Top 5 Documentaries of 2017 so far – and the 5 we can’t wait to see…

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So Far…

George Best: All By Himself

When dealing with a troubled, immensely flawed subject, it can be easy for documentaries to highlight the good parts, so be sycophantic and celebratory, and brush over the imperfections. But not in Daniel Gordon’s study of the Northern Irish footballer George Best, a superstar on and off the pitch. He was a magician with the ball at his feet, and had a twinkle in his eyes. This documentary casts an eye over the slow decrease in both of the above.


From one sporting documentary to another, this one tells another tragic tale, of NFL star Steve Gleason. Directed by Clay Tweel, this tells the devastating story of a sportsman diagnosed with ALS (the same disease that Stephen Hawking suffers from). Captured, for the most part, on home video recordings, we chronicle Gleason’s journey from his diagnosis all the way through to the present day, intended for his unborn son (now born, of course) to sit down and watch. It’s as emotionally exhausting as it sounds – so take tissues.

I Am Not Your Negro

While Gleason will make you cry, this Raoul Peck production will have you burning with rage. Nominated for an Oscar and narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, the latter speaks verbatim from an unfinished novel by the author and Civil Rights activist James Baldwin. Played over footage that spans across the last century – right up until the modern day – this film tells the story of race in America, using the eloquence of Baldwin to illustrate it. Had it not come up against OJ: Made in America, it could well have an Academy Award to its name.


In some ways, Ceyda Torun’s Kedi could be perceived to be cheating somewhat, for it’s a documentary all about cats – and we bloody love cats. Set in Istanbul, we peer into this ancient city through the eye’s of its most curious inhabitant, the cat. Torun explores the relationship between the felines and mankind, in a nation here cats are generally allowed to roam free, not tied down to any specific owner. It’s a gentle, gratifying piece of cinema that will have you purring.


Documentarian Laura Poitras set the bar rather high with her preceding endeavour, and Oscar-winning production Citizenfour. She now turns her attentions from Edward Snowden to Julian Assange, a similar ball-park, but completely different subject. It’s a courageous, creative piece of filmmaking that looks over the last decade in the life of the Wikileaks Editor-in-Chief – including his five year stint at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Sadly the film ends before we reach the point Assange started dating Pamela Anderson.

Still to Come…

David Lynch: The Art Life

Garnering a cult following across the course of his illustrious career, there is something so distinctive about the work of David Lynch, so creative, resourceful and evocative. In this Jon Nguyen picture we delve into the life of the auteur; focusing in on anecdotes from his upbringing as we attempt to understand his genius and vision as a director. With the subject sat down, smoking pensively on a cigarette as he recounts his life experiences, it’s easy to get completely drawn in.

City of Ghosts

Fresh off the back of Cartel Land, Matthew Heineman returns now with City of Ghosts, again gaining remarkably intimate access, but this time into the ‘Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently’ collective; a group of activists vying to stand up to ISIS. If the director’s last film is anything to go by, this one should be a captivating, intense piece of cinema that will have us all on the edge of our seats.


After the success of Senna, Formula 1 has graced the screen on a few occasions, from Ron Howard’s Rush, to documentaries such as McLaren and 1. It’s a sport that translates so well on the big screen, such is the adrenaline of the competitors, how everything is at stake every time they’re out on the track. This latest picture, from director Morgan Matthews, looks into the life of Frank Williams, the founder of the Williams Formula 1 team – right up until the present day, focusing in, of course, on the car accidental that almost killed Frank back in 1986.

London Symphony

Alex Barrett (Life Just Is) presents this silent film which takes the viewer on a journey through the English capital city, artistically inclined and with a beautiful score, it’s a celebration of London’s culture. Maybe I’m biased as a born and bred Londoner – but this is a beautiful, accessible production that paints a unique portrait of one of the very best, most diverse cities in the world.

On the Road

You would think to enjoy and appreciate a tour documentary, you’d need to be a fan of the band being followed around. But Dig! proved otherwise – an incredible piece of cinema that cast an eye over The Dandy Warhols and Brian Jonestown Massacre. In this picture the focus is on Wolf Alice – but the real star here is the innovative director Michael Winterbottom, who blends reality with fiction in a creative way. He’s a director that is persistently taking risks – and this latest film is certainly no different.

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About Stefan Pape

Stefan Pape is a film critic and interviewer who spends most of his time in dark rooms, sipping on filter coffee and becoming perilously embroiled in the lives of others. He adores the work of Billy Wilder and Woody Allen, and won’t have a bad word said against Paul Giamatti.

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