The best documentary film series

Our popular title The Look of Silence is Joshua Oppenheimer’s companion piece to the critically acclaimed The Act of the Killing. Let’s take a look at some of the best documentary film series.

Position Among the Stars trilogy

Leonard Retel Helmrich’s trilogy spans 12 years, the period of time he spent documenting the life of the Sjamsuddin family in the slums of Jakarta, Indonesia. Comprising of the films Eye of the Day,Shape of the Moon and Position Among the Stars, this trilogy traces the economic development of Indonesia through the eyes of Rumidjah, her young granddaughter and two grown sons. Without voice-over or interviews, Lovefilm called the trilogy “a piercing slice of neo-realist poetry”, whilst the Guardian likened it to an episode of Shameless(!).

Laura Poitras trilogy

The films of this series — The Oath, My Country, My Country and Citizenfour — indicate Poitras’ sustained inquiry in to the post-9/11 world, and the United States’ role in particular . The first, My Country, My Country documents daily life under American occupation in Iraq. The film centres on Dr. Riyadh al-Adhadh, an Iraqi medical doctor, whose fight for democracy entails working both with and against the US military, private security contractors, American journalists and UN officials. Nominated for an Oscar, the film placed Poitras of the US Department of Home Security’s Watch list, a harbinger of her later work with Edward Snowden. The Oath tells the story of two men, Abu Jandal and Salim Ahmed Hamdan who both worked for a time for Osama Bin Laden, the former as a bodyguard and the latter as a driver. The men became brothers-in-law through marriage, and Salim was captured in Afganistan and imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay as an enemy combatant. By examining their lives, and Salim’s journey through the US judicial system, with his prosecution for war crimes eventually ruled as unconstitutional, Poitras reveals both the human and political consequences of the UK war on terror. In Poitras’ most recent film, Oscar-winner Citizenfour, Edward Snowden’s leak of the evidence of systematic illegal wire-tapping by the NSA is depicted with intimate access. Poitras herself received an email from Snowden before the leak went public, and was with him as the scandal unfolded. Citizenfouris, in a sense, a culmination of US foreign policy after 9/11 that she first explored in My Country, My Country.

Paradise Lost Trilogy

This grim series is about the trials of the West Memphis Three, the teenagers — Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley- accused of the murder of three young boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. Comprising of interviews with both the families of the accused and the victums, as well as the police who investigated the crime, the first film follows the trial amidst media attention and speculation about Satanic ritual abuse involved in the murder. In the second film, Paradise Lost 2: Revelations,the three teenagers are now convicted in prison, one of them sentenced to death — but new evidence of bitemarks on the victims could exonerate them. Finally, in Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, new DNA evidence and witnesses strengthen the men’s appeal case, and August 2011, before the case goes to trial again, (spoiler alert), the men strike a plea deal to be freed on the condition that they plead guilty but maintain their innocence. A bizarre end to a bizarre and tragic true life story.

The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence

In The Look of Silence, Joshua Oppenheimer continues his work filming those directly involved and affected by the Indonesian genocide. In the Act of Killing, he tracked down members of the Indonesian civilian militia who massacred suspected Communists in the 1965 Suharto coup. The film was critically acclaimed, nominated for an Academy Award and winning the BAFTA award for Best Documentary. The companion piece, The Look of Silence focuses on a family of survivors.We meet Adi, an Indonesian opthamologist whose brother Ramli was killed by the same militia. Throughout the film we meet those affected by the murders, and Adi sets out to confront his brother’s murderers. The Look of Silence is the victim’s answer to the killers featured in The Act of Killing.

Originally published at