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Best of 2016: Documentaries


It’s felt like a transitional year for documentary film-making. Increasingly it feels like you’ll see the documentaries everyone is talking about through an on-demand service like Netflix, at a film festival, or a TV run. I’ve no numbers or facts to back this up, but its a gut feeling and it’s fascinating to speculate where the documentary industry is going.

(Note: this list shamefully doesn’t include such as-yet-unseen work as Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny,  Kirsten Johnson’s Cameraperson and Alex Gibney’s Zero Days)

Coming tomorrow – Best Films of 2016.


amanda knox

10) Amanda Knox

A Netflix-produced documentary about the murder of Meredith Kercher focusing on the woman who was twice convicted, and acquitted, of her murder – Amanda Knox. The film effectively shows the human side of Knox and leaves you to make up your own mind.




9) Strange Occurrences In A Small Irish Village

“Fr Gibbons is not a typical dowdy dandruff bespeckled priest and yet is not as forlorn or cynical as a Fr. Ted. He seems like a cross between Daniel O’Donnell and Francis Brennan. In a good way.”. (Full Páraic review

(Also: 2016: Best of Irish) (Airing on RTÉ One on 21/12/2016 and available on RTÉ Player afterwards)



tickled documentary

8) Tickled

The best trailer of the year from the so-called New Zealand Louis Theroux didn’t quite deliver the knockout film you may have anticipated, but it did provide one of the weirdest and most genuinely thrilling documentary experiences of the year.



into the inferno

7) Into the Inferno

The better of the two new documentaries 2016 brought us from the legendary Werner Herzog. In Lo And Behold: Reveries Of The Connected World, he dealt with the Internet through a series of vignettes and profiles, with Into the Inferno we explore the power and aura of volcanoes with trips to Indonesia, Ethiopia and North Korea. This film is a much more structured work, despite the fact most of the time we’re seeing volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer do all the work. You could do worse then set up a double-bill to see what Werner makes of the world (pronounced wer-ild) in 2016.



mattress men

6) Mattress Men

“It’s an affectionately made and heart-warming documentary that anyone who has an interest in the psyche of middle-aged men will take a lot more from. Paul in particular is a tragic, almost Shakespearean, presence. He has a dream of buying a family home in Santry, but in chasing that dream he feels he has to dedicate his life to making viral videos for his mate Mick.” (Full review)



author jt leroy

5) Author: The JT LeRoy Story

Jeff Feuerzeig’s film deals with the author JT LeRoy who became a celebrity in the mid-1990s, and the slow revelation that the person the media came to love as JT was actually an actor, with the whole thing constructed from the wings by side-kick Laura Albert. It’s one of those films that is best appreciated if you know next to nothing about it beforehand, allowing its tapestry of truths to slowly unfurl.



bobby sands

4) Bobby Sands: 66 Days

A documentary that is the perfect compliment to the gut-wrenching Steve McQueen film Hunger. Brendan J Byrne’s documentary provides the context and impact of Sands’ hunger strikes. What’s most refreshing is the fact it refuses to deify him, and instead is a beautiful, but balanced, portrait of what taking your protest toward an ultimate sacrifice can do for a movement. (notes by Nigel from Best of Irish)




3) Weiner

Anthony Weiner… that politician who sent the dick pics? His wife works for Hilary Clinton? She’s caught up in that FBI email laptop nonsense? Ah now!



o.j. made in america

2) O.J.: Made in America

A run-time of 467 minutes and no Irish cinema release or TV broadcast means this probably shouldn’t be in this list, but it’s in the 15 film shortlist for the Best Documentary Oscar and has been sweeping up Critics awards, so it shall stay. The film is Ezra Edelman’s comprehensive look at the life and times of O.J. Simpson and the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman. This story was also told this year in a dramatic form in the excellent FX TV series “The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story” and this is the perfect compliment to it. Set aside a weekend, find this (the DVD, or WatchESPN and a US VPN plan is your most legit route) and you suddenly get a much better understanding of US race relations and the power of celebrity.



13th documentary


1) 13th

It felt like the media coverage of the US Election let us down this year and failed to paint the true picture of a very divided “United” States. Getting out of New York, Washington D.C. and California reveals a country that is in turmoil and has never felt so polarising for so many. 13th (not unlike films #2 and #3 on this list) will provide context and background for an America whose political and criminal justice systems are failing its citizens, preferring to imprison them and condemn to a life of incarceration, unemployment and unrest.

Director Ava DuVernay did a fine job with her Martin Luther King film Selma, but this brings the injustices of the era of civil rights movement right up to the present day. Seeing this in the days after Donald Trump’s election as President was one of the most gut-wrenching and sickening viewing experiences of the year. It’s not a film without hope though, and continued Awards recognition will bring the issues dealt with here to the fore and hopefully provide more impetus for the modern day civil rights movements to prosper and affect real change.

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Nigel loves stupid films almost as much as he likes clever films. He'll watch anything but is usually drawn to documentaries, North American independent films, Irish cinema and gung-ho, balls-to-the-walls Hollywood blockbusters. Here's what he's been watching.