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Look of Silence
Still from Joshua Oppenheimer's "The Look of Silence"Courtesy of CPH:DOX

What's new in documentary?

With a corner on the doc market, CPH:DOX festival introduces us to the next in non-fiction

Copenhagen’s CPH:DOX has developed a rep in its 12 short years as one of the most innovative documentary festivals around, pushing for creative approaches to the form that stretch ideas of what a doc can be. Here’s what flipped our minds at the latest edition last week, where we’d swung into town to co-host the closing party.


The deserving winner of the main DOX:AWARD was Joshua Oppenheimer’s follow-up to The Act of Killing, which in its hyper-coloured, elaborately costumed re-enactments by former Indonesian death squad members of their crimes is one of the most nightmarishly surreal documentaries of recent times. The Copenhagen-based director’s latest is no less devastating, and gives the victims an essential voice, led by optometrist Adi as he confronts the killers.


Director Timothy George Kelly looks into how low rent and the subtle friction between the city’s Francophone and Anglophone divide have fed the Montréal indie music scene, dragging a groggy Sean Nicholas Savage out of bed for a chat and some impromptu songs in his apartment and getting insights from other musicians such as Tim Hecker and Braids vocalist Raphaelle Standell-Preston.


This beautifully surreal, disquietingly strange experimental short (for which director Scott Cummings sourced alpacas and pyrotechnics) shows New York’s face-painted Juggalo subculture. They’re captured dialogue-free in relatively still takes doing a bunch of their favourite things – driving recklessly in souped-up, monogrammed cars, getting off with each other while luminously body-painted under black-lights in a leaky squat, setting fire to stuff and doing circus-style tough-man tricks.

ACTRESS (2014)

Brandy Burre, who was in The Wire, quit acting to focus on setting up house with her boyfriend and the role of motherhood. But finding her domestic life doesn’t provide the creative outlet she craves; she endeavours to relaunch her career as her relationship unravels. She’s filmed in the process by Robert Greene in this fascinating, stylishly shot spin on melodrama and the layers of performance in everyday life.


Laura Poitras, who was present at the fest as a guest curator, uses the technology of filmmaking as an essential counter-tool to veiled state surveillance practices in this intimate record of Wikileaks whistleblower Snowden's revelations that governments are routinely monitoring our private correspondence, shot over several electrically tense days in a Hong Kong hotel room. You’ll think twice next time you log in to your email.


Visually sublime and melancholy, this hallucinatory fever poem on the anguish of history and its collective traumas (aka the freaky shit you see in Lisbon elevators when your mind checks out and infirmity reigns) is pure Pedro Costa, the Portuguese rock star of auteur cinema.


Lav Diaz has a rep as one of the most radical arthouse visionaries of our times and continues his run with this film, which at just over two-and-a-half hours is short for this master of the epic running length. Hypnotically slow and with minimal dialogue (but with sublime black-and-white imagery and evocative sound tying you into its own rhythm), it captures a community in the Philippines in the wake of a devastating storm.

1989 (2014)

The festival opening film – from Anders Ostergaard and Erzsebet Racz – screened simultaneously in 24 nations across Europe to mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It applies the inventive method of lip-synching to archive material in its recreation of secret negotiations between Hungary’s then-president Miklos Nemeth and his strong-arm neighbours over his plans to open to the West. A second thread shows the high human stakes of this politicking as with the suspense of a thriller we follow a young couple as they try to make a break across the border in a reconstruction.

ANNA (1975)

The first Italian film to be shot on video, this raw, grainy cult wonder from Alberto Grifi and Maximo Sarchielli screened in a restored version. Sarchielli had taken 16-year-old Anna in after meeting her on the Rome streets where she was homeless, eight months pregnant, and frequently using, and persuaded her to reconstruct scenes from her past on camera. The result is a fascinating snapshot of institutional failure and the limits of café zeal for revolution, in which Anna achieves the final rebellion.


Narrated by The Craft star Fairuza Balk in her trademark husky drawl and soundtracked by indie pop duo Summer Camp, director Charlie Lyne’s assemblage of excerpts from 200 teen movies is a socially astute and very funny insight into the tales we tell ourselves about about fitting in – or not – growing up. Showing in the Top Dox section in affirmation of the rave reception it’s been getting, it’s set for UK release early next year.