Seven Days, Seven Documentaries

Jenna Jauhiainen 31.10.2016

As the days grow darker, why not burn some candles and watch good documentaries? Here are the highlights of our last weeks’ doc binge, one for each day of the week. We’ve accessed all of these from the internet and so can you, too.

A great way to start the week is Noam Chomsky’s analysis on the reasons why wealth and power continue their concentration in the hands of the few in the US, and also globally. Even though Requiem for the American Dream (2015) isn’t exactly uplifting, it does present a strong narrative on the methods of corroding democracy, which in turn can lead to good ol’ empowerment.

The mid-days of the working week will be spent on the fringes of religion. An uneasy start is My Scientology Movie (2015). Starring Louis Theroux, the British documentary filmmaker known for his ability to get incredibly close to his subjects, the movie springs from the premise that it is practically impossible to get access to the leadership of the infamous Church of Scientology. By dramatizing both public and private moments inside the “church”, Theroux encounters its methods of manipulation also in reality.

Wednesday, or pikkulauantai as it is known in Finland, is well spent watching the Sundance approved vaporwavesque Holy Hell (2016). The hell in question was (and for some still is) a cult called Buddhafield, formed around the “Speedo-Wearing Guru” Michel Rostand aka Master aka Adonis aka Andreas aka Cindy aka Dorothy. As a documentary, Holy Hell has a particularly personal tone as it is directed and partly shot, edited and produced by Will Allen, who himself became a member of Buddhafield straight from film school and remained so for 22 years.

The last part of Amy Berg’s trilogy on institutionalised paedophilia, Prophet’s Prey (2015) is an unsettling, cinematic trip into the (sur)reality of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. In the early 2000s, the polygamous cult accepted the earthly Warren Jeffs as its prophet, and he in turn served the community by allowing underage marriage and incest for both himself and his followers. Even though Prophet’s Prey sounds like your average stereotype porn, the strength of Berg’s narrative lies in revealing the comfortable numbness accompanying fundamental(ist) dehumanisation.

Now when it is finally Friday, why not stay awake for the rest of the weekend? Too tired to, huh? Well, just watch The Nightmare (2015) and think again. Or well, to be perfectly honest, it was not nearly as scary as were many of the discussions about sleep paralysis it triggered around the internet: it opened a can of worms on discussion boards, with hoards of people coming forward and expressing their gratitude for finally knowing they are not alone with their paralyzed visions of horror, which to the horror of everyone else are often eerily archetypal. This same effect also happened to me IRL: after telling my friends about the documentary, approximately half of whom I discussed it with told me of their own frequent experiences with sleep paralysis and the accompanying hallucinations. It is a rather funky feeling to realize you have known somebody for years yet this has never come up to discussion before.

As it is not customary to cry on a Saturday night, we must recommend Werner Herzog’s Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World (2016). Maybe it is just me and y’all need to be a bit tipsy to achieve this effect (it is worth it though, trust me), but Herzog does sound a lot like David Attenborough in his avuncular way of interviewing his subjects about the internet.

In order to come full circle, we recommend ending the week with Adam Curtis’ HyperNormalisation (2016), released on 16th of October on BBC’s iPlayer. The argument HyperNormalisation presents arches over every documentary listed here, reaching an analysis of power that matches that of Chomsky’s we started out with. Curtis’ use of different archival material to visualise his narrative is highly aesthetic, making the 2 hour 40 minute film a true pleasure to watch.