2012 Recap: Another Watershed Year For Documentary Filmmaking


**With 2012 behind us, Kenny Miles wanted to recap the year in film. Over the next few days, Kenny will write a series of opinion features focusing on the highlights and trends of 2012.**

When it comes to documentary features, 2012 had documentaries that provided a glimpse into the soul of American or Global culture. I personally believe the purpose of this format is to provide revelation and challenge to our personal world views, and extra kudos to those of them that happen to also entertain. What makes documentaries seem so authentic and impassioned can be found right in the technological advancements and in the 21st century, almost anyone can make a documentary and this allows creativity to flourish. competition for recognition becomes fierce and when many have access to this format great things can begin to take shape which is why I believe we are living in a renaissance era for this film genre.
I have seen over 50 documentaries this year, but none stuck with me quite like Invisible War. For me, a “successful” documentary is one that educates an audience about an unknown issue and because of that perspective I have declared Invisible War as the best documentary of 2012. (More on that below.) One of 2012’s most over praised documentaries, How to Survive a Plague, discusses the stigma of AIDS in 1980’s New York. My issue with this film is a simple, but overlooked, one: the subject matter was done better just last year. We Were Here is a documentary that chronicled how the AIDS epidemic effected the San Francisco community and this film grabbed me emotionally and held my attention. How to Survive a Plague seemed like it was mostly re-edited archival footage, and was a detached experience for me throughout and left me bored. I didn’t learn anything new from watching ‘How To Survive a Plague’ that I hadn’t already had seen in “We Were Here.”
I enjoyed many things with regard to the 2012 documentaries from the stunning cinematography in “Samsara”, to contemplating the philosophical meaning of intelligent humanity in “Surviving Progress”, to the Kennedy reminiscing about the past in “Ethel”. However, one dark element was how the format can be abused to become a long political SuperPAC ad, as was the case with “2016: Obama’s America”, and 2012’s highest grossing box office ‘documentary’ was a sensation and inaccurate portrayal of President Barack Obama which takes half truths and runs a marathon away from logic. This approach to documenting made Michael Moore look like Mother Teresa, and I normally loathe the controversial director and reminds me that sometimes we should take documentaries with a grain of salt.
The Academy selection committee in charge of nominating documentaries still have issues with their method of ‘shortlisting’ qualified candidates and I truly believe they must improve their methods of selecting movies, or drop their biases toward others. (Best of luck with that)
Here is my Top Ten List and one Honorable Mention:


Top 10 Documentaries of 2012


1. Invisible War
Kirby Dick’s investigative piece is the hallowing story about the culture of sexual assault and the complacency in the U.S. military. The facts were stunning and the interviews heartbreaking. As a tax paying citizen, you owe it to yourself to watch this emotionally enraging doc.


2.The Queen of Versailles
The exploration of the quest to build America’s largest home takes an unexpected turn when the millionaire couple lose their wealth. Their home is foreclosed upon and they downgrade their lifestyle as a result. Comic relief and frightening allegory for the American excess in the financial crisis ensue and it’s a shame that the Academy didn’t Shortlist this gem in the doc category!


3. Chasing Ice
Many climate change documentaries are told from the alarmist perspective. Chasing Ice, however, shows us stunning photography of melting glaciers and I believe that this gorgeous looking documentary is meant to be experienced on the big screen and will silence many skeptics and I found the film both powerful and engaging!


4. The Central Park Five
Ken Burns brings this haunting documentary that showcases just how unjust a pressured police force, and a sensational media, unintentionally collaborated and ruined the lives of five innocent teenage African American boys.


5. House I Live In
Voters in Colorado and Washington made 2012 a turning point with how illegal drugs are viewed in America. “House I Live In” shows an in-depth exploration into the quagmire about how the war on drugs has amplified an addiction leading to incarceration while shaming the abusers.


6. Searching For Sugar Man
An investigative journey about singer “Rodriguez” and his rise in popularity in South Africa. The singer’s music inspires the revolution which is presented in a “chill” vibe, with a sweet story, and catchy tunes making this an all around treat.


7. Head Games
No sports headline grabbed the attention of national media more than the suicides of NFL players suffering from head injuries. “Head Games” chronicles the science and the NFL’s denial in a timely, engaging documentary desperately in need of a sports minded audience to question the practices of leagues.


8. Jiro Dreams of Sushi
A delightful and lighthearted exploration of the most prestigious sushi chef in the world Jiro Ono. As the viewer, you are immersed in his philosophy and his work ethic toward crafting high quality cuisine.


9. (tie) Escape Fire and The Waiting Room

Health Care is a hot topic in American political discourse right now. Both of these documentaries show us the difficult issues the industry faces and what problems must still be overcome. There’s no sugarcoating or partisan spin featured in this film and pleads that the need for real reform is now.


10. The Imposter
This movie stuck with me beyond my initial viewing reaction. There’s something eerie and mesmerizing about this documentary that gets “under your skin” about how a French man conned a Texas family with stuff so sensational it has to be seen to be believed, and asks more questions than answers!

Honorable Mention: U.N. Me

This conservative leaning documentary actually deserved a bi-partisan audience. The film is an entertaining look at how one man wants simple answers as to how the United Nations implements their mission. Director/Narrator Ami Horowitz convincingly made a case for the UN’s incompetency and hypocrisy throughout this film.





What 2012 documentaries did you really enjoy or were moved by?

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About Kenny Miles

Whether something is overlooked by Hollywood or whatever business trend has captured the Entertainment Industry’s attention, Kenny Miles loves to talk about movies (especially the cultural impact of a film). He covers various aspects of movies including specialty genre films, limited release, independent, foreign language, documentary features, and THE much infamous "awards season." Also, he likes to offer his opinion on the business of film, marketing strategy, and branding. He currently resides in Denver, Colorado and is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society critics group. You can follow him on Twitter @kmiles723.

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