TV / Films

Four kickass documentaries you should watch

My anxiety, which prevents me from watching TV shows or movies alone, does let me watch documentaries, and although they’re usually about nature, I also adore real-life stories. I’m an unashamed Storyville addict — three of the below recs come under that umbrella.


Tickled

or, No one should be allowed unlimited access to cash.

Rule 34: if it exists, there is porn of it; no exceptions. Of all human activities, you’d think tickling would be near the top when it comes to Rule 34 — and that’s how this documentary starts. The director and ‘protagonist’, David Farrier, discovers the world of ‘competitive endurance tickling’, and tries to get in touch with the men involved. Farrier makes his living making videos about strange sub-cultures, and intends to make a light-hearted documentary about the fetish.

But when he tries this, none of the men dares to come forward — and the media company responsible for the ‘competition’ tries to sue them. Although the ‘competition’ involves young, attractive men being tickled in their underwear, the media company also tells Farrier that they can’t associate with him because he’s gay (or bisexual — it’s not made clear) — competitive tickling is a strictly straight organisation. And then some of the people from the media company come to New Zealand to discuss their legal action with Farrier — and reveal that they don’t actually know who their boss is.

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This film starts off light-hearted — watching men squirm and shriek with laughter as other men mount them and tickle away — but, like tickling, got uncomfortable quickly. It contains lines like:

  • “Cells all over the world … with bonuses for Asian or ginger boys”;
  • “Thanks to her, I’ve lost everything”;
  • “We’ve been tailing him for four days”;
  • “Letters sent to me and my mother about my dead brother”;
  • “The whole school’s IT system was hacked and blamed on me”.

As Farrier frequently reminds the viewer and himself, this is about tickling — the most innocent thing in the world. Yet for the second half I was on the edge of my seat.


Anthony Weiner: Sexts, Scandals and Politics

or, A long and hard look at a narcissist.

The documentary follows Anthony Weiner — ex-Congressman, ex-New York city council member, ex-beloved of the American left; serial sexter — and his attempt to become mayor of New York. Weiner tries really hard in this documentary. He spends about 80% of it looking pained: when he’s being interviewed, being questioned by the public, appearing at press conferences, or talking to his wife.

Having a name like Weiner and getting rapped for taking photos of your weiner means he’s essentially been a laughing stock since the scandal broke. When considering why people continue to lambast him, he said it’s probably because he originally lied; because the press is unable to handle nuance these days; and because he has a funny name.

Embattled Mayoral Candidate Anthony Weiner Campaigns In Staten Island

This documentary is a careful and intimate character study; it has the nuance Weiner craves. You can see him as a passionate politician and genuine guy whose efforts to help and engage with real people are ignored by the press, who care about his personal life because it makes good headline puns. You can say that he was never in the same room as any of his “partners in sin” and it’s a storm in a teacup. And you can say that he’s trying to redeem himself.

But despite the nuance Weiner craves, by the time you get to the end of the documentary you realise he is a narcissist — and an idiot. There’s a point where he unveils a policy, and doesn’t get a single on-topic question: it’s all about his personal life, and that’s gutting. But there’s also a point where he gets into a fight with a man in a deli in full view of cameras for no reason. And a point when he loses and gives the press the finger. It all has to be about him, and if it isn’t, he’ll act out until it is.

As well as his campaign falling apart, his marriage to Huma Abedin also falls apart: she goes from happy and proactive to completely indifferent to him. You can’t blame her.


Stranded: I’ve Come From a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains

AKA Stranded! The Andes Plane Crash Survivors

or, What is dead may never die, but rises again harder and stronger.

This is a documentary about a 1972 plane crash, where a Uruguayan plane came down in the Andes. There were survivors, and over the following ten weeks, they survived by eating the dead. This documentary turns your stomach inside out with fear and horror and disgust and, ultimately, relief. It’s told using interviews with every one of the 16 survivors, archive footage, and deliberately vague re-enactments of the events using actors.

What they also did was have the survivors return to the precise site where they had been stranded. They took their children, who were then at the same age as they had been when they had been there. They said a few words, and they paid their respects to the dead.

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One of the survivors, who was in charge of disassembling and distributing the food, organised each body that they had found so that they could be returned to their families and buried properly. Even the bodies that had been entirely eaten and were just bones: he made small piles. And when they were finally picked up by helicopters, he took the time to show the driver each body and what its name had been. Some of the survivors said they felt a tremendous sense of loss when they were finally rescued: they had forever left the world that they’d lived in for all that time up on the mountain.

The bits that will remain in my mind for a long, long time are when the man loses his wife; when they are hiding in the plane; but get hit by an avalanche; the face of the shepherd who found the two who went for help; and the reunion of one of the survivors with his father. It’s an example of a story that makes even the most horrific actions seem acceptable in the circumstances. Those men were brave and they were strong and they did what was right.


Chasing Asylum: Inside Australia’s Detention Camps

or, Australia’s government’s as cruel as they come.

This is a documentary about Australia’s anti-asylum policy, whereby in order to deter the dangerous and often deadly boatloads of people who are trafficked to their shores in the hope of refuge, people who do arrive are detained indefinitely.

We learn of what’s going on through hidden cameras in the detention centres in Nauru and Manos island, and through interviews with former camp workers and detainees.

It’s disgusting. The UN conducted a report where it said that Australia was violating international treaties against torture — and in response, Australia replied that it had had enough of being lectured to by the UN. (Rhetoric that sounds familiar from other countries).

We heard the workers tell us of things they saw (at the risk of going to prison — any whistleblower is punished by two years’ detention, and a man recruited to train the guards attempted to whistleblow and received death threats. Men stitching their eyes and mouths shut. Men beating themselves with those long lightbulb tubes. People suffocating themselves. Children under 5 behaving sexually, and stories of women being told they will only be fed if they get naked for the guards. Australia is the only country in the world that will detain children indefinitely — just because their parents are fleeing from their original country.

We saw riots happen. People were injured by locals; by guards; by each other. In Nauru, AUD60million of damage was caused in one riot — but zero convictions were brought afterwards. If you convict an asylum seeker, they have to go to prison in Australia.

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Showing more humanity than his guards ever did.

It’s utterly horrible — more so than Stranded, because it’s something that is going on right now, as I type and as you read, to thousands of people. Don’t watch it if you don’t feel strong, but if you do, don’t look away.

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