“This is Congo”
Directed by Daniel McCabe
Eastern Congo has been at war for a quarter of a century, and this documentary by Daniel McCabe portrays the momentous battles around the regional capital of Goma in 2012 and 2013. It’s a vivid look at the continent’s longest-running conflict that sadly continues to this day. The documentary centers on four characters. The most compelling is Mamadou Ndala, a charismatic and fiercely patriotic army officer who led the charge against a rebel group called M23. With Congo going to the polls on Dec. 23, hope for peace is on the rise again. Watch this movie to understand why it has, and probably will continue to be, so elusive.
— Max Bearak, Africa bureau chief
“Call Her Ganda”
Directed by PJ Raval
In 2014, a Filipina transgender woman, Jennifer Laude, was found dead in a motel room close to a former U.S. naval base in Subic Bay, still used by the American military for port calls. She had entered the motel with a 19-year-old Marine, Joseph Scott Pemberton, after meeting him in a club. The documentary revolves around the firestorm that followed — the charges against Pemberton, who was found guilty of her homicide, the uproar over Laude’s death and the advocacy movement for transgender individuals that arose from the events. The film focuses on three women: Laude’s mother, an attorney working to bring Pemberton to justice and a transgender investigative journalist. These women humanize a story that had been sensationalized in the press at the time. The film also explores the tensions between the United States and the Philippines that followed, a theme increasingly relevant as the country edges away from its long-standing ally under President Rodrigo Duterte. It underscores the problems with the heavy U.S. military presence across Asia, particularly in the Philippines, the only country America colonized.
— Shibani Mahtani, Southeast Asia bureau chief
Directed by Dan Shadur
“King Bibi: The Life and Performances of Benjamin Netanyahu,” by Israeli filmmaker Dan Shadur, makes use of rare archival footage to provide fascinating insight into the media evolution of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. We see him before he honed his media image, disheveled and unshaven, speaking as the deputy chief of mission in Washington following the Sabra and Shatila massacre during the Lebanese civil war. Later, “Bibi,” as Netanyahu is known, became a master at galvanizing his right-wing base through fear tactics and circumventing the traditional media to send his message directly to the public. It’s hard to watch without drawing comparisons to the Trump presidency today.
— Loveday Morris, Jerusalem bureau chief
“Inside North Korea”
National Geographic Documentary Films & 72 Films
This documentary is an excellent overview of the history of the Kim family and how the mythical “divine right” of the family provides the basis of Kim Jong Un’s claim to be the legitimate leader of the country today. It includes interviews with many people who were inside North Korea or dealt with the North throughout its history. A survivor recounts North Korea’s attempt to assassinate South Korea’s president in Yangon in 1983 with a bomb. And David Petraeus, the head of the CIA in 2011, talks about the then-unknown Kim Jong Un taking over the country after his father, Kim Jong Il, died. It’s a great survey of a dictatorship that should have ended years, even decades, ago.
— Anna Fifield, Beijing bureau chief
“Jailed for a Like”
The newish Tbilisi- and New York-based media company Coda is doing great work with online video. It is especially talented at animating news stories about Russia. Its “Jailed for a Like” series, which shows repression in Russia within the sphere of social media, is fantastic.
By using video animation and illustration — rare in the Russia-focused documentary news scene — it is able to capture scenes and feelings where video cameras and tape recorders are often denied access. The storytelling is fresh and gripping.
— Amie Ferris-Rotman, Moscow correspondent
“Wild Wild Country”
Directed by Maclain Way and Chapman Way
“Wild Wild Country” is the wild and true story of what happened when an Indian spiritual guru known as Rajneesh transplanted himself and his followers to rural Oregon in the 1980s. There is a clash of cultures, of course, and in the process, the film raises probing questions about American democracy. The filmmakers also track down the woman who served as Rajneesh’s steely deputy — and she turns out to be the most memorable character of all.
— Joanna Slater, India bureau chief