As The Ground We Won recently emphasised emphatically, watching a documentary inside a theatre can generate emotions unlike any other cinematic experience.
Which is why its so exciting that this year's Documentary Edge Festival (which kicked off in Auckland yesterday) is bursting at the seams with all manner of bountiful non-fiction offerings. Here I will preview five titles that caught my attention, which I watched ahead of time. At home, sadly.
1. A Place To Call Home
The Documentary Edge Festival is hosting the world premiere of this socially conscious documentary from director Briar March.
Amongst a general examination of our country's flailing state housing situation, the film articulates an artful futility by delving into the plight of some Glen Innes tenants resisting eviction AND the Far North residents who are benefiting from what's being forced upon the GI tenants.
It's an approach that illustrates the complexity of the problem.
Excepting some nice time-lapse photography and one particularly full-on protest, it's not the most visually dynamic documentary ever made.
But the passion of its subjects comes through loud and clear, demanding an emotional response.
2. For Grace
As a thriving sub-genre of reality TV repeatedly attests, there is plenty of drama to be found in the cooking of food and in the running of a restaurant. This film taps into that drama with more potency than most TV shows, and underscores it with a personal journey that carries a decent amount of weight.
The scrappy swagger of successful chefs is often drowned out in reality TV, but it finds an outlet in For Grace, which follows a hot Chicago chef attempting to open up his dream restaurant in an incredibly competitive market..
In addition to being a heartfelt ode to a very special home economics teacher, a lot of value is gained here from the visual feast of beautifully photographed artisinal cuisine on display. It's the second most delectable film playing at the festival. The first being...
3. Deli Man
Although my esteemed colleague Peter Calder has already called attention to Deli Man's brilliance, I simply couldn't let an opportunity to ponder its charms go by.
I have always been obsessed with the New York Deli aesthetic, and this evocative celebration of everything that entails is an absolute delight from start to finish.
The film's spry touch allows it to offer up a huge amount of history without it ever coming across like an info dump. If you don't go in obsessed with deli food, you'll definitely come out that way inclined.
4. The Land of Many Palaces
This Chinese documentary is a rare reminder that studio blockbusters aren't the only movies with grand-scale, macro production value.
When a remote, rural part of Inner Mongolia was discovered to have vast coal reserves, the Chinese government built a giant city in the area. But nobody moved there. So farmers from the surrounding areas are being incentivised to populate the new city against their better judgement.
The film provides a fascinating insight into the daily Chinese bureaucratic machine while also functioning as a sombre metaphor for China's unstoppable urbanisation. But it's the pronounced sense of eerieness projected by the all-but-empty metropolis that makes this an absolute must-see. It's like something out of a crazier-than-usual James Bond movie.
5. Speechless: The Polar Realm
Perhaps better described as a lush visual poem than a documentary, this meditative exploration of the world's polar regions and their adorable inhabitants features no talking heads and no voiceover, and is all the more dreamlike for it.
Offering up one stunning sight after another (the giant walrus sleepily rolling into the water is a particular highlight), the film is almost unbearably cute at times, but in a good way. As it nears the end of its 45 minute running time, an always-there undercurrent bubbles to the surface, and it climaxes with an SOS call for its melting subject.
In a theatre, this wordless wonder is a guaranteed to be a trandscendent cinematic experience. (Screening with two other shorts. Cannot guarantee their transcendency).
• Which Doc Edge Festival films are you excited to see? Comment Below!