Berlin 2017: Documentary Overview

berlinaleThe Berlinale kicks off its 67th edition tomorrow, Thursday, February 9. Approximately 230 new features, as well as numerous shorts and retrospective works will unspool before the festival closes on Sunday, February 19, including nearly 80 doc features, with a selection of highlights noted below:

bombAs is typical of the event’s Competition, only one of the two dozen offerings is nonfiction: BEUYS, Andres Veiel’s portrait of the artist Joseph Beuys. The Berlinale Special strand once again presents four documentaries among its eighteen selections, among them Kevin Ford, Smriti Keshari, and Eric Schlosser’s THE BOMB (pictured), an experimental history of the atomic bomb; and Askold Kurov’s THE TRIAL: THE STATE OF RUSSIA VS OLEG SENTSOV, about a Maidan activist condemned as a terrorist.

dream boatTwenty of Panorama’s 50 features are nonfiction or hybrid projects, including several LGBT-themed projects, such as Tristan Ferland Milewski’s DREAM BOAT (pictured), about the passengers of a gay cruise; Jochen Hick’s MY WONDERFUL WEST BERLIN, which explores the bustling gay culture in the European city in the 1960s and 1970s; Hui-chen Huang’s SMALL TALK, a portrait of the Taiwanese fimmaker’s tomboy mother; and Andrea Weiss’ BONES OF CONTENTION, about the search for justice by Spanish LGBT victims of Franco’s regime.

eraseAdditional Panorama documentaries include Andrea Luka Zimmerman’s ERASE AND FORGET (pictured), on the real-life Special Forces soldier who inspired Rambo; Raed Andoni’s GHOST HUNTING, which re-examines interrogations that took place at a Jerusalem detention center; Lynn Hershman Leeson’s TANIA LIBRE, about a Cuban dissident performance artist in discussion with her psychiatrist about the political power of art; João Moreira Salles’ IN THE INTENSE NOW, an essay about 1960s revolutions in Europe and Brazil using the filmmaker’s mother’s period footage; Merzak Allouache’s INVESTIGATING PARADISE, which follows an Algerian journalist as she explores jihadists’ beliefs about paradise; and Michael Glawogger’s UNTITLED, a film about aimless travelling, completed after the director’s death by his editor Monika Willi.

ahkeemSimilarly, documentaries make up nearly half of the Forum’s 46 features, including Jeremy S Levine and Landon Van Soest’s FOR AHKEEM (pictured), an observational portrait of an African-American teenage girl; Dieudo Hamadi’s MAMA COLONEL, about a female Congolese police chief whose mission is to protect women and children; Ann Carolin Renninger and René Frölke’s FROM A YEAR OF NON-EVENTS, a portrait of a nonagenarian German farmer; Albertina Carri’s RUSTLERS, in which the filmmaker takes on the story of a legendary Argentine outlaw; Joshua Bonnetta and JP Sniadecki’s EL MAR LA MAR, about the desert between Mexico and the US; Manuel Muñoz Rivas’ THE SEA STARES AT US FROM AFAR, an impressionistic portrait of a coastal community; Sompot Chidgasornpongse’s RAILWAY SLEEPERS, which follows train passengers across Thailand; Rati Oneli’s CITY OF THE SUN, about a once-thriving Georgian mining hub turned ghost town; Ma Li’s INMATES, an intimate look at a Chinese psychiatric hospital; and Tala Hadid’s HOUSE IN THE FIELDS, about two Berber sisters facing their final Summer together.

soldierThe festival’s youth-focused Generation offers seven docs, among them Manuel Abramovich’s SOLDIER (pictured), which follows a young man’s coming of age during basic training; Yelizaveta Smith and Georg Genoux’s SCHOOL NUMBER 3, about the students of a Ukrainian school rebuilt after its destruction during war; and Chang-Yong Moon and Jin Jeon’s BECOMING WHO I WAS, a profile of a young Tibetan boy, the recincarnation of a Buddhist master.

ironheadNational cinema takes the spotlight in the Perspektive Deutsches Kino and LOLA sections, though documentaries make up a fraction of their offerings, including: Tian Dong’s IRONHEAD (pictured), which explores the intersection of Shaolin kung fu and soccer in China; Alexander Kleider’s BERLIN REBEL HIGH SCHOOL, about a last-chance school run by students; and Heidi Specogna’s CAHIER AFRICAIN, on the efforts of Central African survivors of violence to share their stories.

andreAdditional programming strands include Native, which offers Mikhail Barynin’s 24 SNOW, about a traditional horse breeder in the Arctic Sakha; and Culinary Cinema, which offers such nonfiction fare as Mark Tchelistcheff’s ANDRÉ: THE VOICE OF WINE (pioctured), the story of a legendar wine lover; Risteard Ó Domhnaill’s ATLANTIC, about three small fishing communities; and Peter Svatek’s THEATER OF LIFE, which brings together world-class chefs to cook in a Milanese soup kitchen.

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Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Overviews, Recommendations

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