Storyville and this golden age of documentary film making.

Muscle Shoals.

Mus­cle Shoals.

The BBC4 doc­u­men­tary strand Sto­ryville isn’t part of what is clear­ly a gold­en age of doc­u­men­tary film mak­ing, it’s the prin­ci­ple dri­ving force respon­si­ble for bring­ing this age into being.

Since kick­ing off in 2007-08, Sto­ryville has helped fund over one hun­dred doc­u­men­taries, each one even more impres­sive than the last.

In the 2013–14 sea­son there was The Gate­keep­ers where we heard from the last six heads of the Israeli secret ser­vice, the Shin Bet, reviewed ear­li­er here. Plus the myth­ic Mus­cle Shoals: The Great­est Record­ing stu­dio in the World, reviewed ear­li­er here, and the fas­ci­nat­ing Google and the World Brain on Google’s attempt to dig­i­tize the world’s books, and what that might mean for the rest of us. And then there was the absolute­ly riv­et­ing The House I Live In, on America’s doomed war on drugs, and the way that their whole penal sys­tem has become lit­tle more than an elab­o­rate excuse for insti­tu­tion­alised racism, reviewed ear­li­er here.

The remarkable Rodriguez.

The remark­able Rodriguez.

Then in 2014–15 there was Mugabe and the Democ­rats, the sur­pris­ing­ly mov­ing Par­ti­cle Fever: The Hunt for the Hig­gs Boson, and the majes­tic Search­ing For Sug­ar Man about the gen­uine­ly extra­or­di­nary singer Rodriguez, reviewed ear­li­er here.

Here, very briefly, are four from the cur­rent 2015–16 season:

Cartel Land.

Car­tel Land.

Car­tel Land brings vivid­ly to life quite how unimag­in­able life in Mex­i­co has become. When his three neigh­bours are behead­ed by one of the local drug car­tels, the local doc­tor Jose Mire­les decides it’s time to take the law into his own hands. So he and a few of his sim­i­lar­ly des­per­ate neigh­bours take up arms and set up the autode­fen­sas.

And with­in a few weeks, he and his civic mind­ed vig­i­lantes are mov­ing through the state, con­vinc­ing cit­i­zens from vil­lage to vil­lage to join them, take up arms, and defend them­selves against the maraud­ing cartels.

With­out wish­ing in any way to spoil the sto­ry, what hap­pens next is all too pre­dictable. It is stag­ger­ing to wit­ness quite how cor­rupt Mex­i­co has become, at every con­ceiv­able lev­el, from top to bot­tom. And quite how impos­si­ble it seems to be to free your­self from it. And although on the sur­face this isn’t a depress­ing film, the more you think about it, and you will think about it, the more dispir­it­ing a place the world seems to have become.

A sobre Amos Oz listens to his younger self.

A sober Amos Oz lis­tens to his younger self.

The six-day war: Cen­sored Voic­es is very much a com­pan­ion piece to The Gate­keep­ers above. When the cel­e­brat­ed nov­el­ist Amos Oz came back to the Kib­butz where he lived for so much of his life after fight­ing in the 6 day war, he and his fel­low sol­diers were so con­flict­ed by what they had just been a part of, that they each record­ed a series of inter­views with one anoth­er so that they could air and explore that unease.

The basic ques­tion they asked them­selves was, how can what was sup­posed to have been a defen­sive war result in the mass depor­ta­tion of tens of thou­sands of peo­ple from their land?

Near­ly half a cen­tu­ry lat­er, we watch as the elder­ly men lis­ten to what their thoughts had been bare­ly ten days after what many peo­ple at the time were cel­e­brat­ing as Israel’s finest hour.

The remarkable Brenda Myers-Powell.

The remark­able Bren­da Myers-Powell.

FBI Under­cov­er seems like an innocu­ous enough tale. We fol­low one of the many very ordi­nary, and com­plete­ly unqual­i­fied peo­ple recruit­ed by the FBI after Sep­tem­ber 11th to root out ter­ror­ism. And then we fol­low the Mus­lim man he has been sent to trap. And sud­den­ly, with­out any­thing actu­al­ly hap­pen­ing, a young man’s life has been com­plete­ly ruined.

If you’ve ever won­dered how Daesh man­ages to attract its recruits, this will go some way to help explain­ing it.

And final­ly, Dream­catch­er: Sur­viv­ing Chicago’s Streets fol­lows a reformed pros­ti­tute as she walks the streets of Chica­go bring­ing life-sav­ing suc­cour to her for­mer col­leagues. Which sounds hope­less­ly earnest and hor­ri­bly dull, but is in fact incred­i­bly mov­ing. Bren­da Myers-Pow­ell is quite sim­ply a liv­ing saint.

So often doc­u­men­taries feel like some­thing you ought to watch rather than some­thing you’d like to watch. In real­i­ty, all of the above are unmiss­able. And if you can’t access the BBC iPlay­er, get your­self a VPN.

It will take about 10 min­utes to set up, but once it’s done you’re set. I use Sat­urn­VPN. It’ll cost you no more than about $20 a year. It’s like Net­flix for the intel­lec­tu­al­ly curi­ous. It’s the best invest­ment you’ll make all year.

You can see the trail­er for The Six-day War:Censored Voic­es here.

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