Best of the Tens: Kickstarter’s Liz Cook Mowe, Elise McCave doc picks

Not only has the year come to a close, but we are also waving goodbye to an entire decade. Realscreen reached out to myriad members of the non-fiction screen content community — from festival ...
January 8, 2020

Not only has the year come to a close, but we are also waving goodbye to an entire decade. Realscreen reached out to myriad members of the non-fiction screen content community — from festival programmers and commissioners to producers and directors — and gave them the not-so-simple task of picking their favorite documentary and factual projects of the past 10 years. Our latest correspondents: Kickstarter’s Liz Cook Mowe (left), director of documentary film, and Elise McCave (right), director of narrative film, who spotlight their favorite docs of the past decade.

The Arbor
Clio Barnard’s experimental debut feature blew me away with its stunningly unique approach to exploring the life and work of British playwright Andrea Dunbar. Dunbar was raised on an impoverished council estate in Bradford and was the youngest playwright to have work performed at the Royal Court Theatre in London, when she was 18. (EM)

The Square
1,400 backers raised $120,000 on Kickstarter to help bring Jehane Noujaim’s 2013 film about the Arab Spring uprising in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, to the screen. The film (below) captures the intoxicating energy and vitality of that mass movement from the vantage point of a group of protesters, a cross-section of Egyptian society, who were there on the streets. (EM)

The tension palpable from the first frames, watching Citizenfour I was in no doubt that I was watching history in the making, with a protagonist (Edward Snowden) who put himself in significant jeopardy to get his message out, and a filmmaker (Laura Poitras) equally committed to revealing the truth and crafting a gripping thriller. (EM)

The Act of Killing
I found it hard to breath during this film. The pure shock value of the story is enough to warrant being on this list but really it’s Joshua Oppenheimer’s genius and ability to harness that wild horror within a brilliant context that makes this one of the more unique and haunting documentaries. Also not to be missed: it’s companion film, The Look of Silence. (LCM)

Strong Island
Examining grief and how a family processes (or refuses to process) tragedy. This deliberate, intense, and devastating personal documentary (below) is a must see. (LCM)

strong island

This beautifully shot essay film weaves together footage from various documentaries, giving us a sense of what it might be like to be a camera person in the field. The privilege of that role, the trust and intimacy between the subject and the cinematographer, the tension between when to stop filming and intervene and when to hold steady. It is a love letter to the filmmaker’s process and will make you love it too. (LCM)

The Interrupters
No “top docs” list is complete without the inclusion of Steve James, a gentle titan of the form. Following a group of “violence interrupters” who put themselves in harm’s way in order to de-escalate potentially fatal disputes on Chicago’s South Side, James gives voice and face to a remarkable group of fiercely-committed community leaders. It is incredibly moving to see how far some people will go to ensure their community is safe and secure, and has the opportunity to thrive. (EM)

OJ Made in America
Each episode of OJ Made in America (below) is brilliantly crafted, moves quickly without losing detail and avoids feeling drawn out for the sake of its format. It explores complex social issues — seemingly effortlessly — while following the trajectory of OJ’s larger-than-life story. Totally worth all seven hours and 47 minutes. (LCM)
oj made in americaHale County This Morning, This Evening
The visual aesthetic of this lyrical film will hypnotize you. The storyline and acute moments of meaning are blended deep into the fabric of the film’s look and feel — and that look and feel is entirely unique to this film and this filmmaker. I’m a huge fan and can’t wait to see future work from Ramell Ross. (LCM)

How To Survive A Plague
David France’s portrait is of the early years of the AIDS epidemic and the tireless activists from ACT UP and TAG who fought for the attention and money required to fight it. This film is essential viewing both as a record of an extraordinarily painful moment in our history, and as a defiant demonstration of what can be achieved by a movement of people fighting for their lives.  (EM)

About The Author