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The six best films from CPH:DOX 2015

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The six best films from CPH:DOX 2015
Salam Neighbor, in which the filmmakers lived in a refugee camp, was among our critics' top picks. Photo: CPH:DOX
21:24 CET+01:00
The 2015 edition of the Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival came to its formal conclusion on Sunday and The Local's writers have made their picks for the best films of the bunch.
As the third largest documentary film festival in the world, the Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival (better known as CPH:DOX) had a jam-packed programme that spanned ten days. 
 
The Local's Charles Ferro and Allan Mutuku-Kortbæk took in a wide range of films in different cinemas across the city and we asked them both to select their three favourites films. Here are their picks, in no particular order. 
 
Human
Director: Yann Arthus-Bertrand

Filmed over three years across 60 countries, the mammoth three-hour chef-d'œuvre features close-up interviews with over 2,000 men and women of all walks of life and ethnicities. Running parallel to these compelling interviews, ‘Human’ is also a study of the earth from above, shot with impeccable aerial photography that turns landscapes into dreamy, fantasy-like universes and leaves viewers in a state of awe.
 
Echoing films such as ‘Baraka’ and ‘Samsara’, this is a film of peerless cinematic quality. The colour grading, sound and technical structure are inch-perfect and Armand Amar's music score adds a surreal dimension to an already brilliant film. Poverty, war, homophobia, war and immigration are at the core of a film that leaves you with the epic feeling of belonging to something that is bigger, brighter and bolder than oneself: our beautiful planet.
 
Uncertain
Directors: Ewan McNicol and Anna Sandilands 
 
 
The town of Uncertain, Texas – population 94 - is where people go when they want to disappear.  Located in once idyllic bayou country just across the Louisiana border, the town’s financial base is a lake rapidly losing a battle to an invasive plant dumped into it from a home aquarium.
 
The directors examine the lives of three men with checkered pasts and uncertain futures. We get a look into the lives of Zach, 21 and a diabetic alcoholic whose life will likely become a write off; Henry, a 74-year-old fishing guide who served a term for killing a man and who is in love with a much younger woman who exploits him; and Wayne, a reformed drug abuser-ex-convict obsessed with hunting down a huge wild boar he has named Mr. Ed.  
 
Along with the beauty of the bayous, despite almost hopeless pollution, the beauty of the film lies in the poignant look at what keeps the trio on the tracks: booze, love and the hunt (which drew some dubious snickers from a few viewers who failed to see the point).  
 
‘Uncertain’ relates the human comedy/tragedy without a trace of pathos, and despite a grim outlook for the town, you walk away with the glimmer of hope in your eye.
 
The Dream of Europe
Directors: Liv Berit Helland Gilberg, Bodil Voldmo Sachse and Jens Blom
 

Not one for the faint of heart, 'The Dream of Europe' is an accurate a depiction as any of what is going on in our world right now. The film follows the work of Frontex, the EU organisation that co-ordinates European border management which, needless to say, has its hands full at the moment.  

Shot in locations at the heart of the immigration debate, this film contains disturbing, real-life imagery of the sorts of conflicts that result from border policies on the one hand and the rights of desolate, desperate asylum seekers on the other. All of the above is made all the more relevant given that the quality of the footage is sometimes not the best as some of it is shot by amateurs who’ve gone to areas where few others dare to venture. ‘The Dream Of Europe' is a well-researched, well-documented work that digs beneath the surface and presents its findings in an uncanny, stripped-bare fashion. 

 
Salam Neighbor
Directors: Zach Ingrasci and Chris Temple
 
 
‘Salam Neighbor’ was filmed at a refugee camp in Jordan, just a few kilometres from the border to Syria, well over a year before tens of thousands of Syrian refugees began their migration toward Europe. The documentary’s 2015 release date makes it all the more relevant.
 
The directors gave themselves a fairly simple task: move into a camp with 80,000 people and depict what has now become something of a conceptual term, refugees, as real people. This they achieved, capturing the smiles and the heartaches, and hearts left in ruins like many of the people’s homes.
 
For this viewer, the genius of the film lies in the editing. The film crew was the first to receive United Nations permission to live in a refugee camp and the start of the narrative seems to dwell on their getting ready for a big adventure. It might be unfair to say they were like a bunch of eager young people preparing for a camping trip, but …  the early prep scenes set the stage for things take a gut-wrenching 180-degree turn. Kudos to the editor for leaving them in.
 
 
Lost and Beautiful (Bella e Perduta)
Director: Pietro Marcello
 
 
Pietro Marcello merges the storytelling cinematic genre with documentary style to create a compelling fable about the existence of a man, a castle and a buffalo. The three stories intertwine in what might be called – as the film festival takes place in Denmark - a merging of Kierkegaard with Hans Christian Andersen.
 
The film’s narrator is a male buffalo named Sarchiapone. Doomed to a short life, Sarchiapone gets adopted by the volunteer caretaker of the castle equally doomed due to public neglect. Upon the caretaker’s death, a Tomasso, a masked character of Italian legend, appears to lead the buffalo on a trip across southern Italy to salvation. 
 
The journey takes the viewer across southern Italy while delving into regional myth. The rural setting and peasants who live there play roles in a blend of contemporary life and older legend. Marcello’s imaginative tale treats this rustic environment with all the respect it deserves.
 
Lost and Beautiful demands the viewer let go of reality to enter a world that mixes fact and fable. As with any true fable, the film has something of a moral to its story and this is the mystery that has been puzzling man since the day he crawled out of the primordial slime: The meaning of life.
 
The Wolfpack
Director: Crystal Moselle

A story unlike any other you will ever come across, ‘Wolfpack’ is a tale of seven siblings who lived a sheltered existence in the confines of their Lower East Side apartment in New York City.
 
Prohibited from exiting their flat by their father, who had its only key, the siblings developed a love of cinema that helped them live through their extraordinary ordeal of confinement. Years later, in 2010, sporting waist-long hair and dressed in sunglasses reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Reservoir Dogs,’ some of the siblings run into film director Crystal Moselle, who befriended the peculiar-looking boys and eventually cinematized their story. Their forays into the outside world had begun earlier in the same year when one of the family brothers, Mukunda, disobeyed his father’s instructions and wandered off into the real world.  
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