Clayton's DocEdge Festival Picks

The Documentary Edge Film Festival kicks off in Auckland this Wednesday and it is chock full of engrossing docos to engage your brain.

Running for two weeks until Queen’s Birthday weekend (where it finishes on the Monday with a best of the fest selection), there’s something for everyone with docs on art, sport, sexuality, film, mattresses and so much more.

Here are my picks for the fest, and you can check out the rest here.

There are some amazing music documentaries about talented and tragic artists, and Whitney, Can I Be Me is on par with the best of them. Like the Oscar-winning Amy Winehouse documentary Amy, the opening night film utilises stunning home movie and archival footage to shed light on Whitney’s downfall. It’ll make you mad and sad at how this breathtaking vocalist lost her way, and make her powerful hits that play throughout all the more poignant.

I didn’t know much about the Syrian War going into this doco, and I was left stunned at what is happening on a ground level. Syrian filmmaker Feras Fayyad follows right over the shoulders of the White Helmets - the Syrian Civil Defence who help rescue people buried in bombed buildings – and gives you an all-to-human face for the devastating conflict. Mainly following the struggles and triumphs of two White Helmets, it might be an unflinching watch but it’s an absolutely essential one.

If the first two don’t sound like fun and laughs, this is, though it is humour aimed at the Holocaust. Mel Brooks calls it “revenge through ridicule” and this pretty funny film looks at how we make light of taboo topics from the Nazis all the way through to 9/11. It includes boundary-breaking comedians like Mel, Sarah Silverman, Gilbert Gottfried, Rob Reiner and Harry Shearer, plenty of clips from the Marx Brothers to Curb Your Enthusiasm, and remarkable Holocaust survivors that makes for an entertaining and insightful watch.

I’ve got a soft spot for docos on print - Page One, Very Semi-Serious, Obit – anything that still holds a candle to a potentially dying industry, and California Typewriter is perfect for those nostalgic dreamers and bearded hipsters. It’s just heart-warming to see the likes of Tom Hanks, John Mayer and Sam Shepard wax lyrically on this bygone machine, and it also offers a thought-provoking discussion on our relationship with technology. Damn if you don’t want to jump on Trade Me to buy one after watching this.

There’s a slew of great local docos, but my pick is The Common Touch. You would have been living under a rock in NZ if you didn’t watch Christchurch Boys’ student Jake Bailey’s graduation speech, and this doco delves into the background of this young cancer sufferer, and what happened after his video went viral around the world. The re-enactment scenes are a little jarring, but it’s still an inspiring watch especially for a younger generation. This 40 minute doco plays as part of a short film package dubbed Against All Odds.