Pin It
Everyday Rebellion

Top ten activist films

In the spirit of How to Survive a Plague, act up with these rousing political films

Raw and rousing new documentary How to Survive a Plague from director David France charts the early years of the AIDS epidemic in the States and the work done by activist groups ACT UP and TAG to gain access to drugs to make the illness manageable when authorities refused to do more to help. Archival footage captures the intense pressure-cooker atmosphere the gay community had to organise itself within for effective action. To mark its release this week, here are our pick of ten other films about grass roots resistance and the fight for better ways of living you have to see.

Everyday Rebellion (2013)

This new Austrian documentary from The Riahi Brothers offers a snapshot of the current state of non-violent resistance movements and the different forms they are taking around the world - from the FEMEN group in Ukraine to Occupy Wall Street and the Indignados in Spain. Screening at CPH:DOX festival in Copenhagen on 13, 15, 16 November.

Ukraine Is Not A Brothel (2013)

FEMEN is the focus of Australian director Kitty Green's fascinating film. She followed the Ukrainian female activists for four years in their topless protests against patriarchy and authoritarian regimes, revealing a complex ambiguity in its leadership in the process. The title is a slogan the group wrote on their torsos in their early days combatting Ukraine's rep as Europe's prostitution hub.

United Red Army (2007)

Koji Wakamatsu's lauded docu-drama, which features a music score from Jim O'Rourke, splices tense archive footage with acted sequences to depict the rise and self-destructive fall of one of the most extreme young revolutionary groups of the '60s – Japan's left-wing United Red Army. 

Fuck For Forest (2012)

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.

Pussy Riot – A Punk Prayer (2013)

This documentary by Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin brings us into the centre of last year's trial of gutsy anti-Putin activists Pussy Riot for their guerrilla punk performance in a Moscow cathedral - an action that brought a firestorm of attention to human rights abuses in Russia, even while alienating many of their own people who remember all too well church persecution under Soviet rule.

Daisies (1966)

Long before Pussy Riot, Vera Chytilova's vibrantly surreal, anarchic Czech New Wave classic depicted two girls indulging in a playful riot of destruction, laying waste to a banquet that’s been set out for Communist leaders in a repressive regime that lauded "production" over humanity. The authorities banned it for "depicting the wanton", and prohibited its daring female director from working again for nearly a decade.

Nothing But A Man (1964)

Released in the UK for the first time this year, Michael Roemer's grittily naturalistic, soul-weary indie was one of the first depictions of black life in the Deep South. It shows the first stirrings of the Civil Rights Movement through its railroad-worker protagonist's efforts to resist the all-pervasive racism of the era rather than succumb to booze and despair.

Utopia (2013)

Legendary journalist John Pilger's new documentary charts Australia's shameful colonial legacy of apartheid-style racial oppression of its Aboriginal people, and its parallel history of resistance. The film journeys into Utopia - a vast region in the north, which is home to the Earth's oldest human presence. Out in the UK on 15 November.

5 Broken Cameras (2011)

A powerfully personal, human documentary from Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi assembled from years of footage shot by Palestinian farmer Burnat in his village of Bilin on the West Bank. Burnat makes a video-diary of his family’s daily life, which soon takes on wider resonance as a record of his community’s spirited resistance to Israeli territorial expansion.

Battleship Potemkin (1925)

We couldn't forget the mother of all protest films, Sergei Eisenstein's silent Soviet masterpiece about sailors who mutiny after being served up rotten meat. Using then-new montage techniques to create sympathy, it's one of the greatest propaganda films ever made, its dramatisation of Communist ideals so persuasive at the time Germany's SS were forbidden to watch it.