Six Oscar and BAFTA-nominated films to see at ZagrebDox

Some of the best films you should catch at this year's ZagrebDox

Written by
Marc Rowlands
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2019's ZagrebDox programme includes six documentary films which are in the running for prestigious Oscar and BAFTA awards. The ZagrebDox festival is holding its 15th annual event this year and showcases some of the best new documentary films from all over the world. Here's the lowdown on six of the docs which are up for awards. ZagrebDox takes place between Sunday 24 February and Sunday 3 March with screenings being held at Kaptol Boutique Cinema.

Six Oscar and BAFTA-nominated films to see at ZagrebDox

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Film
  • Documentaries

Who knows what makes mountain climber Alex Honnold – the daredevil at the heart of the so-terrifying-you’ll-hyperventilate ‘Free Solo’ – risk his life thousands of feet up with no ropes or securing gear of any kind. Maybe it’s a quest for perfection, or a death wish, or a unique biological inability to feel fear, or a pursuit of the ‘goddamn warrior spirit’ (his own words)? All of these possibilities are suggested during this mesmerising documentary, but you won’t be looking for an explanation. Just like the sheer rock face, El Capitan, that looms like a one-kilometre-tall dare, Honnold himself is a force of nature: shy, prone to solitude and, by his own admission, potentially on the autism spectrum. He studies the complex moves in his climbing journal and waits for the right moment to head out, and up. Already a gripping watch, ‘Free Solo’ becomes extra special when it widens out to accommodate the people hanging on to Honnold’s vertical trajectory. We see him transition, living in a van practising pull-ups to settling down with a doting girlfriend. Sanni McCandless takes huge emotional risks in getting close to Alex, who might die because of a single misstep, but his evolution through their relationship is heart-meltingly romantic – and ominous. Will it destroy his concentration? Meanwhile, a crew of rappelling cameramen, led by co-director Jimmy Chin, wrestles with its own ethical questions. Are they enabling decisions that could result in a fatality, all for the sake of a film?

Hale County This Morning, This Evening
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Film
  • Documentaries

He went to Hale County, Alabama, to coach basketball and teach photography, but RaMell Ross also had his video camera with him and started shooting everyday stuff with the families in this largely African-American rural community. Five years and 1,300 hours of footage later, he distilled it all down to this hand-crafted 76-minute doc. It’s what you might call artisanal filmmaking, and it offers an inside look at ordinary African-Americans that’s both far from conventional and deeply satisfying. Ross likes to add in time-lapse footage of night skies, and that underlying sense of the days going by helps to hold the movie together. It frames the central subjects, two young black men, as one watches his infant son grow up, and the other grapples with the pressures of a basketball scholarship at nearby Selma University. Don’t expect a detailed narrative, however. This isn’t a film that spoon-feeds significant information. Instead, it’s like a flick-book of moments, both poetic and mundane, which Ross leaves us to find our own way through. Not your standard doc, then, but far from ‘difficult’ either. There are cute kids doing their thing, folks hanging out, stormy weather, summer heat, and little in the way of on-screen guns, gangs or violence. It’s essentially lyrical, sincere and affirmative, and without pushing your buttons, creates a sense of common humanity that’s glowingly authentic. 

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Black Sheep

Black Sheep

Oscar-nominated short film 'Black Sheep' by Ed Perkins, blurs the lines between documentary and fiction to ask difficult and still pertinent questions about race and identity. Travelling back in time to a period in the aftermath of schoolboy Damilola Taylor's murder in November 2000, Cornelius Walker’s mother is afraid for her son’s welfare. The boy is the same age and colour to Taylor and living within a similar inner city region. She decides to move the family out of London, to the supposedly safer environs of Essex. But the estate they move to is run by a violent, racist gang.

Three Identical Strangers
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Film
  • Documentaries

The mood sours, gradually and surprisingly, in this thoughtful, journalistic documentary about three identical triplets who were adopted separately at birth and reunited as late teens in early 1980s New York. At the time, these handsome Jewish siblings were quite a story: after stumbling on each other totally by accident, Bobby Shafran, Eddy Galland and David Kellman did the rounds of TV chat shows, wearing matching clothes and provoking ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ when they revealed that they smoked the same brand of cigarettes, enjoyed the same sports and appeared to cross their legs simultaneously, like three peas still united by a long-shrivelled pod. Here it was: a trio of living, breathing examples of nature-over-nurture. How cute. Madonna gave them a cameo in Desperately Seeking Susan. They even opened their own SoHo restaurant (called Triplet’s, of course). They all fell in love, 19 years late, like needy bear cubs making up for so much lost time. The reality, you might have guessed, wasn’t so rosy. And, of course, from the beginning you’re wondering: who on earth thinks it’s a good idea to separate siblings like this? It’s best to keep schtum on the details, but director Tim Wardle leads us in two directions from the initial glow of reunion. First, there’s the reason and method by which the three were adopted in the first place. It’s not pretty. Second, there’s the reality of the lives they each lived with their adoptive parents. Not all of it is negative, by any means, but the boys' upbringings are each radically different and aside from posing serious questions, this leads to drastic consequences.

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They Shall Not Grow Old 3D
  • Film

On the centenary of the end of First World War, Academy Award-winner Peter Jackson presented this extraordinary new work showing the Great War as you have never seen it. Using state of the art technology to restore original archival footage which is more than a 100-years old, Jackson brings to life the people who can best tell this story: the men who were there. Using the voices of the men involved, the film explores the reality of war on the front line; their attitudes to the conflict; how they ate; slept and formed friendships, as well what their lives were like away from the trenches during their periods of downtime. Reaching into the mists of time, Jackson aims to give these men voices, investigate the hopes and fears of the veterans, the humility and humanity that represented a generation changed forever by a global war.

Minding the Gap
  • Film
  • Documentaries

Compiling over 12 years of footage shot in his hometown of Rockford, IL, in Minding The Gap, Bing Liu searches for correlations between his skateboarder friends' turbulent upbringings and the complexities of modern-day masculinity. As the film unfolds, Bing captures the deterioration of 23-year-old Zack's tumultuous relationship with his girlfriend after the birth of their son, and 17-year-old Kiere's struggle with his racial identity as he faces new responsibilities following the death of his father. While navigating a difficult relationship between his camera, his friends, and his own past, Bing ultimately weaves a story of generational forgiveness while exploring the precarious gap between childhood and adulthood.

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