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A still from 'Above and Below' | © International Film Festival Rotterdam/Youtube
A still from 'Above and Below' | © International Film Festival Rotterdam/Youtube

The Top Documentaries At Millennium Film Festival 2016

Picture of Nana Van De Poel
Updated: 8 January 2017
Brussels’ film festival season has finally arrived, and with it a bunch of great features you would rarely get a chance to see on the big screen otherwise. Here’s a look at the best of the upcoming Millennium Festival, a celebration of international documentaries with the most distinct voices.

Homme Less

Mark Reay’s life is paradox. A silver fox photographer who takes pictures of beautiful models and attends New York Fashion week during the day, a homeless man who sleeps on the Manhattan roof of an unknowing friend the next. By following Reay for over two years, director Thomas Wirthensohn’s debut gives us a glimpse into the life of a homeless person who defies the stereotype. Panoramic views and a jazz score elude the nostalgic atmosphere of the city where dreams come true, yet in order to keep his dream of being a certain kind of photographer going, Reay has to sleep under the starry night sky and pee in his water jug. When asked point-blank by Wirthensohn – a former model who has known Reay since the 1990s – why he lives this way, the simple answer is that life didn’t exactly work out the way he expected it to.

Sunday March 20, 6:15pm and Thursday March 24, 3:45pm

Cinéma Galeries

Life is sacred

La vida es sacrada.’ The title of this year’s opening film boasts the words of Columbian political trailblazer Atanas Mockus. To tell the story of this amicable outsider’s 2010 presidential bid, director Andreas Dalsgaard puts us in the headspace of 22-year old Katherine Miranda, a passionate member of the Green Party. Mockus – known as a politician unafraid to take unusual action (the documentary shows how he famously replaced the corrupt traffic police of Bogotá with hundreds of mime artists) – is her unequivocal spiritual hero. Life is sacred is about how the voice of an outsider can give hope to the young for a changed political landscape in a country drowning in corruption and violence.

Friday March 18, 8pm


A Syrian Love Story

Started inside a Syrian prison, Amer en Raghda’s love affair is one for the books. Documentary filmmaker Sean McAllister found himself in Syria in 2009 when he met Amer Daoud, a Palestinian freedom fighter whose revolutionary Syrian wife again was jailed for having written a book too critical of the Assad administration. Upon Raghda’s return, McAllister decides to stick with the story for five more years, during which the Syrian crisis erupted in full force. Surprisingly, the director keeps his focus small. Bloody fights and explosions are nowhere in the frame. Instead, he uses the escalating global crisis as a backdrop to the crumbling micro universe of this rebel family. Perfectly suited to the festival’s hunger for relevancy, this one has a great shot at eventually bagging the Objectif d’Or. If at all possible, catch the Bozar-screening at the 25th, which will be proceeded by a masterclass from McAllister himself titled, ‘the solitary life of the documentary filmmaker.’

Tuesday March 22, 3:30pm and Friday 25, 6:30pm with a masterclass by the director

Cinéma Galeries and Bozar

Above and below

What does a couple living in the flood tunnels of Las Vegas, a young woman adamant to be one of the first people to colonize Mars, an army veteran residing in an old bunker and the undocumented but kindly immigrant Pablo have in common? They call unlikely areas of the world, or beyond, their home. These five Americans don’t fit the mold of modern society, so they went in search of another place to belong. Above and Below – an impressive graduation project by the Swiss Nicolas Steiner – walks that very tight rope of still calling itself a documentary while the action is gorgeously shot from all kinds of different angles.

Wednesday March 23, 9pm

Cinéma Galeries

Cartel Land

Not part of the official competition for the Object D’or but a winner all the same, Cartel Land has made almost everyone’s list of the best documentaries of 2015. With director and cinematography awards at Sundance, Matthew Heineman got rewarded for risking his skin more than once in this film. The director hazardously followed two vigilante groups waging war on the violent drug cartels ruling Mexico. Heineman takes us back and forth over the border. On one side, the group of Jose Mireles or ‘El Doctor,’ a physician and grandparent, wants to put an end to the terror of the drug cartel that has been dominating the Michoacan region for years. On the other, the gang belonging to gritty, cowboy hat-wearing veteran Tim Foley attempts to keep drugs from seeping into the United States. Shoot-outs on the Mexican streets give the documentary a sense of urgency as the precocious situations make you fear for the filmmaker’s life.

Saturday March 19, 8:30pm

Cinéma Galeries