Oscar nominated documentary ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ is released in Irish cinemas this week. Based on the unfinished manuscript ‘Remember This House’ by James Baldwin, ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ examines the relationships, tensions and often outright fear and hatred between the white and African-American populations of the US. Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson – who stands in for the late James Baldwin – the film is also interspersed with footage of Baldwin himself, and draws a powerful comparison between the unrest and violent incidents in Ferguson in 2014, and the 1963 riots in Birmingham Alabama.

To celebrate the release of ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ in Irish cinemas, Movies.ie has taken a look back at some other recent documentaries that you really need to see.

‘Amy’
Director Asif Kapadia takes a look back over the life of singer Amy Winehouse, through archive footage, home movies and interviews with her friends and family.
There is little doubt that Amy Winehouse was always the focus of an invasive spotlight, but Asif Kapadia aims to dig a little deeper through interviews with her friends and family. The film also examines the impact of the tabloid frenzy around Amy Winehouse; she seemed to have been hounded every time she stepped foot outside her house, and this obviously had a huge effect on her since she only ever really cared about the music, not the fame that went with it. In this way, Amy is a damning indictment of the media industry, and how we – as people – consume the media. By clicking an image of Amy Winehouse at her worst, we indirectly sent the paparazzi to her door once more. It was a vicious circle for both media consumers and Winehouse herself, and the footage of her being surrounded outside of her home is truly frightening. ‘Amy’ had extensive praise heaped upon it, and went on to win an Oscar in 2016.

‘Murderball’
Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro’s low budget documentary focuses on athletes who play wheelchair rugby. Focusing on the Canadian and US teams in the lead up to the 2004 Paralympic Games, the film underlines the skill, tenacity and strength of these Paralympic athletes, way before the success of the 2012 Games in London thrust the sport onto a world stage.
As well as following the athletes on the court, as they crash their reinforced wheelchairs one another, the film focuses on a young man recovering from an accident that has changed his life. The athletes encourage him at every turn, as well as visiting soldiers wounded in Iraq. ‘Murderball’ is a film about the sport, but also about the incredible odds the players have overcome to be world-class athletes, and their generosity in helping those coming to terms with recent injuries.
As well as being hugely acclaimed, ‘Murderball’ was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 2006 Oscars, but lost out to ‘March of the Penguins’.

‘Capturing the Friedmans’
Released in Ireland in 2004, ‘Capturing the Friedmans’ tells the story of a seemingly average middle-class family whose perfect veneer is hiding a shocking and terrible secret. David Friedman used to work as a clown, but everything falls apart when it comes to light that David’s brother and father pleaded guilty to child sexual abuse.
‘Capturing the Friedmans’ had an unusual road to production; director David Jarecki was originally making a short documentary called ‘Just a Clown’ – which did end up getting made – but it was while making the short that Jarecki did some research and discovered the truth about the Friedman family. Jarecki also discovered that the family had an archive of home movies that they recorded while waiting for their case to come to trial. ‘Capturing the Friedmans’ was Oscar nominated in 2004, but lost out to Errol Morris’ documentary ‘The Fog of War’.

‘Man on Wire’
James Marsh’s documentary ‘Man on Wire’ follows tightrope walker Phillipe Petit’s daring, dangerous and borderline crazy attempt to walk on a tightrope between the newly erected twin towers of New York City’s World trade Centre, in 1974.
‘Man on Wire’ is dizzying and exhilarating, and deliberately shot to look like a heist movie; the film contains both original footage of the walk, as well as recreations of the event. Marsh’s film made no mention of the twin towers’ destruction in 2001, however, as he did not want to infect the beauty of what Phillipe Petit did with the horror of the towers being destroyed. Philippe Petit’s extraordinary walk between the twin towers was also the subject of the 2015 film ‘The Walk’, which starred Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Petit. ‘Man on Wire’ won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2009.

‘The Act of Killing’
A documentary crew talks to Anwar Congo, one of the pivotal figures in the 1965 genocide of Communists in Indonesia. It immediately becomes clear that Congo and his supporters revel in the murders, so they are encouraged to recreate scenes they remember… With surprising results.
‘The Act Of Killing’ is a strange, but fascinating movie. It is clear that Anwar Congo and his men are revered and feared in Indonesia, but they also seem to be emotionally stunted; they revel in the “glory” of having personally murdered countless people, and gleefully (at first) re-enact their discoveries about the most “efficient” way of killing people. As the film goes on, however, Congo and his cohorts begin to see the horror what they were involved in. ‘The Act of Killing’ was Oscar nominated in 2014, but lost out to the documentary about backing singers that almost made it; ’20 Feet From Stardom’.

Words: Brogen Hayes

‘I Am Not Your Negro’ is released in Irish cinemas on April 7th 2017. Watch the trailer below…

  • filmbuff2011

    Great choices. Man On Wire was better than the Hollywood dramatisation – The Walk. Here are a few of my own favourite documentaries that came out last year: Weiner, De Palma, Jim: The James Foley Story and Life, Animated (nominated for the Oscar). My all-time favourite documentary is Touching The Void.