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Which docs define 2011?

18 October 2011

Which documentaries stand out from the crowd so far this year? Ahead of a keynote debate at this week's Televisual Factual Festival on the art of docs, four nominees and trustees of the Grierson documentary prizes offer up their view on the best films of 2011

Morgan Matthews, Minnow Films

In 2011, 10 years after Allied troops entered Afghanistan, Armadillo, one of the greatest war films of all time, was released in British cinemas. It’s an utterly compelling portrait of men at war. 2011 is a year of note for other big screen docs, such as James Marsh’s captivating Project Nim and Asif Kapadia’s Senna. On TV, 2011 is the year of profound docs focusing on the medical world, with particular attention to the moral and ethical issues around life and death. Charlie Russell’s Terry Pratchett: Choosing to Die, Nick Holt’s Between Life and Death and Amy Flanagan and team’s 24 Hours in A&E were all fantastic, moving and meaningful.

Simon Dickson, Dragonfly

Three shows stand out. C4’s 24 Hours in A&E brought emotional resonance to a sub-genre habitually mired in cliché. Our War doubled BBC3’s audience share by respecting the intelligence of its young and curious viewers. But it was Big Fat Gypsy Weddings that did what docs are supposed to do: tell it like it is. Passed over by BAFTA in favour of more traditional, lower-rating docs, purists thumbed their noses at this unimaginably successful mega-hit. The audience sure didn’t. The good news is that docs on all channels are rating their socks off again, as producers shake off the cinema-doc self-indulgence of the mid-noughties. Surely that’s cause for a big fat celebration.

Rachel Wexler, Bungalow Town

Poor Kids was a great documentary and the kind of film that is not often seen on British TV. The programme shone a light on the issue of child poverty by solely focusing on the testimony of children. It really allowed us to gain insight into the surprising and unobvious day to day problems that these kids encounter. I imagine the film was very hard to make and the access and trust they gained with their contributors was amazing. The programme was hugely emotive without being sensationalist or sentimental. There was a massive public response and in my opinion it represents the very best of British domestic documentary.

Christopher Hird, Dartmouth Films
Three achievements against the odds: Abuelas (Grandmothers), a nine minute animation by NFTS student Afarin Eghbal about the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo. I saw it at the Quadrangle Film Festival and it reduced me to tears. Calvet, Dominic Allen’s feature documentary about former abused street kid and underground thug Jean Marc Calvet, now a successful artist coming to terms with his past, searching for the son he abandoned. It’s bold: Calvet’s is the only voice in the film. Beeban Kidron’s Sex, Death and the Gods, the story of India’s Devadasi – young girls married to the gods and then turned into sex slaves: subtle, sympathetic and surprising.

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