At its best, cinema is about far more than entertainment. It can take us to strange places and introduce us to the people who live there. It can present us with new perspectives on familiar issues. These seven movies will change the way that you think.
It was in the late 1980s that tales of chronic fatigue syndrome, then often cruelly referred to as ‘yuppie flu’ and later renamed myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), began to emerge. Over four decades later, some people still don’t take this illness seriously, dismissing those affected by it as lazy. Jennifer Brea’s documentary chronicles her own experiences and those of others to illustrate just how wrong that is. Voices like theirs are rarely heard directly precisely because their condition is so exhausting. Brea’s concerted efforts over many years to put this film together will change the way that you think about them forever.
The Golden Dream
Diego Quemada-Diez’s multi-award-winning movie was released in 2013, a year when, according to the Department of Homeland Security, around 20,000 Guatemalan immigrants illegally made their way into the US. A fictional portrait of a very real situation, it follows four teenagers along the popular migration route, observing the risks they face and the camaraderie that grows up between them. Sara disguises herself as a boy for a reason, reminding us why so few women survive migration. Indigenous boy Chauk faces multiple forms of discrimination, but all four also find help along the way. They have no inkling of the political drama surrounding them, wishing only to follow their dreams.
Over 3,700 people died as a result of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Roughly one in 14 of them were children. It’s difficult to understand a tragedy like this in human terms when it unfolds so slowly, over so long. Based on David McKittrick’s book Lost Lives: The Stories of the Men, Women and Children who Died as a Result of the Northern Ireland Troubles, this movie sets out to put those numbers in perspective, telling individual stories about Protestants, Catholics, fathers, mothers, tiny babies, soldiers, police officers and ordinary people who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Whatever your political beliefs, you’ll find it hard to watch without shedding a tear.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Benh Zeitlin’s portrait of life on the margins of American society is noticeable for two reasons. Firstly, it challenges assumptions about what poor people want, taking us inside a Louisiana Bayou community whose inhabitants are troubled by ever-rising waters but determined to hang on to the life they know rather than be forcibly ‘rescued.’ Secondly, it features an extraordinary lead performance (and narration) by Quvenzhané Wallis, who was just four when she auditioned to play its six-year-old heroine. She reminds us of what the world looks like from the perspective of a young child, and there’s a great deal that adult viewers can learn from this.
Hate Among Us
Setting historical and contemporary examples of antisemitism side by side, this documentary invites viewers to recognize the similarities between what our society declared must never happen again and what is happening today. John Ross is the writer, David McKenzie producer and director, and people from numerous backgrounds share their experiences and ideas in a film that positions civilization as something that can only exist when people work together to maintain it. This is a movie that helps viewers understand how microaggressions damage those who encounter them every day, and helps them relate to the sense of vulnerability that many Jewish people feel.
Back in 1961, gay men were widely condemned by mainstream Western society. In the UK, sex between consenting adult men was illegal. That this changed was thanks in large part to a movie. Dirk Bogarde took a huge career risk to play a closeted barrister threatened by blackmailers, who realizes just how much harm is being done by corruption enabled by prejudice. He sets out to bring the blackmailers down and this, in turn, takes him on a personal journey that involves him coming out to his wife who he loves but has never been attracted to. The movie’s great feat lies in enabling straight viewers to recognize that gay people’s perspectives are not so different from their own.
Another News Story
What is life really like for people fleeing war-torn countries in Africa and the Middle East? In 2016, Orban Wallace visited European countries on the borders of the Mediterranean to catalogue the experiences of refugees, only to uncover something else: the experience of journalists sent to report on the crisis. When audiences back home are fast becoming inured to tales of death and suffering on a grand scale, how can they reengage them and make them care about what’s happening? By looking through the eyes of these often traumatized reporters, Wallace finds a fresh perspective to accompany those of his refugee subjects.