15 European documentaries you should not miss

While Walk This Way’s Documentaries From Around The World collection – comprising Mama Africa by Mika Kaurismäki, The Domino Effect by Elwira Niewiera and Piotr Rosolowski, My Way to Olympia by Niko von Glasow, Sofia’s Last Ambulance by Ilian Metev, Harbour of Hope by Magnus Gertten, and Red Forest Hotel by Mika Koskinen – was released on video on demand on 15 May, let’s take a look back at 15 of the best European documentaries that should not be missed:

Lumière! The cinematograph 1895-1905 by the Lumière brothers, edited by the Lumière Institute (2015) – France

To celebrate the 120th anniversary of cinematography, the Lumière Institute in Lyon has gathered together and restored 100 of the first moving pictures in the world. Unveiled at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, the film is presented and (mainly) edited by Thierry Frémaux, director of the Institute and also of the Cannes Festival.

Searching for Sugar Man by Malik Bendjelloul (2012) – Sweden, United Kingdom, Finland

Awarded an Oscar for Best Documentary in 2013, the film goes off in search of Sixto Rodriguez (known as Sugar Man), an American singer from the dismal early years of the 1970s, forgotten in his own country but, unbeknownst to him, a star on the other side of the world in South Africa, where he is a symbol of the struggle against Apartheid.

Night and Fog by Alain Resnais (1955) – France

At the request of the history committee of the Second World War, to mark the tenth anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps, French director Alain Resnais went to seven death camps, including Auschwitz, and with the help of archive documents retraced the long and terrible ordeal of the deportees.

The Salt of the Earth by Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado (2014) – Brazil, France

The famous German director goes off in search of great Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado, who has roamed the world for decades to witness major events in our recent history. Screened at the 2014 Cannes Festival, the documentary received the Un Certain Regard Award.

Man with a Movie Camera by Dziga Vertov (1929) – Soviet Union

“The man with a movie camera” roams around the town of Odessa with it sitting on his shoulder, capturing the rhythm of the town as well as that of the lives he comes across. This silent film became famous for its fragmented approach, its introspection, its cinematographic techniques and its arrangement.

Lessons of Darkness by Werner Herzog (1992) – Great Britain, Germany, France

German director Werner Herzog uses surreal images to show us the devastation caused by burning oil wells after the end of the Gulf War.

On the Way to School by Pascal Plisson (2013) – France, China, South Africa, Brazil, Colombia

On the Way to School follows four children on the other side of the world who all share a strong desire to learn. Boasting stunning photography, the film received a César Award for Best Documentary.

Sunless by Chris Marker (1982) – France

Chris Marker holds a mirror up to various countries, notably Guinea-Bissau and Japan, in this lyrical collage in the guise of a cinematic essay. Sunless received an Honourable Mention at the 1983 Berlinale Festival.

5 Broken Cameras by Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi (2011) - Israel, Palestine, France

Emad Burnat tells the story of his village in the West Bank after a dividing wall is erected by Israel, thereby dispossessing 1,700 of its inhabitants in order to “protect” the Jewish colony of Moni’in Illit. 5 Broken Cameras received the Documentary Filmmaking Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.

Darwin’s Nightmare by Hubert Sauper (2004) – Austria, Belgium, France, Germany

The director examines the consequences of the arrival of the Nile perch, introduced into Lake Victoria in the 1960s, where it wiped out numerous other species of fish. Exportation, industrialisation, urbanisation, violence, arms trafficking... Darwin’s Nightmare won the César Award for Best Debut Feature Film.

ShoahbyClaude Lanzmann (1985) – United Kingdom, France

This 566-minute-long documentary relives the journey of European Jews as they headed towards their death during the Second World War, using interviews with witnesses and images of Holocaust locations. The documentary took 12 years to create and was filmed in 14 countries.

Citizenfour by Laura Poitras (2014) – Germany, Great Britain, United States

Laura Poitras paints an intimate and historic portrait of Edward Snowden, the man responsible for disclosing secret defence documents from the NSA. Citizenfour won Best Documentary at the 2015 Oscars as well as at the BAFTAs.

Man On Wire by James Marsh (2008) – Great Britain, United States

The man on the wire is Philippe Petit, who in 1974 had the audacity to stretch a cable between the two towers of the World Trade Centre for a performance that was described as “the artistic crime of the century”. The documentary received an Oscar for Best Documentary Film in 2009.

The Act of Killing by Joshua Oppenheimer (2012) – Denmark, Norway, Great Britain

Joshua Oppenheimer travels to Indonesia 45 years after the genocide of nearly one million political opponents only to find that the survivors are too scared to tell their stories, whereas their torturers speak out, protected by a corrupt government, and are even prepared to proudly re-enact their crimes. The Act of Killing was voted Best Documentary Film at the 2013 European Film Awards.

Waltz with Bashir by Ari Folman (2008) – Germany, Israel, France

This autobiographical animation rekindles the forgotten memories of its director and his companions when he was a young soldier during the Lebanese War at the beginning of the 1980s. Selected in competition at the 61st Cannes Film Festival, Waltz With Bashir received the César Award for Best Foreign Film.

15 December 2015, by Cineuropa