I Am Heath Ledger (2017)

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Image via tribecafilm.com

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This inoffensive hagiography of Australian actor Heath Ledger gathers handfuls of his family and friends to tell us what a good bloke he was. Combined with home movie footage shot by Heath, who obsessively documented his life, we build a picture of a talented young man with a generous heart and an unchecked manic energy that more or less guaranteed he would burn brightly but not for long. He died at age 28 of an accidental overdose of prescription drugs.  Continue reading

Fire at Sea (Fuocoammare) (2016)

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This stunningly crafted documentary, ostensibly about the European refugee crisis, won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. Without narration, context nor exposition other than a few paragraphs before it starts, the film juxtaposes the quiet life of the inhabitants of the island of Lampedusa with the horrific plight of those attempting to cross from Africa to Europe. Continue reading

The Family (2016)

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Image via MIFF

I wasn’t expecting this documentary about the Melbourne suburban and Victorian rural sect The Family and leader Anne Hamilton-Byrne to pack such an emotional wallop. It begins as a blow-by-blow retelling of the investigation into the cult in the 80s and takes a while to build a coherent story but ends as a devastating insight into the repercussions for the children involved and the inability of investigators to breach the protective wall of privilege around the cult to obtain justice. Continue reading

The Swell Season (2011)

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The delightful, tiny film Once thrust musicians Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová into the spotlight when they won an Academy Award for Best Original Song in 2008 for Falling Slowly. The Swell Season is the name of the band they formed and toured around the world as well as this quiet and genuine B&W documentary that follows the ups and downs of their personal and professional relationship in the aftermath of their success. Continue reading

Cameraperson (2016)

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Described as a memoir, this documentary is a montage of footage taken by documentary cinematographer Kirsten Johnson over the 25 years (so far) of her career. Presented without narration, we see a patchwork of clips that pull us from Bosnia and Afghanistan to Brooklyn and Guantanamo Bay. Johnson only appears on screen once, a highly personal and emotional moment toward the end, but her quiet presence is often felt. Continue reading