings heartbreak and despair, but also a powerful sense of fellowship among everyone from teens to seniors.

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                                                                                    Searchers

                                                                                    • Pacho Velez
                                                                                    • 2021

                                                                                      Heartfelt, poignant, and humorous stories from single New Yorkers aged 20 to 90. We watch as they arrange dates online and share their struggle to answer the big questions like “What is love?” and “What am I actually looking for?”

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                                                                                      Semiotic Plastic

                                                                                      • Radu Jude
                                                                                      • 2021

                                                                                        Human existence imitated by plastic toys. Striking and witty, but often also rather sinister tableaux vivants lead us from birth to death, with every recognizable banality of human life along the way.

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                                                                                        Set!

                                                                                        • Scott Gawlik
                                                                                        • 2021

                                                                                          A humourous portrait of a group of contestants in what they themselves call “the Olympics of table setting.” They devote all their time, creativity, and money to this annual competition in Orange County. Who will win the coveted ribbon?

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                                                                                          The Silence of the Mole

                                                                                          • Anais Taracena
                                                                                          • 2021

                                                                                            A carefully composed portrait of the journalist Elías Barahona, also known as “the Mole.” In the mid-1970s, he risked his life by infiltrating the repressive regime running Guatemala and succeeded in saving many lives.

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                                                                                            Taming the Garden

                                                                                            • Salomé Jashi
                                                                                            • 2021

                                                                                              Dozens of rare and ancient trees are transported across Georgia, destined for the private botanical garden of the country’s former prime minister. In absurd scenes, we see an operation that takes away the soul and oxygen from a powerless population.

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                                                                                              Three Minutes – A Lengthening

                                                                                              • Bianca Stigter
                                                                                              • 2021

                                                                                                In found vacation footage from 1938, the Jewish residents of a Polish village wave cheerfully at the camera. Who were they? Bianca Stigter’s quest for answers postpones their inevitable fate, creating a cinematic Holocaust memorial.

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                                                                                                Trenches

                                                                                                • Loup Bureau
                                                                                                • 2021

                                                                                                  Film debut of war journalist Loup Bureau, who in aesthetic black-and-white perfectly captures how young Ukrainian soldiers experience the war in the Donbas region. Sometimes there’s gunfire, but there’s also downtime, resignation, and domesticity.

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                                                                                                  Users

                                                                                                  • Natalia Almada
                                                                                                  • 2021

                                                                                                    When machines can do everything better than we can, will our children love their perfect devices more than their imperfect parents? This visual essay, winner of the U.S. Documentary Directing Award at Sundance, poses exciting, topical questions.

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                                                                                                    The Velvet Queen

                                                                                                    • Marie Amiguet, Vincent Munier
                                                                                                    • 2021

                                                                                                      In the harsh landscape of the Tibetan Highlands, two adventurers go in search of the rare snow leopard. A moving film about a breathtakingly magnificent wilderness, the animals that live in it, and humanity’s lowly position in this hierarchy.

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                                                                                                      We

                                                                                                      • Alice Diop
                                                                                                      • 2021

                                                                                                        Alice Diop stops at stations along the RER B train route and meets a car mechanic, a district nurse, a writer, and a band of hunters. All these slices of life ultimately form a compelling whole—creating a possible ‘we’.

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                                                                                                        When a Farm Goes Aflame

                                                                                                        • Jide Tom Akinleminu
                                                                                                        • 2021

                                                                                                          A failed marriage, a return migration from Nigeria to Denmark, a husband with two families on two continents. Home videos, letter excerpts, and interviews tell the layered story of filmmaker Jide Tom Akinleminu’s mother.

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                                                                                                          Writing with Fire

                                                                                                          • Sushmit Ghosh, Rintu Thomas
                                                                                                          • 2021

                                                                                                            In Uttar Pradesh, a local newspaper is run by women from the lowest caste, the Dalits—a unique situation in conservative India. Armed with courage, perseverance, and smartphones, they report on thorny issues.

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                                                                                                            Yoon

                                                                                                            • Pedro F Neto, Ricardo Falcão
                                                                                                            • 2021

                                                                                                              Mbaye Sow works as a courier between his two home countries, Portugal and Senegal. In a station wagon packed with goods, he drives the thousands of miles up and down, tinkering with his dilapidated car and checking in with home.

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                                                                                                              Zinder

                                                                                                              • Aicha Macky
                                                                                                              • 2021

                                                                                                                Returning to her home city of Zinder in Niger, Aicha Macky shows how her young compatriots are faring there. A powerful, candid, and surprisingly hopeful glimpse into the world of the local gangs.

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