This post is part of our occasional series in which winners of the WITNESS Award (which we present at Silverdocs) discuss their top 3 picks from among social justice/human rights documentaries of the year. This post is by Abigail E. Disney who produced the 2008 WITNESS Award-winning film Pray the Devil Back to Hell and is currently co-producing the WIDE ANGLE series, Women, War & Peace. (See the first in the series by Landon Van Soest.)
I’m relatively new to the documentary world, having just released my first film in 2008, and so still constantly marvel at how much incredible material comes out of people working in a field that is consistently under-resourced and over-stressed.
My first choice for this year is The Oath, directed by Laura Poitrous and shot by Kirsten Johnston. The Oath follows a cab driver in Yemen, purported to have been one of Bin Laden’s chief advisers, whose brother-in-law has been disappeared into Guantanamo. It is difficult to tell such a complex story, so I admire the craft of this film and its commitment to make real flesh and blood human beings out of people we are normally told are merely cardboard cut-outs with simple and malevolent intentions.
Another film I love (and am proud to be an executive producer on) is Family Affair, by Chico Colvard. It tells the story of Colvard’s own family, torn apart by a father who emotionally and sexually abused his three daughters for years, until a freak accident caused the lies to be exposed in a traumatic turn of events. What is so moving is that despite not fully understanding his sisters’ decisions throughout the film, Colvard does his best to try, making the film equal parts infuriating, inspiring and unexpected. You can see the trailer for Family Affair here.
I will expose myself now as a terrible egomaniac, but I can’t help but recommend Sun Come Up. I am an executive producer on this one as well, but I promise, that’s not why I love it (in fact it’s the other way around: I am EP because I love it). Sun Come Up tells the incredible tale of the Carteret Islanders in the South Pacific. Finding that their beloved islands are sinking, and faced with the inevitable destruction of their entire culture by rising ocean levels, they must search for a new place to call home. I love this film, not just because it is beautifully shot, but also because it tells the story of a huge, global political reality in the language of the personal.
There are a lot of other great films this year, including Budrus (in theaters in New York now and the 2010 WITNESS Award winner) about a non-violent Palestinian town in the West Bank, and The Tillman Story, about the friendly fire death of an American soldier in Afghanistan, but since I’m limited to three, those are my recommendations, I hope you’ll get a chance to see all of them!