Lifestyle & Belief

True/False: 9 international films to watch this year


A still from "These Birds Walk," one of True/False's documentary selections set in an orphanage in Karachi.

True/False film festival, a non-stop, four-day event that mixes Sundance-screened movies with as-yet-unseen gems, is celebrating its tenth year as one of the United States' premiere documentary showcases. 

The fest takes over small-town Columbia, Missouri on Feb. 28 and features an eclectic range on spot-on film selections, including many documentaries. Quite a few cover important international issues that we at GlobalPost have had a close eye on, ourselves. 

Here, we preview True/False's top nine internationally-minded docs and dramas to watch this year. 

1. The Act of Killing

This bracing documentary about Indonesian gang culture brings the physical acts of genocide to the forefront. After meeting a group of thugs who boast about the genocidal acts they committed during Indonesia's widespread killings in the 1960s, director Joshua Oppenheimer gives them the chance to recreate their violence for the camera.

But when he shows the men footage what they've done, he charts a course of reckoning that few war criminals have ever had to face. 

2. Dirty Wars

There are many that would argue that the United States' so-called "war on terror" has gone too far, spiraling far beyond the reasonable reaches of government.

But few have attempted to track down the proof like director Richard Rowley and war journalist Jeremy Scahill do in this sweeping film about the role the Joint Special Operations Command and President Obama have played in the hunt to kill terrorists. As the film's tagline claims, "the world is a battlefield." 

Watch the directors discuss the film with Democracy Now: 

3. The Garden of Eden

Oftentimes, the best portraits of a place are found in the most unassuming places. That's what this documentary reveals in its portrayal of Israel’s Sakhne National Park in the summertime. The beautiful natural springs draw sunbathers, barbecuers, and swimmers from all walks of Israeli-Palestinian life.

Both the Sakhne and this film showcase the heaviness of the universal and the nuances of specific human experiences beautifully. 

4. The Gatekeepers 

This Oscar-nominated heavyweight bores deep inside Israel's Shin Bet; the country's "supercharged equivalent of the CIA" responsible for tracking terrorists and making hugely influential decisions in the region. By interviewing all six of the covert agency's former leaders, Dror Moreh pulls the curtain back on an organization that has sculpted — for better and for worse — Israel as it stands today. 

"The Gatekeepers" is an investigation of counter terrorism in all of its palm-sweating, trigger-pulling reality. 

5. Manhunt

For those who have argued over the accuracies (or inaccuracies) of "Zero Dark Thirty," Kathryn Bigelow's hugely controversial look at the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, there's always director Greg Barker's "Manhunt." 

Taking a look at the behind-the-scenes researchers (most of them, women) who were in pursuit of the world's most wanted man the film focuses more on the hunt and the characters who led it than the torturous methods depicted in Bigelow's account. The result is a "visceral experience" that takes the viewer right along for the ride. 

6. No 

This true story about the 1988 Chilean referendum that ultimately ousted long-time ruler Augusto Pinochet is already being buzzed about, and for good reason. Chronicling the advertising effort behind the "No" — as in, NO, Pinochet should not be in power — campaign, the film revisits a very current dilemma about how to best get your message across in politics (Obama's 2008 campaign, anyone?)

Shot on U-matic video stock to capture that 80s TV feel, "No" manages to capture the era while channeling the present day. 

7. Sleepless Nights 

Eliane Raheb's Lebanese war documentary is no easy experience, as the fearless director faces killers up against their victims' families almost 30 years after Lebanon's devastating conflict and looks at a process of forgiveness that, for a myriad of reasons, never fully happened. 

True/False describes the film as  "a confounding triumph of political art, investigative journalism and confrontational cinema" — no small compliment to a director who is not afraid to open wounds that may not have really healed. 

8. These Birds Walk 

Set in an orphanage in Pakistan's violence-besieged capital city, this documentary follows Omar, a young boy navigating the rough-and-tumble, uncertain maze that is often cutting despite its kind mission. 

Run by aging philanthropist Abdul Sattar Edhi, the orphanage is a place where "boys pick cruel fights, make up and suddenly disappear." After three years of work, re-shoots, edits, and workshopping with True/False, first-time directors Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq have captured a revelatory snapshot of life in Karachi. 

9. Winter, go away!

Ten young filmmakers were sent into the midst of Russia's 2012 protests over Vladimir Putin's power grab. The resulting film is one of the most direct conduits into the heart of the battle between Russian opposition parties and the longtime leader we've seen in a long time. 

This powerful collaborative documentary delivers the passion and immediacy  in a country at a true political crossroads.