Best documentaries - Auckland International Film Festival

By Peter Calder

Peter Calder previews six of the best documentaries on offer in this year's Auckland programme

Dir: James Marsh

The story of the "artistic crime of the century", when Frenchman Phillipe Petit walked - well, danced rather - on a tightrope stretched between the Twin Towers of the barely completed World Trade Center, is an exhilarating, ecstatic and toe-curlingly vertiginous portrait of very Gallic flair and obsessive dedication. Unforgettable.

Dir: Isaac Julien

This marvellously affectionate portrait of the ground-breaking gay British filmmaker Derek Jarman, written by his muse and leading lady Tilda Swinton, is also an awesomely clear-eyed view of the social and sexual history of the 70s and 80s and of a man who was "making films about love when there wasn't much love about".

Dir: Brian Hill

This deeply moving study of four ex-soldiers - veterans of conflicts in Malaya, the Falklands, Bosnia and Iraq - who recount their experiences of battling post-traumatic stress disorder is a small miracle, a tribute to the prodigious self-scrutinising honesty of the men and the patient, sensitive treatment afforded them by the filmmaker.

Dir: Geoffrey Smith

The owlish, very English, cycling surgeon Henry Marsh makes an unlikely hero but his selfless crusade to establish and support a neurosurgical clinic in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev entitles him to the name. From such unpromising material, Smith has fashioned an inspiring film about courage and initiative - including an eye-popping sequence in which Marsh removes a tumour from the brain of a conscious man so he can monitor his reactions.

Dir: Yung Chang

A Canadian Chinese filmmaker observes the impact of the unimaginably massive Three Gorges Dam project, not on energy or environment but on the lives of the people who live along the river's banks and ply its waters. Some sequences are worthy of Herzog or Fellini, but the film also homes in on two strikingly different youngsters whose aspirations are a template of life in the world's emerging economic superpower.

Dir: Juliette Veber

Wellington filmmaker Veber spent a year peering through a viewfinder at one Mr Peach, the endlessly energetic and never-say-die deputy principal at Aorere College in South Auckland, producing an engaging and challenging portrait of a man whose robust methods cannot disguise his passionate affection for his charges. Fly-on-the-wall at its patient best.

- NZ Herald

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