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25 DOCUMENTARIES TO SEE AT DOCPOINT 2020

The selection for DocPoint 2020 is nothing short of staggering.

With a grand total of ninety-six documentaries screened at over two hundred and thirty screenings, DocPoint is not messing around. So when someone asks they should go and see at the festival, the easy answer would simply be: Everything. There isn’t a single film that isn’t at least interesting, and there are dozens that frankly seem to be essential viewing for anyone interested in the world today.

With a special emphasis on women and women filmmakers, DocPoint 2020 sheds light on places and people who rarely get their moment in the sun. 

Here are the twenty-five films I would recommend from the festival this year. Look for more coverage as we near the festival in just a few short weeks. 

A STEP FORWARD

There’s a place in Wakayama, south of Osaka, called Sandabeki. A cliff formation overlooking the ocean, it has remained a popular tourist destination for decades. It is also the chosen spot for thousands who come to end their lives every year. 

Around twenty thousand people commit suicide in Japan per year. That number is down from the worst peak, when it was closer to thirty thousand just over a decade ago. The societal reaction to suicide continues to vary with others treating it as something to be tolerated, and some even finding poetry in the act. 

At the final ledge of the Sandabeki Cliffs is a large sign advertising The Phone of Life. Behind the potential jumper is a phonebooth with a one-way connection to help. That help is Yoichi Fujiyabu, a priest who has to date saved around nine hundred people looking to end their lives. 

A STEP FORWARD follows those that walked away from their potential death as well as the work of Reverend Fujiyabu, who works with the men and women he has saved in leading them towards new lives. 

With both Finland and Japan sharing high statistic in suicide rates (per capita), a uniquely humane look at the subject like this is not just interesting but downright necessary to understand the mindset of those that have reached the kind of point in life where ending things feels like the only answer left they have a choice in. 

ABOUT LOVE

Making a documentary about your own family must be incredibly hard. How do you portray those that you’ve known your entire life, and tell the world about them in a way that won’t be misinterpreted or misunderstood? 

Director Archana Phadke spent three years filming her loved ones in an attempt to capture truthfully the tight knit microcosmos of her family in the middle of the gargantuan entity that is present day India. The result looks to be a fascinating look at a family unit in a perpetual state of change, where comfort and calamity both from within, and only love holds everything together.

ANBESSA

In a world increasingly split into the have and have-nots, we’re reaching the point of economic inequality where below the poor are now the horrendously destitute. It is at this group that ANBESSA focuses on. Following the life of Asalif, a child growing up with his mother in a mud hut in the shadow of the newly built middle-class housing complex that threatens their very existence. Asalif builds a new reality for himself from the scraps of those better off than him, and roams the wild with unbound imagination. 

Especially for people from a safe and prosperous country like Finland, ANBESSA is a welcome and eye-opening experience to witness how far removed the lives of others can be from ours. 

BUDDHA IN AFRICA

Enock was five when he was taken in by the local Buddhist monastery and given the name Elu. Years later, he has grown into a bright young man skilled in Kung-Fu and with dreams to travel the world. But all things come with a price, and the Chinese run monastery has begun to demand Enock to travel to Taiwan to complete his studies – and convert to Buddhism. 

Filmed over a period of multiple years, director Nicole Schafer depicts the current struggle in Africa to retain your own cultural roots as a new wave of colonization has begun. The influence of Chinese imperialism is everywhere on the continent, and the depiction of a potential global future will surely be a revelatory thing to witness. 

CACHADA

CACHADA is word used in El Salvador to describe an unexpected opportunity that you can’t slip from your grasp. For the women depicted in this documentary, that opportunity is the chance to perform live theater where they mine the topics through workshopping, improv, and discussion about their personal pasts. Baring themselves entirely, the women go through decades and generations of trauma, sexual assault, and growing into new families as old ones pass on. 

I have no concept of what it is to be a woman today, let alone one in a country so far removed from Finland as El Salvador. I can’t wait to begin to understand even a fraction of it through revealing and compassionate documentaries such as this. 

CITIZEN K

Alex Gibney is one of the most famous mainstream documentarians in the world, and his previous films like ZERO HOUR and GOING CLEAR have been massive revelations about our modern world and the hidden facets beneath the surface. His latest dives into one of the most mysterious, yet globally known figures on the planet: Vladimir Putin. 

Told through the words of one of the former oligarchs who placed Putin in power, CITIZEN K is surely going to be riveting viewing, as it unpacks our modern history – and potential future – through guidance with one of those that shaped it in the first place. 

CARNIVAL PILGRIMS

We live in a more connected planet than ever before in history. Yet, if director Mika Mattila’s argument holds true, we are destined to cross and recross our paths like figure skaters as we traverse this globe. Why? Is it pop-culture? Social media influence? Or just a general pack mentality where we instinctively follow crowds wherever they go in hopes that we truly don’t lose the connection we traveled halfway across the world to get rid of in the first place?

Shot in twelve countries around the world, Mattila’s essay documentary presents a compelling argument that no matter how much we eat, pray, love, chances are that it’s already an imitation of someone, somewhere else. 

COUNTERS

Chronicling the rise of xenophobia in Koreatown, Tokyo of present day Japan, COUNTERS is a hard and unflinching look at the kind of blind, ignorant racism that plagues the world over. On the other side of the confrontation is former Yakuza, Takahashi, who roams the streets looking for virulent hate speech spewing xenophobes with a response in kind. Hatred is met with hatred and soon the protests and anti-protests erupt into violent confrontations. 

Considering what is happening in Finland now, this hits all too close to home. We aren’t yet at the point where Nazi rallies are openly fought against, but if COUNTERS is to be believed such an eventuality isn’t far off.

FAT FRONT

I’ve dreamed of being skinny and thought for years that it would solve all my problems. Being skinny would bring respect, admiration, and even desirability. That’s how it goes – that’s how society tells us it is. It’s not a unique or unfounded notion, as FAT FRONT will tell us. 

Following the lives of young Scandinavian women sick and tired of a culture that will always treat them like second class because of their bodies, FAT FRONT reads like a triumphant call for realization of self-worth in a world obsessed with the cover and never the book. 

FONJA

A detention house in Malaga. Documentarian Lina Zacher has given ten boys there, each with pasts filled with violent crime, rape, violence, and theft, a camera and the project to film themselves into a documentary. With freedom to explore film the way they want, the children begin experimenting with telling their stories. 

As an experiment this sounds incredibly interesting, handing the power of the story being told to the subject themselves, especially when the subjects are so removed from society that we know. It’s inevitably a subjective take on the material, with an entire host of unreliable narrators at its core, but as a document of humanity it could become invaluable.

HOPE FROZEN

A young girl in Bangkok tragically passes away at the age of two from an incurable disease. Her family, in grief, place their faith in science and she becomes the first and youngest person in history to be cryogenically frozen. 

Knowing that they will not be alive to see her return, her parents are resigned to their belief that the future will deliver their daughter a life promised – even if that belief is frail to begin with. 

HOPE FROZEN looks to ask and ponder the questions about our short lives on this planet, and what are the implications of preparing a second life to someone who never could ask for it in the first place. Will the child’s rebirth in the future be a joyous celebration, or a centuries long message in a bottle of grief from people they will never get to know?

I – THE DOCUMENTARY OF A JOURNALIST

Director Tatsuya Mori trails the daily activities of Isako Mochizuki during the first half of 2019, following closely at her routine in investigating Japanese corruption, foreign influence in the country, and lies, damned lies. Mochizuki is nothing if unrelentless and that has brought upon her an official rebuke in her country, where such an action has made her an unwilling pariah. Nevertheless, she persists.

At a time of fake news, propaganda, and sheer bullshit clogging up the internet, any portraits of journalists on a crusade for truth and justice should be treated like rare and precious diamonds. This is one of them. 

IMMORTAL

Can you build a perfect citizen? Craft them from birth onwards to serve and protect nothing but the state which has made you rich? Russia is certainly going to try. 

Taking place right next door, director Ksenija Okhapkina depicts the frozen north-western wastes of Russia as endless darkness peppered with ice and snow, where humans are mere shadows of themselves. From the ruins of former gulags, a new generation of hardened children are being raised. It’s a terrifying and illuminating portrait of something so unbelievable happening so close, yet still being so unknown to us.

KELET

Kelet is a young, black trans woman who dreams of being on the cover of Vogue. Thrown out by her family after her coming out, Kelet moved back to Finland, where she was born, to find her way on her own. Finding a new family in the Hellsinki ballroom scene, Kelet now tells her story about living in a country where despite perceived equal stature for all, structural discrimination is still a daily occurence. 

Depicting a modern day Helsinki and the emerging world of people most (myself included) were hugely ignorant and oblivious of for most of our lives, KELET looks to be a hugely informative, touching, and timely portrait of people trying to live their lives in a society built to tell them they’re different in the most hostile way possible. 

LADY TIME

After moving to a new home, director Elina Talvensaari found the belongings of the person who had lived there previously. With no other family to claim them, Talvensaari couldn’t bring herself to throw them out, arguing to herself that it would eradicate the last memory of the deceased – as if they had never existed. Instead, she chose to make a film about the mysterious person she had never met, entirely from the memories left behind. 

As someone barreling towards a middle-age these topics are endlessly fascinating to me. What do we actually leave behind of ourselves? Did we ever exist if there’s no one to remember us? And can our lives still have value long after we’re gone even if a passed on story makes us smile?

LEFTOVER WOMEN

In China, career-focused women who haven’t married by their late-twenties are often referred to as “sheng nu” or “leftover women.” Highly offensive to begin with, it is one of the harsh realities faced by millions of Chinese women daily as they focus on careers and their lives instead of conforming to societal demands. 

Promising to be a fascinating look under the happy globalist facade that China puts on for the Western audience, LEFTOVER WOMEN is an intimate portrait of three women trying to navigate the treacherous waters of expectation, tradition, and personal happiness. 

LITTLE DIETER NEEDS TO FLY

Werner Herzog is one of my favorite filmmakers and his documentaries are always revelations in their own way. LITTLE DIETER NEEDS TO FLY is one of his earlier works, which he later adapted into the less successful fictional film RESCUE DAWN. 

Telling the story of German Dieter Dengler, who served in the American air force during the Vietnam War, and his incredible tale of being shot down, captured, and surviving through the jungle inferno – each step holding on to his dear hope to one day fly again. 

Herzog is in inherently compelling storyteller, and while his films never even attempt to be objective, they’re always incredibly revealing portraits of both the world, its people, and Herzog himself. 

LOVE CHILD

Leila and Shahand have a child who was conceived through their affair to one another – which in Iran, their home, carries a death sentence. They flee towards Europe in hopes of a new life and a better start, only to be swept into the limbo of the refugee crisis, where they’re lost in a world of bureaucracy and unkindness.

Giving the continuing worldwide crisis a human face, LOVE CHILD can potentially hold the power to help everyone viewing understand who it is that we as prosperous nations are turning away at our borders, and the lives that are in flux without a home to call their own. 

PUSH

Leilani Farha is a UN investigator traveling the globe to unearth the root of the housing crisis plaguing the planet right now. The further she digs, the more dirt she uncovers a scandal involving hundreds of trillions of dollars, and a rigged economy designed to keep rich and poor in a vile status quo without an end. 

Absolutely timely and important, PUSH is hopefully the first of many documentaries shining a light on the scheming and dealing of housing markets across the world. Even Finland isn’t spared from it, but we still have to wait for our own documentary on the matter. For now, this looks like it’s a great place to start.

SHADOW FLOWERS

Seven years ago Ryun-hee Kim was tricked by a black market broker into leaving her home in North Korea under the guise of traveling to China to earn money for her family. Instead she was transported to South Korea, where her passport was taken away. She was told that she would be a South Korean now, despite her pleas to return to her family in the North. 

On the surface the situation looks absurd. North Korea is a destitute mess, ruled by a tyrant through fear and propaganda. Why would anyone want to return?

It is here that the documentary by Seung-Jun Yi comes in and paints a powerful portrait of longing, love, and fear of being forgotten by your family. It asks us the question that are we truly capable of making choices for others, especially when it involves forcibly removing them from lives they know and have made for themselves? Who are we then?

SUNLESS SHADOWS

A group of young women play in a yard surrounded by a tall, imposing wall. They live in dormitories with bunk beds and tend to their children. Each one of them involved in killing their fathers, husbands, or brother-in-laws. 

Allowing the women to speak for themselves, SUNLESS SHADOWS looks to illuminate very difficult topics about a world still kept silent on a global scale. I couldn’t think of a more interesting and emotionally distressing topic.

TALKING ABOUT TREES

A group of aging film enthusiasts and directors attempt to bring about a revival of cinema into Sudan as they reach their twilight years. As the group as to convince both financiers and the Sudanese government of the validity of their work, the trios appetite grows from street screenings to something truly momentous: The revival of a grand open air theater for hundreds.

In a sea of dark and heavy topics, TALKING ABOUT TREES looks like it’ll be a mesmerizing and cheerful reminder about the power of cinema and the unity it brings. 

TASTE OF HOPE

When the global company Unilever decided to pack their bags and shut down their Fralib Tea factory in Southern France in 2010, the workers naturally did the one thing they could – they seized the means of production. After over a thousand days of resistance, the workers became the owners of the company themselves. It was quickly decided that out of the old would be born a new cooperative, where each vote is a democratic one, and where everyone owns a part of the company. 

Tracking the workers in their daily lives for years, TASTE OF HOPE looks to answer the question of where our future is going as multinational organizations take over more and more places on the planet, and could cooperatives truly be the answer to a more fair and just working culture?

THE CAVE

Filmed over two years in a hospital in Ghouta, a city besieged by the Syrian government for five consecutive years until 2018, THE CAVE is a portrait of the people working there attempting to make a difference. Focusing on Amani Ballour, a woman in her twenties, who serves as the manager for the hospital, the documentary seeks to both highlight the intense humanity of those that unquestioningly dedicate their lives to helping others, and shamefully highlight the ignorance of the West for turning a blind eye to what has happened – and is happening – in Syria.

In my great ignorance, I will be watching this the first chance I get to learn just how much I don’t know, and how much others are sacrificing at this very minute. This comes highly recommended.

THE PIT

Life is very long, said T.S. Elliot. 

So it must feel for the people in Bulgaria, living their glory years by the Black Sea, spending their days in a hot pool known to the locals as THE PIT. Following the microcosm of destinies and small fates that entangle with the pool, THE PIT paints a living portrait of small pleasures that tie into large ones. And the potential risk of it all unraveling as its destined for final closure.

I love stories about other lives, especially when their told in vignettes like this. They’re never accurate, where the fabrications and amalgamations of memories only serve to shine a light on the teller themselves.

I can’t wait to get lost in half-remembered histories on the shores of an ocean I’ve never seen.

DOCPOINT 2020 begins on 27.1. and runs until 2.2.2020. More information can be found at https://docpointfestival.fi/en/

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