From edible bugs to a radioactive city, the fifth annual festival of non-fiction cinema is full of incredible stories
1 The secret, radioactive Russian town where people still live
Omersk in Russia was built by the Soviets in 1947 for developing nuclear weapons. It’s still a walled and heavily guarded place where the inhabitants have easy lives but suffer health problems from radiation – and are not allowed to leave. In City 40, filmmaker Samira Goetschel gains access to this place and risks her life to expose it to the world.
2 Mums with guns
Australian film Mother with Gun is a profile of Shelley Rubin, who is the leader of the Jewish Defense League. Once the most active terrorist organisation in the US, the JDL aims to prevent another holocaust even if that involves preventative violence.
3 The Maze Prison Hunger Strike under the microscope
You may remember Michael Fassbender’s performance in the searing Steve McQueen film Hunger. The full story of the shattering 1981 hunger strike in Northern Ireland’s Maze prison is told in Bobby Sands: 66 Days, which uses archival material, reconstructions, interviews and excerpts from Sands’ diary.
4 The search for a lost love caught on camera
Closing night’s film, from Italy, is A Present from the Past. Kawthar Younis used hidden cameras to film the quest she went on with her father to locate a woman he was in a relationship with 30 years earlier, with just an address in Rome to go on.
5 A look inside the robotic world of electropop pioneer Gary Numan
Gary Numan (‘Cars’, ‘Are Friends Electric?’) enjoyed pop stardom for his synthesizer hits only to fall prey to depression and penury. Gary Numan: Android in La La Land tells the story of his move to Los Angeles with the wife who grew up a Gary Numan fan.
6 A mariachi’s double life
Opening night film The Charro of Toluquilla is the emotional story of Jaime Garcia – a mariachi singer with a wild and bawdy persona whose confidence belies personal difficulties including life as an HIV-positive man.
7 The insects we’ll all be eating one day
Bugs follows two researchers from Rene Redzepi’s Nordic Food Lab to explore the world of entomophagy. Bring a strong stomach to this film about the culinary and environmental virtues of the creatures said to be the future of food.
8 A revived masterpiece by Abbas Kiarostami
The Iranian filmmaker died in July leaving behind a body of work blurring the lines between fiction and documentary, such as his 1990 masterpiece Close-Up. It’s the real-life case of a young man charged with impersonating a famous filmmaker, which Kiarostami uses as the starting point for an investigation into cinema, identity and existence.
9 Behind the massive, open-air art movement
Troublemakers: The Story of Land Art looks at the bold ambitions of 1960s and ’70s artists who made huge works out of earth – Robert Smithson, Walter de Maria and Michael Heizer. Their works make for great cinematic visuals in a documentary featuring a lot of archival footage.
10 The state of the art, under discussion
Another highlight of the festival will be the one-day seminar series DocTalk, which brings together filmmakers, producers, commissioning editors and funders to discuss craft, business and content at the MCA on October 14. US documentary filmmaker Alan Berliner (Intimate Stranger) will deliver a master class, and Maryanne Redpath, a Berlin Film Festival curator, will join local Indigenous filmmakers in a discussion of Indigenous cinema.