2016 was a year in which reality began to seem rather unreal, where real-world developments beat satirical shows like Veep and Saturday Night Live to the punch with some of the most bizarre turns of events in recent years, with a reality-TV star and general man-child (or as he called himself on Twitter this month, “ratings machine DJT”), now readying himself to become leader of the free world. Like The Donald, documentaries this year have turned their hard gaze to globalisation, with John Pilger, Werner Herzog, Fisher Stevens and Adam Curtis all flitting between dozens of outsider communities whose human stories represent global hope, and tragedy.
Conversely, others have turned to hard introspection: particularly American documentaries who face down their fractured nation by confronting the effects of climate change, foreign affairs and race relations. Meanwhile others pursued an entirely personal philosophy: capturing the people facing huge challenges – be it cult seduction, artistic integrity or personal loss. What follows are a list of the 12 documentaries released in the last 12 months which best represent our planet, the challenges which face it, and the people who live here, as they often instill great faith and optimism when we need it most.
12. Into The Inferno (Netflix)
One of two Netflix documentaries helmed by cinematic pioneer Werner Herzog this year, Into The Inferno takes a deep dive into volcanoes. It’s this kind of seemingly obtuse subject matter which Herzog utilises to cast a light on the manner in which one breed of natural phenomenon can shape whole histories and cultures; as for certain island tribes and the people of North Korea, who have given them religious status, while their sediment has preserved fossils which could help us solve the key of our species’ evolution. Threaded between a plethora of cultures are extended sequences of footage from the fiery core of three volcanoes, with images of explorers dwarfed by fountains of molten lava providing some of the most striking images of the year. (more…)