Copenhagen’s much-lauded nonfiction event, CPH:DOX, kicks off its 11th edition tonight, Thursday, November 7, and wraps up next Sunday, November 17. Over eleven days, the festival, known for its expansive consideration of films on the fringe of documentary, will present approximately 170 feature-length films, including several retrospective screenings, in addition to live concerts, seminars, and other events. I’ve still never had the opportunity to attend, sadly, but if I were going this year, the following titles stand out for me, section-by-section:
More than a dozen films vie in the fest’s main competition, DOX:AWARD, including: Ai Weiwei’s latest, STAY HOME!, focusing on the case of an HIV+ woman denied medical care because she is her family’s second child, going against China’s one-child policy; Anna Odell’s THE REUNION (pictured), in which the director stages the high school reunion she wasn’t invited to, and then uses it to confront her former bullies; Nicolás Videla and Camila José Donoso’s NAOMI CAMPBEL, a hybrid following a Chilean trans woman as she tries to obtain surgery via a TV show; The Riahi Brothers’ EVERYDAY REBELLION, a global look at protest and civil disobedience; Narimane Mari’s BLOODY BEANS, in which young Algerian boys and girls re-enact their nation’s fight for independence; and Antoine d’Agata’s ATLAS, an exploration of a dark underworld of sex and drugs by the French photographer.
CPH:DOX celebrates experimental work on the border of visual art and nonfiction with the NEW:VISION award, which includes eight feature length pieces as well as several shorts. Beyond some work that’s been on the circuit for the past few months, of interest here are Anka Sasnal and Wilhelm Sasnal’s ALEKSANDER, a confrontational portrait of a heavyset farmer in rural Poland; and Cassandra Guan and Lily Benson’s THE FILMBALLAD OF MAMADADA (pictured), a portrait of legendary yet overshadowed dadaist Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, constructed by over 50 artists.
A dozen regional filmmakers are in the running for the fest’s NORDIC:DOX award, including: Karin Ekberg’s A SEPARATION (pictured), the filmmaker’s exploration of her parents’ troubled marriage; Marisu Dybwad-Brandrud’s AFTER YOU, in which the filmmaker documents his mother tending to his dying grandfather; Lene Berg’s KOPFINO, a theatrical staging of eight sex workers discussing their profession and clients; Jide Tom Akinleminu’s PORTRAIT OF A LONE FARMER, following the filmmaker to his father’s native Nigeria in a quest to make a film; and Line Hatland’s THE SHADOW, in which a successful octogenarian private detective reflects on the mistakes she’s made in her family life.
Local filmmakers take center stage in DANISH DOX, which includes: Christian Sønderby Jepsen and Pernille Bervald Jørgensen’s BLOOD TIES, in which a daughter and father work together to unravel buried family secrets; Christian Suhr’s DESCENDING WITH ANGELS (pictured), looking at Muslim exorcism of jinns in Denmark; Boris Bertram’s THE WAR CAMPAIGN, an exploration of the political machinations that made war with Iraq inevitable; Estaphan Wagner’s LAST DREAMS, about death and life at a hospice; and Ulrik Wivel’s A DIFFERENT KIND OF BOY, a portrait of a young man with autism.
New to CPH:DOX this year is the F:ACT Award, honoring a dozen documentaries as investigative journalism, including: Karen Stokkendal Poulsen’s fascinating THE AGREEMENT (pictured), a three-hander between an EU mediator and negotiators from Serbia and Kosovo attempting to work out a border dispute; Werner Boote’s POPULATION BOOM, an exploration of global overpopulation; and Nagieb Khaja’s ABDE’S WAR, which follows a notorious Copenhagen gang leader as he travels to Syria to become involved in the conflict.
The Special Screenings section shines a spotlight on a number of projects, including: Jennifer Anderson and Vernon Lott’s MASSACRED FOR GOLD (pictured), a meditative recounting of a late 19th century murder of Chinese gold miners in Oregon; Raya Martin and Mark Peranson’s LA ÚLTIMA PELÍCULA, an attempt to chronicle the end of the world; and Richard Misek’s ROHMER IN PARIS, an ode to the French director and to the City of Lights. The fest’s TOP DOX strand presents a sort of best of other fests, as well as several less familiar titles, including: Hisham al-Zouki’s UNTOLD STORIES, portraits of everyday Syrian people over the past couple of years of civil war; Sabine Lidl’s NAN GOLDIN – I REMEMBER YOUR FACE, about the acclaimed photographer; and André Gil Mata’s CAPTIVITY, capturing the director’s grandmother in her home over four years.
CPH:DOX presents several unique sidebars, including a focus on independent Chinese nonfiction, which features: Li Hongqi’s HOOLY BIBLE, a satiric look at money and power in modern Chinese society; Shen Jie’s LITTLE PROLETARIAN (pictured), about a fourteen-year-old hoodlum; and Gu Tao’s THE LAST MOOSE OF AOLUGUYA, a portrait of a displaced ethnic minority group and of an alcoholic in particular. “Everything is Under Control” is a special section devoted to the notion of control, including: Éléonore Weber’s NIGHT REPLAY, about a Mexican village’s scheme to attract tourists by staging an immersive reconstruction of migrants vs US border patrols; and Armin Linke’s ALPI, an exploration of an artificial Alpine ski resort town in Dubai. Rounding out the program are films by several auteurs, sections on food and music docs, the DOX:LAB, and two strands curated by Ai Weiwei and the Yes Men.