Documentaries from 2015 are daring to show us that its been another incredible year for film; more and more docs are focusing on characters – sometimes to tell the story of a greater cultural happening, and sometimes as a way to share with audiences a story that has never been told. Influence Film Club’s Top 10 Character Driven Documentaries from 2015 feature some extraordinary individuals, and these films go beyond the surface and invite us into the lives of others with unprecedented access. So go ahead, take a peek and lose yourself in the reality of our favorite character driven documentaries from 2015.
Welcome to Leith
Chronicling the alleged take-over of a small town in North Dakota by notorious white supremacist Craig Cobb, WELCOME TO LEITH examines a rural community’s struggle for sovereignty against an extremist vision.
They Will Have to Kill Us First
Music, one of the most important forms of communication and cultural connection in Mali, was banned in 2012 when Islamic extremist groups rose up to capture the northern section of the country. THEY WILL HAVE TO KILL US FIRST follows the influential musicians who give their all to surrender anything but their sound.
With unprecedented access, CARTEL LAND is a riveting, on-the-ground look at the journeys of two modern-day vigilante groups on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border, and their shared enemy – the murderous Mexican drug cartels.
THE WOLFPACK documents six bright teenage brothers have spent their entire lives locked away from society in a Manhattan housing project. All they know of the outside is gleaned from the movies they watch obsessively. Yet as adolescence looms, they dream of escape, ever more urgently, into the beckoning world.
He Named Me Malala
HE NAMED ME MALALA is an intimate portrait of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai, who was targeted by the Taliban and severely wounded by a gunshot at the age of 15, and currently works as a leading campaigner for girls’ education globally as co founder of the Malala Fund.
Stand-up comedian Jacob Nossell, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy as an infant, is on a quest to comprehend the concept of normality while challenging his own lack of skills. By staging a four-act play supplied with information from his family, scientists, philosophers, and actors, he attempts to figure out what the meaning of life is for him and others like him.
A young Norwegian woman struggling with borderline personality disorder named Ida Storm chose a video diary as an outlet for her mood swings, a way to ease her mind and structure her thoughts. IDA’S DIARY invites the viewer into an anxiously intense insider’s view of a real life conducted under the auspices of mental illness.
The Hunting Ground
Following a group of victims gone activists as they defy shame and stigmatization to uncover the truth, THE HUNTING GROUND is a startling exposé of sexual assault on college campuses, their institutional cover-ups, and the devastating toll they take on students and their families.
DARK HORSE is the inspirational true story of a group of friends from a former mining village in the Welsh countryside who decide to take on the elite “sport of kings” and breed themselves a racehorse.
A once-in-a-generation talent and a pure jazz artist in the most authentic sense, Amy wrote and sung from the heart using her musical gifts to analyze her own problems. Her huge success, however, resulted in relentless media attention which coupled with Amy’s troubled relationships and precarious lifestyle saw her life tragically begin to unravel.
What can we say? 2014 was a cornerstone year for docs. Now, more than ever, we can cry out that “documentary is not a genre” and work to redefine the boring, dry, talking heads comes to mind when a friend suggests watching a documentary together. Documentaries can be thrillers, dramas, comedies, romance, adventures, and feel-good films. And Influence Film Club’s 20 Character Driven Documentary Favorites are a testament to that. Narrowing this list down to 20 was no easy task, but after weeks of debate we carved out a list of this year’s documentary favorites.
Based on Ari Seth Cohen’s blog, ADVANCED STYLE paints intimate and colorful portraits of seven independent, stylish New York women aged 62 to 95 who are challenging conventional ideas about beauty, aging, and Western’s culture’s increasing obsession with youth.
The Case Against 8
THE CASE AGAINST 8 offers a behind-the-scenes look inside the historic case to overturn California’s ban on same-sex marriage. The film follows the unlikely legal team and the two same-sex couples who act as plaintiffs in the story of how they took the first federal marriage equality lawsuit to the U.S. Supreme Court.
LIFE ITSELF explores Roger Ebert’s legacy, including his Pulitzer Prize-winning film criticism at the Chicago Sun-Times and his eruptive relationship with Gene Siskel, all culminating in his ascension as one of the most influential cultural voices in America.
Art and Craft
Beginning as a cat-and-mouse art caper concerning one of the most prolific art forgers in U.S. history, ART AND CRAFT is rooted in questions of authorship and authenticity, eventually giving way to an intimate story of mental health and the universal need for community, appreciation, and purpose.
The Possibilities are Endless
After experiencing a stroke, Edwyn Collins could only say two phrases: ‘Grace Maxwell’ and ‘The Possibilities Are Endless’. Placed inside Edwyn’s mind, we embark on a journey from the brink of death back to language, music, and love on an intimate tale of rediscovery.
THE OVERNIGHTERS is the story of the broken, desperate men chasing their dreams and running from their demons in the North Dakota oil fields and the local Pastor who risks everything to help them.
Exploring the genesis of one of cinema’s greatest epics that never was – cult filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune – this inspirational story about the power of the creative spirit establishes Jodorowsky as a master of cinema and a true visionary.
CITIZENFOUR gives audiences unprecedented access to filmmaker Laura Poitras and journalist Glenn Greenwald’s encounters with Edward Snowden as he hands over classified documents providing evidence of mass indiscriminate and illegal invasions of privacy by the National Security Agency.
INDIA’S DAUGHTER depicts the investigation of the brutal gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old female medical student on a moving bus in Delhi, India, in December 2012.
For filmmakers Rybicky and Wickenden, Peter Anton’s home is a treasure trove, a startling collection of unseen and fascinating paintings, drawings, and notebooks, not to mention Anton himself. ALMOST THERE is a remarkable journey following a gifted artist through startling twists and turns.
Anna, Ole, Fred and Peter are four members of the Emergencies Team, the most intrepid division of the respected, international Human Rights Watch organization. E-TEAM is the personal, intimate story of how they lead their lives as they set out to shine light in dark places and give voice to thousands whose stories would never otherwise have been told.
The Look of Silence
Through its footage of perpetrators of the 1965 Indonesian genocide in THE ACT OF KILLING, a family of survivors discovers how their son was murdered and the identities of the killers. THE LOOK OF SILENCE serves as a powerful companion piece that initiates and bears witness to the collapse of fifty years of silence.
Directors Andrew Droz Palermo and Tracy Droz Tragos, cousins with family connections to the community of RICH HILL, return to chronicle the lives of three boys in an examination of the challenges, hopes and dreams of the residents in rural Missouri.
GARNET’S GOLD follows one extraordinary man’s quixotic adventure in search of hidden treasure, in a belated rite of passage to rediscover the meaning of his life.
Finding Vivian Maier
The discovery of over 100,000 photographs hidden away in various storage lockers unveiled the story of Vivian Maier, a mysterious nanny, who is now considered one of the 20thcentury’s greatest street photographers.
That Sugar Film
Follow director Damon Gameau as he embarks on a unique experiment to document the effects of a high sugar diet on a healthy body, consuming only foods that are commonly perceived as ‘healthy’. THAT SUGAR FILM will forever change the way you think about the foods you eat and the hidden sugars lurking nearly everywhere.
Meet the Patels
Filmed by Geeta V. Patel, the sister of Ravi – an almost-30-year-old Indian-American who enters a love triangle between the woman of his dreams and his parents –in what started as a family vacation video, MEET THE PATELS is a hilarious and heartbreaking film about how love is truly a family affair.
VIRUNGA is a gripping exposé of the realities of life in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the incredible true story of a group of brave people risking their lives to build a better future in a part of Africa the world has forgotten.
Point and Shoot
With a gun in one hand and a camera in the other, 28-year-old OCD-afflicted Matthew VanDyke set off on a 35,000-mile motorcycle trip through Northern Africa and the Middle East, where he undergoes a self-described “crash-course in manhood.”
20.000 Days on Earth
Delving into Nick Cave’s artistic processes, 20,000 DAYS ON EARTH takes us deep into the heart of how myth, memory, love and loss shape our lives, every single day. Fusing drama and documentary this film is a beautiful ode to the artistic process and an intimate portrayal of one musician’s creative journey.
Influence Film Club’s Top 10 Documentaries of 2013 represent the stories that make up our lives, they remind us of what connects everyone and everything, and ultimately show that no matter where you are in the world many of us share common experiences, joys and struggles. These films are filled with stories of musical expression, family relationships, the pursuit of dreams, how our health transforms and impacts us, and the effect of how we treat the creatures we share our planet with, both human and animal, has on the world around us. So pick a film and discover power of the real life stories told in our top 10 documentaries of 2013. You might even see a piece of yourself reflected back from the screen.
Who is Dayani Cristal?
Arizona border police discover a male body, lifting a tattered t-shirt, they expose a tattoo that reads “Dayani Cristal”. WHO IS DAYANI CRISTAL? follows director Marc Silver as he embarks on a journey to give this anonymous man an identity.
Cutie and the Boxer
CUTIE AND THE BOXER is a candid love story exploring the chaotic 40-year marriage of famed “boxing” painter, Ushio Shinohara, and his artist wife, Noriko. Anxious to shed her role as her overbearing husband’s assistant, Noriko finds an identity of her own.
Traveling India, American college graduate Rocky Braat met a group of HIV-positive orphans, an encounter that changed his life. BLOOD BROTHER is a tale of disease and abject poverty, of a life stripped down to its essence, and of love enduring in the face of death.
Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer
PUSSY RIOT: A PUNK PRAYER reveals the story of Pussy Riot, a punk band who performed a 40-second “punk prayer” against Putin’s government in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Three members were charged with hooliganism and put on trial.
The Crash Reel
U.S. champion snowboarder Kevin Pearce takes a near-fatal crash. THE CRASH REEL is the story of his recovery, which exposes the irresistible but potentially fatal appeal of extreme sports.
MUSCLE SHOALS, Alabama helped create some of the most important, resonant songs of all time. Meet Rick Hall, the Swampers, and many musicians who bear witness to Muscle Shoals’ magnetism, mystery, and undeniable influence.
BLACKFISH tells the story of Tilikum, a performing killer whale that killed several people while in captivity. The film shows just how nature can get revenge on man when pushed to its limits.
20 Feet From Stardom
20 FEET FROM STARDOM Shines a spotlight on the untold true stories of the backup singers behind some of the greatest musical legends of the 21st century. Millions know their voices, but no one knows their names.
The Genius of Marian
THE GENIUS OF MARIAN is a visually rich, emotionally complex story that follows Pam White in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease as her son documents her struggle to retain her sense of self and family members grapple with their new roles as caregivers.
Sepideh: Reaching for the Stars
Can a young Iranian woman become an astronaut? SEPIDEH: REACHING FOR THE STARS is the story of a remarkable teenage girl named Sepideh who defies societal expectations and courageously works to make her dream come true.
While Influence Film Club’s 10 Best Documentaries of 2012 couldn’t be more representative of the incredible variety of documentary film’s available to watch and discuss, they all have one core theme – people facing a challenge and staying true to who they are. Whether that challenge be a one of oppression, a lack of justice, a broken system, carving out a creative space, or simply defining one’s personal truth. 2012’s best documentaries take a step outside of the box, tell the stories of our times in ways one might never expect, and invite discussion not only about the film’s themselves, but how we define and stand for who we are.
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY takes a fascinating up-close look at renowned Chinese artist and activist, Ai Weiwei, as he prepares for a series of exhibitions and finds himself repeatedly clashing with the Chinese government.
The Act of Killing
THE ACT OF KILLING follows former Indonesian death squad leaders as they are challenged to re-enact the real-life mass killings in the cinematic genres of their choice, from classic Hollywood crime scenarios to lavish musical numbers. Note: We recommend that you watch the “Director’s Cut” version of this film
Initially pitched as a documentary delving into the British class system, 56 UP revisits the same group of people every 7 years, from age 7 to 56, interviewing each and discovering just what the passing of time reveals and exposing their hopes and disappointments to a vast public.
Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present
MARINA ABRAMOVIC: THE ARTIST IS PRESENT follows the provocative performance artist Marina Abramovic as she prepares for a retrospective at MoMA in New York City, while also taking a closer look at her 40 year career.
Searching for Sugar Man
SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN follows two fans seeking the truth about their hero – folk musician Sixto Rodriguez, who had a short lived career in the states but – without the knowledge of Rodriguez himself – became a pop music icon in South Africa.
The Stories We Tell
STORIES WE TELL is a highly original documentary that explores how we construct our own reality through stories. Sarah Polley’s family and friends weave different narratives into a complex portrait of her mother who died when Sarah was eleven.
The House I Live In
For 40 years, the War on Drugs has accounted for more than 45 million arrests and made America the world’s largest jailer and damaged poor communities globally. THE HOUSE I LIVE IN tells the stories of people from all levels of America’s drug war.
The Central Park Five
THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE examines the 1989 case of five black and Latino teenagers who were convicted of raping a woman in Central Park. After having spent between 6 and 13 years each in prison, a serial rapist confessed to the crime.
The Invisible War
THE INVISIBLE WAR is a searing investigation into the cover-up of rape and sexual assault within the U.S. military that has helped change military policy.
Call Me Kuchu
In Uganda, a new bill makes homosexuality punishable by death. CALL ME KUCHU follows the activists working against the clock to defeat state-sanctioned homophobia while combating vicious persecution in their daily lives.
Influence Film Club’s Top Documentaries of 2011 shows is a testament to the power of documentary film. These are real stories about real people (and our animal friends) that deserve to be seen and talked about. These docs tell the stories of David and Golliath, those who have redefined and stood up against cultural norms, people who have dedicated their lives to a passion, and those who remind us that there is more than meets the eyes. Our top documentaries of 2011 inspire us to be the change we want to see in the world, and invite meaningful discussions about the world immediately surrounding us and the world at large.
The Black Power Mixtape
Essential viewing to anyone concerned with contemporary U.S. history, THE BLACK POWER MIXTAPE is a compilation of footage shot by a group of Swedish journalists following the American Black Power Movement between 1967 and 1975.
A look inside the life of Buck Brannaman, a man with an almost surreal aptitude for communicating with horses. He overcame tremendous odds to become the real life ‘horse whisperer.’
If a Tree Falls
IF A TREE FALLS offers a rare and provocative look at the Earth Liberation Front, the radical environmental group that the FBI calls America’s number one domestic terrorist threat.
PINA is a visually stunning documentary featuring the ensemble at Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch. The film pays tribute to and reflects upon the unique and inspiring life and art of the great German choreographer, Pina Bausch, who died in the summer of 2009.
PROJECT NIM tells the story of a chimpanzee who was the focus of a 1970’s landmark experiment to prove that an ape could learn to communicate through sign language if raised and nurtured like a human child.
Big Boys Gone Bananas*
What is a big corporation capable of in order to protect its brand? BIG BOYS GONE BANANAS!* follows filmmaker Fredrik Gertten and his partners as they refuse to be bullied and silenced by the fruit giant, Dole Food Company.
KUMARÉ is a documentary about a man who impersonates a wise Indian Guru and builds a following in Arizona. At the height of his popularity, the Guru Kumaré must reveal his true identity to his disciples to unveil his greatest teaching of all.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi
JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI is a thoughtful and elegant meditation on work, family, and the art of perfection, chronicling Jiro Ono’s life as both an unparalleled success in the culinary world and as a loving yet complicated father.
By exploring the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence in America, MISS REPRESENTATION challenges the media’s limited portrayal of what it means to be a powerful woman.
BULLY is an intimate account on how bullying affects 13 million American children every year. Bringing human scale to this startling statistic, the film offers an unflinching look at how bullying has impacted 5 kids and their families.
A great documentary is the perfect topic for meaningful conversation, so why not dig into Influence Film Club’s Top 10 Documentaries of 2010 and get the dialogue started? These docs address topics ranging from creative expression to inspiring passion, unsuspecting eco-warriors and corruption and deception, and finally what it means to be a family. Whatever your interest, you are sure to find something worth discussing among our Top 10 Documentaries of 2010.
SENNA documents the life and death of Brazilian motor-racing champion, Ayrton Senna. The career of this spiritual and competitive man took him all around the globe, but he never forgot where he came from.
BAG IT! tells the story of how an average guy makes a resolution to stop using plastic bags at the grocery store – a decision that will change his life. Through Jeb’s journey, we see how our crazy-for-plastic world has finally caught up with us and what we can do about it.
Following four babies from Namibia, Mongolia, Japan, and the U.S. over the course of their first year of life, BABIES joyfully captures the earliest stages of the journey of humanity that are at once unique and universal to us all.
GASLAND is a dramatic and literally explosive story about the highly controversial practice of hydro fracking, a drilling method of natural gas extraction which major corporations believe to be a potential new source of cheap energy.
Bill Cunningham New York
In BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK filmmaker Richard Press follows legendary New York fashion and street photographer Bill Cunningham as he goes about his work and life.
Exit Through the Gift Shop
EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP follows an eccentric shop-keeper turned amateur filmmaker as he attempts to capture the world’s most famous street artists, only to have the camera turned back on him by the artist called Banksy. The results are wildly unexpected.
A comprehensive analysis of the 2008 global financial crisis. Through exhaustive research and interviews with key insiders, INSIDE JOB traces the rise of a rogue industry which has corrupted politics, regulation, and academia.
In this tale of electronic attraction, love, deceit and forgiveness, the dark reality of how far one woman was willing to go to soothe her emotional aches and pains is unearthed, and CATFISH asks the question: what exactly can we trust in this age of virtual connections?
WASTE LAND follows renowned artist Vik Muniz as he journeys to the world’s largest garbage dump in Brazil where he creates striking portraits of the garbage pickers, called catadores, and transforms their lives.
Set in a remote Zambian village THE CARRIER offers a stunning portrait of both a family and community caught in a desperate struggle to Prevent Mother-To-Child Transmission (PMTCT) and to stop the AIDS epidemic in its tracks and liberate future generations from the vicious cycle.
What film are you going to watch tonight? Why not discover Influence Film Club’s 5 favorite documentaries from 2009? Whether it be from exploring cultural identity, exposing shocking practices, baking your way to the top, fighting to stay on top, or living your life in the spotlight, these docs are sure to give you plenty to talk about!
GOOD HAIR is inspired by Chris Rock’s 3-year old daughter who asked, “Daddy, how come I don’t have good hair?” this film explores the way hairstyles impact the activities, relationships, and self-esteem of African Americans.
THE COVE follows a group of activists, led by renowned dolphin trainer Richard O’Barry, as they infiltrate a hidden cove near Taiji, Japan to expose a shocking instance of animal abuse and a serious threat to human health.
Kings of Pastry
16 Chefs. 3 Days. 1 Chance. France’s KINGS OF PASTRY compete for the title of a lifetime: the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France, or Best Craftsmen in France.
The September Issue
Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour and her team of editors set out to create the most important issue of the year. THE SEPTEMBER ISSUE is a highly entertaining documentary that takes you into the lives of those who rule the fashion world.
We Live in Public
Ten years in the making and culled from 5,000 hours of footage, WE LIVE IN PUBLIC reveals the effect the web is having on our society and is a riveting, cautionary tale of what to expect as the virtual world inevitably takes control of our lives.