Top ten innovative documentaries

To celebrate the launch of Visionaries, here's our rundown of the best genre-pushing docs

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We're beyond excited about this week's launch of Visionaries, which will see a different visual auteur take over our video section every week with newly commissioned work from our favourite pioneer collaborators, from Apichatpong Weerasethakul to Björk – and we're especially excited about Doc X, our brand new weekly documentary strand, which kicks off with a look at the archives of iconic clubland chronicler Dick Jewell.  

With the documentary format having raised its game recently, now being recognised as a cinematic form on a par with fiction and often blurring the line between the two in innovative ways to challenge our assumptions of "truth", we're marking the launch by giving a nod to ten of the best recent docs that have pushed our buttons or beguiled us, opened up space for change and prompted us to look at the world in fresh ways. Enjoy.

A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness (2013)

Winner of the NEW:VISION award at last week's CPH:DOX festival in Copenhagen, this experimental collaboration between Ben Rivers and Ben Russell stars musician Robert AA Lowe. Shot in three parts at a shaman-run commune in Estonia, in the Finnish wilderness and at a Norwegian black metal gig, it shows its protagonist moving through the world, trying to work out what utopia in secular times might mean.

Interior. Leather Bar. (2013)

This smart directing collaboration between Travis Mathews and James Franco (who is premiering new work on Visionaries) charts their endeavour to reproduce the lost 40 minutes of Cruising, William Friedkin's controversial 80s murder-thriller set in the NYC gay leather-scene, and questions hangs-ups related to on-screen sexual expression. Out in the UK on 9 December.

Leviathan (2012)

Set aboard a hulking fishing vessel amid crashing waves and rain, this immersive, intensely visceral documentary by Lucien Catsaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel plunges our senses into the harsh world of modern fishing, as humans attempt to bend nature to their means. From Harvard's Sensory Ethnography Lab, which also brought us recently acclaimed Nepalese cable-car doc Manakamana. Out in the UK on 29 November.

The Reunion (2013)

At once gripping and difficult to watch, controversial Swedish artist Anna Odell (whose prior staged psychotic episode provoked outrage and charged debate) imaginatively recreates in dramatic manner the high school reunion she wasn't invited to – then presses former classmates to watch and comment on her piece and the destructive school hierarchies that were at play in her persecution.

Whateverest (2012)

For this short, Kristoffer Borgli tracked down the inspiration behind Todd Terje's disco-jam track "Inspector Norse" – a young failed electronic musician and eccentric in a dead-end Norwegian town who brews his own drugs and posts videos of himself dancing on the net. Hilarious and endearing, the mockumentary – presented as fact – had many of us fooled.

Kopfkino (2012)

In a lavish old theatre in Berlin, eight women sit at a long banquet table in the dramatic outfits of their trade – from corsetry to a riding uniform – dining and telling anecdotes from their work fulfilling clients' sexual fantasies. The fascinating stories and debates provide great insight into power and the psychology of desire in this feminist film from director Lene Berg.

Future My Love (2013)

In her experimental call to brave innovation director Maja Borg visits 97-year-old futurist Jacque Fresco at The Venus Project, seeking both an alternative to our failed global economic system and a way out of the heartbreak of her own ended relationship with Italian actress Nadya Cazan, who first introduced her to Fresco's vision.

Fuck For Forest (2013)

Selling access to home-made porn and holding public orgies is the MO by which Berlin-based activist NGO Fuck for Forest makes money for rescuing rain forests. Polish director Michal Marczak hung out with the group to document their controversial activities, raising intriguing questions about contemporary lifestyles and community engagement.

Rough Cut (2013)

Brit conceptual artist and trickster Jamie Shovlin's "metamentary" documents the making of imaginary '70s exploitation film Hiker Meat, in which a young hitchhiker happens upon a forced-labour commune controlled by a giant lactating worm. This mind-bender sprang out of Shovlin's fictitious Krautrock band project Lustfaust and is based on his extensive collection of old slasher clips. Out in the UK on 6 December.

The Act of Killing (2013)

Deemed by Werner Herzog one of the most surreal and frightening films he's seen, Joshua Oppenheimer's lauded documentary sees unrepentant former members of Indonesian death squads, who were adulated for killing communists, theatrically re-enact their violent crimes in elaborate, hyper-coloured scale – with astonishing results. 

Watch the first video in our Doc X documentary series, on underground clubland auteur Dick Jewell, here. 

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